Vilas (Henry) Park
|Address:||1602 Vilas Park Dr.|
|Hours:||4:00am - 10:00pm|
|Shoreline On:||Lake Wingra|
Park HistoryIn 1904, Senator William Freeman Vilas contributed $18,000 to the Association for the purchase of land for a park in this area. This was merely the first of several donations made by Mr. Vilas which, by the year 1907, totaled $35,000. William Vilas was the son of Levi Vilas, a member of the State of Vermont Legislature who had moved to Madison with his family when son William was ten years old. The elder Vilas invested in real estate in Wisconsin, helped start the predecessor of the present First Wisconsin Bank and served a term as Mayor of Madison. The younger Vilas, William, entered the University of Wisconsin at the age of thirteen, graduated first in his class in 1858, and received a degree in law from the Albany, New York Law School. When the Civil War began, he formed an infantry company, was commissioned captain and took part in the Battle of Vicksburg. After the war he returned to Madison to begin a successful law practice, teach at the University of Wisconsin Law School, serve in the State Assembly and on the University Board of Regents. In 1884, President Cleveland appointed Mr. Vilas Postmaster General and three years later Secretary of the Department of The Interior. He was elected United States Senator in 1890. Of his many civic commitments, the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association and the University of Wisconsin benefited the most with The Vilas Communication Building on the University campus made possible by a Vilas bequest and Henry Vilas Park by donations to the Association. The park was named after a son who had died of diabetes as a young man.
In 1905, work began on the development of Vilas Park. The original design was by O. C. Simonds who proposed a park of sixty-four acres with lagoons of eight and one-half acres. Through dredging of the lake bottom, this was to be made out of twenty-five acres of land and thirty-five acres of bog. Originally, the lagoons surrounded three islands, but the smallest has since been removed, and the eastern end of the largest has been joined to the mainland, so there now remains only one. Two stone and concrete bridges over the lagoon, costing $5,000, were donated by Mr. Vilas in 1906.