James Madison Park
|Address:||614 E. Gorham St.|
|Hours:||4:00am - 10:00pm|
|Shoreline On:||Lake Mendota|
Park HistoryJames Madison Park History (document with references sited)
Part of James Madison Park occupies the place where the original plans for the city of Madison, made in 1836 by James Duane Doty, provided for one end of a canal between lakes Mendota and Monona. This canal was never dug, but a square of land on Lake Mendota bounded by Franklin, Hancock, and Gorham streets remained. In the 1870s, the sixty-five foot long, one hundred fifty passenger steam yacht "Mendota" made daily trips around Lake Mendota from this location.
A little to the west, at the intersection of North Butler and North Hamilton streets, the Conklin & Sons Mendota Ice House stored ice harvested from Lake Mendota. Though the city was willed $75,000 for a park on this site in 1916, that was not enough to buy the ice house property. (Apparently, the will had been drawn up after the old icehouse had burned down, and before a new one was built.) Eventually, the advance of mechanical refrigeration made icehouses obsolete. In 1939, the city purchased the Conklin property in order to develop it as a park providing lake access near the center of the city. "Conklin Park" was used regularly by Madison swimmers, but the park was considered too small to justify building a shelter.
The 1950s saw the purchase of additional land. In 1963, the park was given the name "James Madison" since the city of Madison had no public facilities specifically named after the fourth president. The City also made plans to purchase the remaining lakeshore between Butler Street and Lincoln School for the park. Federal aid made it possible to purchase much of the property in the 600 block of East Gorham St. during the 1960s.
In 1995, a lot was added to the park to improve access to the Bernard-Hoover Boathouse at 622 E. Gorham St. This building dates back to 1915, though Charles Bernard built the first boathouse at this site in 1855. In 1943, Harry Hoover bought the boathouse and operated it until 1968, when the City acquired the property. It was rehabilitated in 1992 and is leased by the Mendota Rowing Club. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The now reservable Gates of Heaven originally stood as a synagogue at 214 West Washington Avenue. It was built in 1863 and is one of the oldest surviving synagogue buildings in the country. It was designed by August Kutzbock, who also designed the second state capitol building, which burned in 1904. After the Ahavath Achim congregation sold the building in 1916, it was put to other uses, including as a funeral parlor, government storage facility, headquarters of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, a church, a dentist's office and a veterinary clinic. In 1970, it was threatened with demolition, and a Gates of Heaven Foundation was formed to save it and place it on the National Register of Historic Places. Jacking it up on 96 aircraft wheels and moving it to James Madison Park saved the building.
To the right of the synagogue, there is a monument to the 45,000 International Volunteers who fought for the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), including the 2800 Americans who served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The monument includes the names of 37 Wisconsin volunteers. It was erected in 1999, and was only the second monument of its kind. (The first was in Seattle.)
The James Madison Park shelter was designed by Kenton Peters and erected in 1979.
The former Lincoln School building adjacent to James Madison Park was designed by the Madison architectural firm of Claude and Starck and built in 1915. It has been called the best remaining Prairie-style school building in Wisconsin. From 1964 through 1980, it housed the Madison Art Center and other arts groups. It is now a privately owned apartment building.
At this Park
Madison Parks ranks #1 in the nation for the number of basketball hoops per resident, come check out the hoops in your neighborhood! Most of the basketball courts are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you are planning a new league or tournament see Athletic Field Reservations.View all Basketball Courts
James Madison Park - Basketball CourtSurface: Asphalt
Number of Courts: 2 full
BEST VIEWS IN TOWN! Take in a sunrise or sunset at one of Madison's many beaches.View all Beaches
Esther and Warner park beaches offer restrooms open daily through the first weekend in October. See RESTROOMS to view other open locations.
Water quality testing is performed Memorial Day through Labor Day by Public Health Madison & Dane County. Results are posted on this page with "OK" or "CLOSED." If CLOSED, the beach area and park remain open but the water is closed for swimming. Please do not go in the water.
