History of Green Bay's Parks

Murphy Park

Founding the Park

In 1931, the city puchased about 15 acres for a park west of Military Avenue and south of Dousman Street at a total price of $3499.02. 1 After deducting sidewalks and roadway improvements, the park now contains 13.8 acres. 2 The park was named for Frank E. Murphy 3 because he donated $500 to put up a stone fence along Military Avenue with stone brought from Dyckesville. 4

Drinking water was an early improvement to the park 5 and restrooms were added in 1951. 6 Through the 1950s, plans were based on an assumption that development to the west of the park would be largely residential. 7 The mix of institutional and commercial development which actually took place was initiated by the relocation of St. Mary's Hospital in 1960 8 and sealed later in the same decade by the construction of the ASPIRO center next to the park along Dousman Street. 9

Middle 20th Century

By the end of the 1960s, development in the area around the park was in full spate and a comprehensive plan for the park was created which included a Shelter Room Addition expanding the toilet facility to create a true shelter house, a proposed wading pool, a second softball field east of the original, and a proposed basketball court near the expanded shelter house; the plan also makes note of the Natural Bowl among the pines in the southwest corner of the park. 10 The shelter house expansion was approved in 1969 for construction the following year. 11

Dear Walter —

This letter is to plea for holding on stubbornly to all of our park lands and not allowing them to be eroded away by a request here and one there for various seemingly worthwhile projects — nothing will ever replace them and they certainly can go — for example – Legion Park downtown – gone for Post Office — slice of River Parkway for Newman Center, Cook[e] Park for Museum — these are irretrievable and only your board can save further park disappearance — and our beautiful parks do make our city a great place to live — Please hold on to Murphy Park! as is! 21

During this time there were renewed attempts to obtain access to the park from Shawano Avenue. 12 Despite efforts over several years, All these previous discussions have ended up in frustration inasmuch as easements could not be obtained over private property. 13

A proposal by the school district would have placed an elementary school within the park boundaries; there was opposition on the part of the park board, including concerns about protecting the exceptional woodland and questions about a location so close to the existing Chappell School, but the request was referred to the Plan Commission for further study. 20 There was significant public opposition as well, including the letter transcribed here 21 and a petition referred to by the Plan Commission. The Plan Commission analyzed several sites for the school, then recommended that the study be referred, with the associated petition against a school in Murphy Park, to the Board of Education and Park and Recreation Board. 22 The park board continued their opposition to using the park 23 and the school was eventually built on Bond Street. 24

Recent Improvements

In 1976 a petition for tennis courts in Murphy Park was submitted with the names of 100 park neighbors. 14 It took a few more years, but tennis courts were built in the early 1980s. 15

In the early 1990s the playground was rebuilt with modern play equipment at a total project cost over $30,000. 16 A renovation of the shelter house improved accessibility to the restrooms. 17

The Park Committee approved the concept of working with community groups to improve ball fields in Colburn, Murphy, and Perkins parks. 18 This led to the installation of a scoreboard for one softball field in the fall of 2008. 19


