Hours: 4:00am - 10:00pm Park Type: Community Acres: 213.49 Restroom: Yes Drinking Water: Yes Shoreline On: Lake Mendota
The use of the Warner Park area as a public park dates back to 1898, when the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association (MPPDA) built a segment of the Farwell Pleasure Drive through the John P. Woodard farm.1 The Woodard Bay segment of the drive ran along a beach on the northwest side of Lake Mendota. This beach area was over 2200 feet long, the bottom was sandy, and the water was shallow enough to make it ideal for children.2
Ernest Noble Warner, who had been president of the MPPDA since 1912, died after an automobile accident in July, 1930. Warner had served in the 1905 State Assembly, where he was the Progressive floor leader and successfully introduced landmark civil service and primary election legislation. 3 Just before he died, he appointed a committee of the MPPDA to investigate acquiring the beach for the public.4 Within two weeks of his death, the Ernest N. Warner Memorial Park Committee was formed to raise $20,000 to buy the beach as a memorial.5
But fund raising was difficult during the Depression. Though the committee made periodic payments on a land contract, it still owed $10,700 in 1937. 6 The beach could be improved through federal work relief programs, but the land had to be owned by a public body.7 There were also fears that Woodard's heirs would lose patience, foreclose, and sell the land for development, or even an amusement park.8 Fundraising resumed, and the Madison City Council formally accepted ownership of the beach in July, 1939.9
During the Second World War, the city set aside a portion of the beach for recreational use by servicemen stationed in Madison. 10
In the 1950's, several farms north of the railroad tracks were purchased to develop the park as a major recreational space for the growing northeast part of Madison. 11
These purchases included part of a wetlands area known as Castle Marsh. The Wisconsin Conservation Department owned the rest of Castle Marsh. Castle Marsh was a spawning grounds for northern pike, though nearby development was making it less productive. An agreement between the Conservation Department and the City of Madison allowed for the creation of the Warner Park lagoon and the preservation of enough wetlands to support northern pike fry.12 Part of Warner Park is still technically owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, though it is administered by the Madison Parks Division.
Over the years, recreational facilities have been added to Warner Park. This includes facilities for amateur, league, and high school team sports.
The Warner Park football field was used for Madison East and La Follette High School games until 2002. The Madison Mustangs (Central States Football League) also played semiprofessional football in Warner Park from 1964 through 1974.
Warner Park has been Madison's home for minor league and summer college league baseball. Teams that played in Warner Park have been the Madison Muskies (1982-1993, Class A Oakland A's affiliate), Madison Hatters (1994, Class A St. Louis Cardinals affiliate), Madison Black Wolf (1996-2000, Northern League), and the Madison Mallards (2001-present, Northwoods League). The Muskies are particularly remembered for creative promotions such as "Kazoo Night," the chant of "Let's Go, Fish," and players who went on to the major leagues, including Tim Belcher, Scott Brosius, Jose Canseco, Felix Jose, Steve Kiefer, Luis Polonia, Terry Steinbach, and Walt Weiss.13 The Mallards, the most recent occupants, have developed a large and loyal following.
Warner Park is the home of Rhythm & Booms, Madison's annual Fourth of July music and fireworks extravaganza, which draws over a quarter million visitors to the park itself and many more thousands to other spots in the city from which the fireworks are visible.
Warner Park's 18-foot tall replica of the Statue of Liberty was originally erected in 1951 in Giddings Park on the southeast shore of Lake Mendota. It was one of several such statues donated by local groups throughout the country in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. When a portion of Giddings Park was traded for more beach access, the statue was moved into storage. It was later put in Warner Park and a court of honor was built.
The picnic shelter with the colorful cylinders was designed by Kenton Peters and was built in 1994. It replaces one that burned in 1992.