Visitors to Washington Park can visit the lovely pergola built by the daughter Polly Roesh of Otto Wenneborg who brought her to the springs in the 1920’s as a child because he believed in the health benefits said to come from the minerals in the spring.
The spring has been around for quite some time. It was named “Iron Spring” for the high mineral content found in the water that Springfield Park District said, “…once flowed naturally in the area.”
The mineral spring was once tap at the Leland Hotel, a downtown historic site that is now home of the Illinois Commerce Commission and is famous for the1928 introduction of the Springfield phenomenon the Horseshow sandwich. The horseshoe or smaller version a pony shoe is meat (hamburger, chicken, ham etc) on toast layered over with French fries then covered in cheese sauce.
The spring that flowed at the Leland was valued because it was said to cure rheumatism and indigestion.
Washington Park was developed; the spring was used for watering cattle. In time, the spring was abandoned and allowed to fill in. Springfield Park history shows that when the park was developed in 1901 the spring was just a small trickle of water at the foot of a steep clay bluff.
The spring was excavated by terracing back into the bluff, tapping the source, and conducting the water to a basin made from a single block of Bedford stone. The Park site shares, “The path leading to the well was later covered by a rustic arbor with benches built along the sides and wild grapevines planted to provide further shade. The spring became a popular attraction and was “visited by hundreds daily” for the use of the water as a cure for rheumatism and other ailments.”
What is quite amazing is that tin cups were left at the spring for people to drink from and some brought big jugs to take water for home use. Because of questions of the health aspects of this tradition, the spring was shut down in the 1950s.
It was the memory of Otto Wenneborg’s daughter Polly that brought the history of the spring back to life. In 2010 the pergola and Iron Spring was restored in honor of Otto Wenneborg. The pergola is quite unique. Designed by local architect Bill Maslauski who worked in conjunction with Rocky Mountain/Pioneer Log Homes the pergola was created from dead standing lodge pole pine.
Many others over the years have enjoyed Washington Park. Located on the west side of Springfield, this 150-acre site was added to the Springfield Park District in 1901. The park website shares, “This is one of the historic parks, developed as termini of the urban trolley line in use at the time. Designed by Ossian Simonds, noted for his naturalistic style of landscape design, the park is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its design and many features date back to its original development.”
A poem that Otto Wenneborg wrote is engraved on the rock in front of the Iron Spring and his first stanza invites visitors to reflect on the beauty of this public place:
“When the leaves are ripe and golden
And their edges trimmed with red,
And the hybrids of the forest are looking for their winter bed
Then I marvel at the beauty
And the One that put it there…