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Welcome to Willard Park at 1901 East Washington Street

Welcome to Willard Park at 1901 East Washington Street

One mile east of downtown Indianapolis on Washington Street, you’ll find Willard Park.  The land of this eleven-acre park had many identities in its history, but has always played an important role in uniting the community around it.

The Indiana School for the Deaf opened in 1850 where Willard Park now stands. It moved to its current location off of 42nd Street in 1911

The Indiana School for the Deaf opened in 1850 where Willard Park now stands. It moved to its current location off of 42nd Street in 1911

Willard Park is named for William Willard, founder of the Indiana School for the Deaf.  Willard and his wife taught the school’s first class of twelve students in 1843.  Enrollment flourished and the school quickly outgrew its meeting space.  The state agreed to build a residential campus where Willard Park stands today, which opened in 1850.  The Indiana School for the Deaf was only the sixth school providing education for the hearing impaired in the United States and the first to offer the services at no cost to students and their families.  Willard retired from teaching in 1860.

The playground at Willard Park was constructed in 1996

The playground at Willard Park was constructed in 1996

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Indiana School for the Deaf fell into disrepair, closing in 1907.  That same year the City of Indianapolis purchased the school’s 14.7- acre grounds for $45,000.  In 1911, the school opened at its current 42nd Street location.

Willard Park features basketball courts, a large picnic shelter, a pool, and athletic fields

Willard Park features basketball courts, a large picnic shelter, a pool, and athletic fields

The design for Willard Park was developed as part of George Edward Kessler’s Park and Boulevard System for Indianapolis.  Construction for this neighborhood park began in 1913.  Tennis courts, a baseball diamond, football field, and a crushed stone walkway were added in 1916, followed by a swimming pool and picnic shelter in the 1930s.  The park’s current bathhouse was erected in 1982 and the playground was rebuilt in 1996.

The bathhouse at Willard Park is quiet today, but teems with visitors during the hot summer months

The bathhouse at Willard Park is quiet today, but teems with visitors during the hot summer months

In 1990 Indy Parks sold 3.7 acres at the west end of the park to the Department of Public Safety for the construction of a fire station and the city’s Metropolitan Emergency Communications Agency headquarters.

Willard Park is just one mile east of downtown Indianapolis, making it a great place for downtown employees to take a midday walk

Willard Park is just one mile east of downtown Indianapolis, making it a great place for downtown employees to take a midday walk.

While the neighborhood surrounding the park is in transition, Willard Park remains a lush green space with ample opportunities for active and passive recreation.

9 responses to “In the Park: Willard Park”

  1. Linda Melton says:

    My dad grew up in the Irish Hill neighborhood near Willard park in the 30’s and 40’s and spent many days at Willard Park. He has fond memories of the time he spent there. When I was a child, in fact, we would attend a “Willard Park” reunion every year made up of his friends from Willard Park and their families. My uncle took care of the tennis courts during his teenage years and met a girl there who eventually became his wife and still is after 63 years!

  2. dave robbins says:

    It’s one of the tiniest parks in the downtown area. I wish they’d move the fire department across the street, and give that property back to the park.

  3. Joan Hostetler says:

    I’ve been looking for a photo of Willard’s house for years. Has anyone ever found one? Here’s a little more about him and the Deaf School. http://historicindianapolis.com/then-and-now-the-old-deaf-school-and-willard-park-1901-e-washington-street/

  4. Jack Boeldt says:

    The third (of 20) houses I lived in was on Hendricks Place just half block north of Willard park. That was the school year 1948-’49, – the year I went to PS#15. On that street there were 6 boys all about the same age, and that was enough for a baseball team. I don’t think there was any organized league at Willard, but we spent a lot of time there playing “scrub” baseball. A second group our age formed a team and played us a game at Willard. There were no adults involved (hard to imagine). Any adults in the park were at the pool. In either ’48 or ’49 there was a fatal fire in the junk yard at the east end of Willard. In 1949 the Cole Brothers Circus set up just south east in Willard, and we (boys) cleaned circus wagons and watered the elephants earning tickets to the three ring tent show. All that and I swam at Willard when it got really hot.
    Just this summer I took my married grand daughter to visit the memorial to Sylvia Likens at the west end of Willard near the fire station. I am glad to see it has been maintained all these years.

  5. Dolores Sauer says:

    Nostalgia sets in as one gets older, and I was wondering what happened to all the wonderful places enjoyed as a child. I also went to PS #15, graduated 1946; went to Tech High School, graduated in 1950. Worked at Keifer Stywart Drug Co. until 1951. Anyway, Willard Park was a fantastic place to spend hours during the summer months. I loved the big oval track that was used by so many who were competitors in running, relays, and hurdles; hung out in the gym next to the grocery store at the edge of the park. Lots of good stuff, plus remembering the hills which we rolled down so happily. I just wish all children could remember so many good times that cost us nothing but enjoyment. I am shocked in seeing some of the neighborhood changes – we lived on Jefferson Ave. off Washington St. It is all nasty industrial with none of the little stores I remember. Went tot he Takoma movie theater at a cost of 15 cents, popcorn was a nickel. Anyway, lots of good memories of Indianapolis – could it be why I now live in Palmetto, Florida? I’m still a Hoosier (what does that mean?). Dolores Eldridge Sauer

  6. Tiffany ArnETT says:

    Were you ever able to find a photo of the Willard House? Thank you for your time.

  7. Phyllis money brown says:

    I was glad to read that Jack Boeldt had fond memories of Willard Park in the ‘40 and ‘50s. My only memory is that of my mother warning me to avoid the park because of the people who hung out there. If I had to go in the direction of Willard, I was instructed to walk on north side of Washington Street. From a distance, it did appear the pool was fun but Mom said it wasn’t clean! Mom did keep her ear to the ground because of her girls; and, probably knew about Jack and the Fiers boy who was a lifeguard.

  8. Sara says:

    1975 I was given a key- gold key- to the park/city because I was there at the pool every day and was a safe swimmer. Willard park

  9. Matt Johnston says:

    Gwen’s dating life seems interesting. So There is an outdoor pool here you say…?

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