Many people take Wright Park for granted. But there was a time when its existence was in jeopardy.
In 1880, Dodge City pioneer, Robert M. Wright, planted trees on a tract of land just north of the Arkansas River. The trees flourished and the area was a beautiful park until around 1886 when the economy took a downturn.
As a result, this park fell into neglect and the land reverted to its wild state. In 1897 the city came to the park’s financial rescue by paying off Wright’s mortgage on the land.
Wright, in gratitude to the city for restoring the park, donated the park to the city with the stipulation that it forever be called Wright Park.
Today Wright Park lives on as a legacy of one of Dodge City’s most noteworthy pioneers.
Over the decades the City had added many features to the park. On July 15, 1914 when Dodge City's first business owner and first elected mayor died, he left a lasting legacy which still stands in Wright Park.
In his will, George Hoover gave $95,000 for civic improvement, of which $10,000 went into building Hoover Pavilion.
The Spanish style Pavilion is a stucco building constructed in 1919 by contractor, J.N. Parham.
According to information provided to the Dodge City Daily Globe by James P. McCollom in 1957, it was the first building of any consequence constructed in Dodge City after World War I.
In 1922, the Kiwanis Club proposed starting a bird sanctuary at Wright Park. Somehow this project evolved into the Wright Park Zoo.
In 1926, the Zoo acquired two North American black bears.
In 1928, the Globe editor, J.C. Denious, donated two lion clubs. The lions came directly to the Globe office on Train Number 9 from Hutchinson on March 27.
Leo the male and Tawny the female were displayed at the Globe office in two cages before going to their home at the Zoo. By this time raccoons had joined the menagerie.
McCarty Hospital has been gone for decades but part of it lives on in Wright Park band shell which the Work Projects Administration built in 1934. The shell is a popular gathering spot for Cowboy Band concerts and special events.
Numerous monuments and historical markers adorn the park. They include a sign dedicated to the park's namesake and founder, Robert M. Wright, and a 9-11 memorial consisting of a four-foot section of steel from the World Trade Center which terrorists destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Not all the added features remain. Some people remembered carnival rides and playground equipment as well as a goldfish pond that no longer exist.
In the 1920's the City built a huge swimming pool in Wright Park. It was so big four junior high boys found themselves in dire straits when their canoes capsized in it during the dust storm of Palm Sunday April 14, 1935.
This pool remained until 1975 when it was demolished and replaced by a pool on First Avenue across from the Civic Center.
In May 2016, the Long Branch Lagoon water park just west of Wright Park replaced the First Avenue pool as Dodge City's municipal swimming pool.