NO LIFEGUARDS ARE ON DUTY
Before your beach visit, please read the RULES.
James Madison BeachPublic Health Water Testing:Address: 614 E. Gorham St.Closed
Drinking Water: Yes
Parking: Street Parking
Amenities: Picnic Tables, Playground, Volleyball
Swim Ropes: Yes
James Madison Beach Details
Canoe & Kayak Launch Site
Madison Parks offers various locations to launch a canoe or kayak and is allowed at all of Madison Parks motorboat launch sites. Additionally, the parks listed below have a specially designated area for launch.
If you are looking to store your kayak or canoe in a park, please visit the storage webpage.
View all Canoe & Kayak Launch Sites
Canoe & Kayak Storage
Watercraft Storage SpacesExplore Madison's beautiful lakes, rivers, and creeks by paddle and store your canoe, kayak or paddleboard on the shores of your favorite park. All storage racks are outdoors and uncovered. The annual storage period begins each year on April 1 and ends on March 31 of the following year.
How to Reserve:
- You may be placed on our waitlist at no charge by calling (608) 266-4711 or EMAIL. Please include your name, phone number, email address, and any order of preferences on storage location.
- Current users will be able to renew their watercraft storage beginning in late winter/early spring each year and must renew by April 1.
- As spaces become available, those on the waitlist will be contacted after April 1 and given the opportunity to reserve a space.
City of Madison Resident - Annual, single watercraft $130 City of Madison Resident - Annual, 2 watercraft, same space (100# max) $195 Non-resident - Annual, single watercraft $240 Non-resident - Annual, 2 watercraft, same space (100# max) $360
Watercraft storage rules include:
- Watercraft must not exceed 100 pounds, 18' length, 42" width or 24" height.
- Storage is for permitted watercraft only. No personal property.
- Watercraft must be secured to the boat storage rack. The owner accepts all liability for theft or damage to their property.
- Parks Staff reserves the right to cut any lock and remove any watercraft, under any condition it deems necessary for the function of the boat storage program.
- View all Agreement Rules.
- Brittingham Park: Brittingham Boats 608-250-2555
- Olbrich Park: Rutabaga Paddlesports 608-513-1308
- Wingra Park: Wingra Boats 608-233-5332
Wisconsin residents aged 16 years old or older need a fishing license to fish in any waters of the state. Nonresidents aged 16 years old or older need a nonresident fishing license to fish in Wisconsin waters with hook and line. Visit the Wisconsin DNR website for more information.Every year, the first consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June and the third Saturday and Sunday in January, are designated as Free Fishing Weekends throughout the state of Wisconsin. Residents and nonresidents of all ages can fish without a fishing license (and trout stamps) over these two days. Visit WI DNR
An accessible pier is located in Vilas Park, on Lake Wingra. From WI DNR: Lake Wingra is a 336-acre lake with a maximum depth of 14 feet. Fish include Musky, Panfish, Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Walleye.
More information on historic buildings or district questions may be found in the Department of Planning & Community & Economic Development Planning Division.
Wisconsin has the highest concentration of burial mounds in the United States and the Madison area has one of the highest concentrations of burial mounds remaining. Most mounds were lost to 19th-century agricultural practices and city development. The mound builders were farmers who also engaged in hunting and gathering. They lived in small villages and migrated from one to another based on the seasonal availability of natural resources. The mounds often, but not always, have burials associated with them, but their exact purpose is not entirely understood. Mounds tend to have been built in places with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. The mounds are considered sacred by modern Native Americans and should be treated with respect.
A Burial Mounds Policy was created with assistance from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Ho-Chunk Nation, and approved by the Board of Park Commissioners in October 2019, the policy provides guidelines and procedures for managing burial mounds located in Madison Parks. Burial mound locations are also included in the policy.
Bernard-Hoover BoathouseLocation: 622-1/2 E. Gorham Street
Description: In the days before individual boat ownership became widespread, renting pleasure boats for lake excursions was a significant summer business in Madison. Numerous commercial enterprises developed here in the nineteenth century to cater to the demand, the first being the one German native Charles Bernard started on this site in 1855 as a fishing station.
