- Explore Parks
The Lake Monona shoreline that now makes up Brittingham Park was once so neglected that a speaker at the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association (MPPDA annual meeting in 1904 called it a "disease breeding hole." It was weedy, littered with kitchen garbage and dead fish, and a breeding ground for mosquitoes. He pointed out that ninety percent of the travelers to Madison saw this bay as they either entered or left the city by rail. He proposed the development of a park on Monona Bay.1
The city had begun acquiring a small area of Monona Bay in 1903, but was not ready to develop a large park there. In 1905, Thomas E. Brittingham, reputedly Madison's richest citizen, stepped in with an $8000 donation to the MPPDA for the acquisition of a 27-acre park. Brittingham had made a fortune in the lumber industry. Besides Brittingham Park, his donations helped create other Madison landmarks, including Neighborhood House on South Mills Street, Madison General Hospital (now Meriter), and the statue of Abraham Lincoln on the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Bascom Hill. He was a Regent of the University of Wisconsin, and after his death, his house (now known as Brittingham House) was donated to the University. It is the official home of the University of Wisconsin System President. Brittingham's contributions for the Brittingham Park area continued through 1908 and totaled $24,500.2
The major work involved in creating Brittingham Park was dredging sand from Lake Monona to fill in marshland. The sand base was covered with topsoil and trees and grass were planted. For example, in 1908, the MPPDA planted 17,463 trees and shrubs in Brittingham Park.3
Part of Brittingham's contribution was $7500 for a bath house. However, to get this money, the city would have to provide $5000 for a boathouse. The bath house was extremely popular, with a total attendance of 50,000 during the 1910 season. The bath house provided bathing suits, and it was said that the over 300 suits available did not have time to dry off at all during the season. There was a line waiting to take the wet suits as soon as the wearers came out of the water.4 The bath house was eventually torn down. The boathouse, attributed to the architects Ferry & Clas, is on the National Register of Historic Places.