The park was founded in 1870 as a shooting range by German immigrants who were members of the Schützengesellschaft. But from the start it was more than that. Soon the 23-acre site at 700 Waverly Road was home to a dance hall, bandstand, bowling alley, roller coaster, small zoo and picnic areas. Many people, especially Germans, met there for social gatherings.
The park’s popularity began to wane around 1917, when anti-German hysteria surrounding World War I restricted activities by German-Americans, including speaking their language in public, according to the Quad-City Times archives. The park suffered another blow in 1919 when Prohibition banned the sale of beer, which had been a major source of income for the park’s upkeep. And as the first generation of Germans became second and third generations, attachments to old habits were replaced by other pursuits.
The park closed in 1922 and was sold a year later to the Chiropractic Psychopathic Sanitarium, a group of chiropractors who attempted to treat mental illness and various disorders with chiropractic adjustments. Park buildings were demolished.
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The Davenport Shooting Association continued to use the park for many years after the sale, but then relocated to a new shooting range near Princeton.
In 1960, much of the property was sold to the Good Samaritan Society of Fargo, ND to make it a senior living complex offering independent and assisted living as well as skilled nursing.
The park’s rebirth began in 1995 when Davenport resident Kory Darnall, a history and German language and culture student, researched German immigrants and kept mentioning “Schützen Park.” What was that park, he wondered. He researched further and visited the website. By then, all that was left of what was once a social hotspot was a weedy, overgrown forest with only one original building, a poured concrete trolley pavilion, that was derelict and in disrepair.
Darnall embarked on efforts to restore the park and founded a non-profit organization called the Schuetzen Park Guild, which could apply for grants and whose members could help support the money and work effort. After that, the park was restored year after year, grant after grant and donation after donation.
The forest has been cleared of invasive plants, a pond created to help with stormwater management, and hiking trails created. The Trolley Pavilion has been restored and several new structures have been added, including a stage for musical performances, an enclosed picnic shelter with a warming kitchen, a large stone fireplace, and an outside toilet building.
Of the park’s original 23 acres, all are now owned by the Schuetzen Park Guild, minus those on which the Good Samaritan buildings are located. The guild has also acquired additional land that wasn’t part of the park but is contiguous, bringing the total area to 28, Darnall said.
The total cost of acquiring land, restoring the pavilion, and constructing new buildings was “easily $500,000,” Darnall said.
Designated as a historic landmark for the city of Davenport, the park is once again a place where people gather to have a good time and enjoy the great outdoors. As Darnall says, “It’s useful again.” It also preserves a significant piece of German-American and Quad City history.
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