Gradually, Bernard's business expanded to include both boat and fishing gear rentals.
By the 1890s Bernard was building his own boats as well, including several large, steam-powered excursion boats that operated on Lake Mendota. Bernard ferried picnickers to his private park (gone) near Mendota State Hospital. After his death in 1907, son William ran the business. William and his son Carl became known across the United States as avid ice boat builders and racers.
In 1911 the Bernards replaced the original buildings with a larger frame structure. Four years later that building was destroyed by fire and was replaced with the present frame building. Carl Bernard sold out to Harry Hoover in 1943; Hoover continued to operate the board livery and gave excursion rides until 1968 when he sold the property to the City. Today the Bernard-Hoover boathouse is the only survivor of the early days of Madison's love affair with pleasure boating.
The boathouse was designated a City of Madison landmark on October 18, 1976
and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
More Information: Landmark Nomination
Gates of Heaven SynagogueLocation: 300 E. Gorham Street
Description: Noted Madison architect, August Kutzbock, who was trained in Germany, designed this little gem of a building. He also used this distinctive Germanic style for the Pierce and Keenan Houses at Pinckney and Gilman Streets. Gates of Heaven (Shaare Shomain in Hebrew) was built in 1863 on W. Washington Avenue for Madison's first Jewish congregation. The building later served as the first Unitarian Society Meeting House, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, the English Lutheran Church and a funeral home. It was moved to this site in 1971 through the efforts of local citizens and the City of Madison to save it from the wrecking ball.
Gates of Heaven was designated a City of Madison landmark on May 20,1974 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
More Information: Landmark Nomination
Parking lots in parks are available for park programs or events during regular park hours: 4:00 am to 10:00 pm. Please observe the following.
- Driving or parking motorized vehicles is not allowed on the grass or near a shelter and is subject to a citation.
- Three-hour limit in all parks, as posted.
- No parking after hours: 10pm to 4am. Overnight parking is not allowed.
- Conservation park hours are 4am until one hour after sunset
- Follow all onsite parking regulation signs.
- Violators are subject to a fine.
The parking lot located on the eastern side of Law Park, commonly known as the Blair Lot, is a metered parking lot, enforced by City of Madison Parking Division between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
View all Parking Lots
With more than 175 playgrounds throughout Madison, you are never too far from a playground. According to the Trust for Public Land, Madison ranks #1 in the nation for the number of playgrounds available. The traditional swings and slides are always an option, as are new play elements and fully accessible playgrounds.
PLAYGROUNDS FOR EVERYONE
Through the Madison Parks Foundation initiative, Madison Parks offers all-inclusive playgrounds in Brittingham Park and Elver Park, opening in 2019. The Foundation has a goal of 5 fully accessible playgrounds.
PLAYGROUND REPLACEMENTS: HOW AND WHENView all Playgrounds
Madison Parks is responsible for maintaining more than 175 playgrounds and began a system-wide replacement initiative in 2013. With current staff and funding resources, replacements are scheduled to continue through 2033. Playgrounds are routinely inspected to assess the equipment's conditions and repair any safety concerns. Based on the age of the equipment and current conditions, each is given an audit score. The number of playgrounds replaced each year is based on budget allocations, staffing resources, and using the current playground audit score for prioritization.
REPLACEMENT PROCESS: NEIGHBORHOOD INPUT
At the start of the replacement process, notices are sent to the District Alder, neighborhood association representatives, and surrounding residential addresses. Information is also posted to the project website. Generally, two public meetings are held to review surfacing and equipment options and make final selections.
If you have questions about a specific playground or see something broken, please let us know.
James Madison Park - Playground
James Madison Park - Playground
Shelter - Reservable
Reserve a Shelter
- See SHELTER PRICES for 2023 rates.
- BEFORE reserving, be sure to see Parks Projects. We are continually improving our park system and some of these improvements may impact a nearby shelter.
