Fairmount Park: Arthur Stillwell’s vision

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

This week’s postcard gives us a look at Fairmount Park from Independence Avenue. This view would have been from where the old A&P (now Dollar General) is today, just east of the Fairmount Shopping District in Sugar Creek, Mo. From this vantage, the diving tower can be seen in the right-center part of the photo.

The 50-acre recreation area was created by Aurthur Stilwell as an attraction to build ridership on his railroad.  It offered a number of entertainment venues, including Shakespearean drama, band music, Swiss bell ringers, a zoo, a nine-hole golf course and an eight-acre lake complete with a bathing beach.

Historic Northeast native and internationally renowned equestrian Loula Long Combs made her debut at Fairmount Park as a young girl competing in her first horse show. Neat cottages were built there, too, for those wishing to have “summer” homes but still be near the call of the city. Cottage owners and guests gathered at the huge dining hall and enjoyed fellowhip, community sings and guest lecturers, such as William Jennings Bryan and Sen. James A. Reed, who was the regular Labor Day speaker at the lake.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, a series of fires systematically destroyed the park little by little. In 1936, a final fire destroyed six of the nine remaining summer cottages near the lake. In the 1940s, the lake was filled for the Sugar Creek baseball fields. “New” cottages sprung up and still stand today along the former shoreline. The entrance of the park was near the A&P.

The visionary Stilwell died in New York on Sept. 27, 1928, at the age of 68. He left an estate of just $1,000. His remains were cremated and his ashes scattered to the four winds, according to his wishes.

The town of Port Arthur, Texas, is named for Stillwell, who founded what is today known as the Kansas City Terminal Railway and the multi-national Kansas City Southern Railroad. The card was sent from Oak Grove, Mo., on Feb. 18, 1914, to Miss Velma Fishback of Kansas City, Mo.

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