1 Copy of resolution by mayor and council dated May 20, 1931, That the purchase by the Green Bay Board of Park Commissioners of the fifteen (15) acre tract … be approved; copy of warranty deed, Albert J. Petska and Mary Petska to City of Green Bay, dated May 22, 1931, for 10.4 Acres more or less. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
(The PRF notes add that Al Petska later became the City Forester, retiring in 1960 after being employed by the city for 26 years. Petska's 10 A. run from the shelter house east to Military Avenue.)
2 Copy of revised Certified Survey Map. Robert D. Hall, surveyor, dated July 14, 1967, with hand annotation 13.8 Acres. PRF file, Murphy Park.
Brown County Planning and Land Services, http://maps.gis.co.brown.wi.us/geoprime/, downloaded March 14, 2011.
3 Signed original resolution of Board of Park Commissioners, hand dated Nov. 17 1955, opposing a filling station on the northeast corner of Dousman and Military because of the proximity to Frank E. Murphy Park. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
Despite this protest, a gas station was built on the northeast corner of Dousman and Military which continues as an auto repair shop in 2011.
4 Missing.
5 Plan, Water Design Murphy Park, hand dated 6-27-35. PRF file, Murphy Park. The date of completion is not clear from the documents; see also Contractor's Certificate for Construction of Water Main, dated September 21, 1944. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
6 Plan, Board of Park Commissioners, Alternate Plan – Comfort Station – F.R.E. Murphy Park, dated May 1951. PRF file, Murphy Park.
7 Area Development Plan, April 1957; with the notation Approved by Plan Comm 4-7-58 C. Council 4-15-58 (with the year inserted by hand). This plan shows a number of streets between Shawano Avenue and Dousman Street which were never built in a pattern similar to actual residential development north of Dousman. PRF file, Murphy Park.
8 St. Mary's Hospital website, History page, http://stmgb.org/Scripts/pageview.asp?id=71, downloaded March 15, 2011.
9 Clipping from Green Bay Press-Gazette, January 30, 1966, Proposed Retardation Center. PRF file, Murphy Park.
The name of the organization was changed in 2003 according to the ASPIRO website, http://www.aspiroinc.org/history.php, downloaded March 15, 2011. It had previously been known as Brown County Association for Retarded Children and Brown County Association of Retarded Citizens.
10 Plan by Green Bay Park and Recreation Department dated September, 1969, filed under Miscellaneous Graphics. PRF file, Murphy Park.
11 Copy of report of Finance Committee meeting, December 16, 1969, To approve funds for the two Shelter house additions – one at East River Park and one at Murphy Park; summary of bids dated November 25, 1969. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
12 Copy of memo from Chet Miller, Director, Park and Recreation Department, to Ralph Bergman, City-County Planner, dated March 6, 1969, reporting a vote by the Board of Park Commissioners to obtain access to Murphy Park from the southern boundary; copy of request from alderman Gerald Last, dated 3-19-73, for paths to be developed for access from the south to park and ASPIRO center. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
13 Copy of letter from Chet Miller, Director, Park & Recreation Department, to Gerald Last, dated September 21, 1973, in reply to the request noted. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
As of 2011, there exists a strip of land abutting the west boundary of the park, owned by the Golden Living nursing center, and extending from the nursing center to the back boundary of the ASPIRO property. Brown County Land Information Service, http://maps.gis.co.brown.wi.us/geoprime/, downloaded March 17, 2011. This strip is invisible on the ground, being narrow and completely unmarked. Nevertheless, pedestrian access has evolved. An opening in the fence between the parking lot in the rear of APSIRO and the appartment complex behind it, along with abutting driveways for the apartments and the nursing center, allows pedestrian flow (including wheelchairs), as observed on March 17.
14 Petition with 100 names and addresses dated 3-31-76, collected by a family on Dousman Street and forwarded by Alderman Gerald Last on 4-5-76, (Last's comments suggest that there had been an ongoing effort to get approval for tennis courts in the park.) PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
15 Plan for tennis courts along Dousman Street (110 ft east of parking lot), filed under Miscellaneous Graphics. PRF file, Murphy Park.
16 Copy of plan Murphy Park Playground drawn July 1991 (revisions in file from August 1995 and March 2009); copy of plan for play structure titled Murphy Park by Landscape Structures Inc, dated 10/23/91; hand-written sticky note attached to play structure plan which reads in part, Murphy Park 1992 Structure only: … $12553.00 … Total Project … $30956.00; hand-written note with play equipment plans, Plans Murphy Park installed 5/1/92. PRF file, Murphy Play 92.
17 Copy of plan by Foth & Van Dyke, Murphy Park Shelter (no date found); 1993 written on folder. PRF file, Murphy – Shelter Walk.
The plan shows an entrance to be added on the east side which was not done.
18 Copy of Park Committee minutes for meeting of September 25, 2007. PRF file, Murphy Park.
19 Copy of email from Robert Schuurman to Bill Landvatter, dated September 17, 2008; forwarded to other PRF staff on September 23, 2008.
20 Copy of minutes, Board of Park Commissioners meeting as Committee of whole with the Board of Education, January 19, 1970. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
21 Hand-written letter from Barbara Valentine to President of Park Board, undated. Another hand noted that Valentine is the daughter of Marshall Simonds, for[mer] Park Director. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
22 Report, Plan Commission Review of the Proposed Helen Keller Elementary School, February, 1970; report to mayor and council by plan commission, March 4, 1970. PRF file, Park Areas: Murphy Park.
The site preferred by the planners was part of the St. Mary's Hospital property (as that was near the center of the area to be served). Other sites included the land which later became Badger Park, adding to Chappell School, and land at Dousman and Taylor Streets.
23 Missing.
24 Green Bay Area Public Schools website, http://www.greenbay.k12.wi.us/keller/, downloaded March 18, 2011.

Only annotated statements have been verified. Any other historical statements are unverified and based on personal knowledge or informal notes kept by the Green Bay Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department.
Last update: March, 2011
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