- RESERVE one of three ways
- Calling (608)266-4711
- In-person at the Parks administration office
- Full payment is due at the time of processing your reservation, along with any required permits.
- Credit card is the only accepted method of payment.
- All reservations are subject to our standard cancellation policy.
- Most shelters are open mid-April through mid-October (see exceptions below).
- The Shelter Reservations Guide provides details on seating capacities, and amenities such as outlets, fireplaces, and picnic tables.
- 2023 reservations open Tuesday, November 8, 2022.
- See Special Events for select 2023 dates/locations not available.
Shelter Open Schedule Exceptions:
- Open year-round:
- Open mid-April through mid-November:
- John Wall Family Pavilion in Tenney Park
- Elver Park (enclosed shelter)
- Warner Park
- Olin Park (through October)
- Picnic shelters may be reserved online or by calling -OR- if not reserved, are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Day of signage is posted at the shelter.
- Madison Parks does not guarantee absolute privacy to any group. Your reservation will reserve only the facility you are using, not the entire park or other facilities within the park. If you are interested in reserving the entire park, please visit Special Events.
- Alcohol is permitted in most Madison Parks. Glass is never allowed. There are a handful of alcohol-free parks. In these locations, if you would like to bring alcohol, you will need an alcohol permit, which may be obtained when placing your reservation. An alcohol permit, without a reservation, is not given.
- Public improvements and/or construction may be underway during the time of your reservation. The City of Madison Parks Division makes every attempt to schedule around events and shelter reservations whenever possible, however, this is not a guarantee. Please keep in mind improvements to parks and infrastructure continues throughout the year. Please visit Park Projects for a partial list of major capital improvement projects.
- Firearms or weapons are not permitted at any of the shelters. Violators may be considered trespassers and may be subject to forfeiture or arrest.
- The availability of Gates of Heaven may be checked online however, you will need to call to make your reservation.
- Reservations for the following year begin in November of the proceeding year.
Gates of HeavenAddress: 302 E. Gorham St
Capacity: Seats 98 people
Restrooms: In shelter
Water: Available in shelter
Parking: Parking lot
Alcohol-Free Park: Yes – alcohol permit is required.
Shelter Details: Gates of Heaven
James Madison ParkAddress: 614 E. Gorham St
Restrooms: In shelter
Water: Available in shelter
Parking: Street parking
Alcohol-Free Park: Yes – alcohol permit is required.
Shelter Details: James Madison Park
Slacklining and Hammocking
Slacklining or hammocking in a park is allowed following the guidelines below at specific times, on specific trees, and never in a conservation park. Always keep in mind, Park Rangers have the authority to remove or order the removal of any slackline or hammock which they deem as harmful to the tree or as a danger to the safety of park users. The best advice, WHEN IN DOUBT, DON'T.
Dos and Don'tsTethering to trees for the purpose of slacklining or hammocking is allowed following these guidelines:
- DO: Sunrise to 30 minutes prior to sunset
- DO: Temporary only and may never be left unattended or overnight
- DO: Only on trees greater than 1' in diameter and 4.5'
- DO: Tree protect is used at connection points
- DON'T: Never tether on Oak, Hickory or Birch trees
- DON'T: Never in any conservation park
Proper Tree ProtectionTree protection is required for tethering any equipment to help prevent damage to the tree's bark. Carpet, foam pads or towels make good protection. Make sure the fabric padding completely encircle the tree at the connection points and is a minimum of ¼" thick by 10" wide. For more information and examples, see TREE PROTECTION
Prohibited TreesNever tether on an oak, hickory or birch tree. When in doubt, don't For more information, see TREE IDENTIFICATION
When in Doubt, Don't
Park Rangers have the authority to remove or order the removal of any slackline or hammock which they deem as harmful to the tree or as a danger to the safety of park users.View all Slacklining and Hammocking
Most of the volleyball courts are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you are planning a new league or tournament see Athletic Field Reservations.View all Volleyball Courts
James Madison Park - Volleyball CourtLocation: By beach
Number of Courts: 1