Central Park Project Moves Forward

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Hillsboro Parks and Recreation Department finished fixing the drain tile system at the Central Park property this summer, an effort to quell the water that continuously seeps up from a natural spring located at the foot of Water Street. The recently updated weep and drain system diverts the water from the underground spring into the creek that borders the Central Park property.

The name Water Street pays homage to the natural spring, which comes out of the hill along the slope of Central Park Street from the area of the kiddie pool and extends about half way to Seward Street.

“It’s putting about 50 gallons a minute into the creek,” explained Jim May, superintendent of Parks, Lakes and Recreation for the City of Hillsboro. “When we dug the area out, to lay the new pipes, you could watch the water leaking out of the wall of dirt. It just never quits.”

The Parks and Recreation Department started on the weep and drain tile installation on Monday, June 8, and completed the project on Friday, July 24. May and parks department employees Jeff Parks, Thomas Reynolds and Dave Davidson tackled the Central Park project in between working on the department’s many other projects, which include maintaining the marina, campground and Glenn Shoals Lake, mowing city properties and leasing lake lots. 

“We began the project by running a 12 inch pipe to carry away water from the street drains and water collected by the weep tile. There were already three six-inch clay weep tiles (installed in 1971) in the middle of the park space,” May explained, when asked what the project entailed. 

“We cleaned those pipes and connected them into the new pipe. Then, we installed a 6 inch perforated pipe bedded in one-inch clean rock, at the base of the slope from Water Street, to the 12 inch pipe to catch the spring water as it emerged from the base of the hill. The project had its challenges, but it’s complete and seems to have solved the soggy conditions in the park.”

Diverting the spring is an ongoing project of the Parks and Recreation Department. The city employees updated the weep and drain tile system on the side that borders Central Park Pool, just west of the kiddie pool, around seven years ago to help carry the spring away from the south side of Water Street, and have seen little issue with the ground staying dry, in that area, since the update. 

The side that borders the old ball diamonds was not only worn down with age, it had undergone extensive damage from years of being driven on. Prior to the work the parks department completed seven years ago, May estimates that it had been between 30 to 40 years since the drainage system was last updated.

An avid history buff, May went on to explain the significant role the spring has played throughout the city’s history, dating back to Hillsboro’s settlement in the early 1800’s. Founding settler John Nussman was the first to tap into the property’s natural resources, he built his cabin on the west side of what is now Central Park and used the spring water in his distillery business.

In November 1887, the (then) town council purchased the natural spring and the land surrounding it, and for the first 75 years of Hillsboro’s existence the community’s water supply was provided by the natural spring.

Water from the spring was pumped uphill to a 70-foot brick water tower (surmounted by a 60 thousand gallon steel tank) that had been erected at the corner of Seward and Broad Streets. However, several droughts and the (then) town’s growing population prompted the need for a larger water source. In 1903 the council hired the firm of Challacombe and Minton to build a puddle wall, creating Hillsboro’s first lake. The wall is still visible today.

A dam was built across the bottom of what is now Seward Street, creating a 14 foot by ten acre lake between Seward and Wood Streets. When it was full, the lake covered an additional 20 acres south of Wood Street, but by 1914 the lake was no longer an adequate water source. Old Hillsboro lake was built in 1918, moving the city’s water source out of the Central Park area.

The property remained in the hands of the city and in the 1930’s Central Park Pool was built on the grounds. While it is not known if the water from the spring was used to fill the pool there were existing water lines running from the spring. These lines were used to supply water for a water feature and a fish pond, which children were allowed to play in - prior to public health guidelines.

Now that the drainage system has been updated, Hillsboro Parks and Recreation Department plans to use excess dirt from other city projects to fill in the area. Tapering this area out will allow the parks department to mow the grounds, rather than weed-eat, making it easier for the operators to keep the area well manicured and hopefully drawing life back to the long-vacated park.

Bringing Central Park back to the forefront of the community is a collaborative effort between the City of Hillsboro and Imagine Hillsboro. Imagine’s Reinventing Central Park committee paid for the new piping, approximately $4,000 in materials. The parks department did the physical work, and their wages were paid by the city.

“The new drainage system is not fun and it is not flashy, but it’s something that had to be done to make the park beautiful,” May explained. These large-scale landscaping projects are getting the grounds ready for the next phase of the Central Park Project -  securing the funding needed for the playground and completing the new ball field. 

While the Reinventing Central Park committee focuses their energy on raising funds, the Parks and Recreation Department will begin concrete work, installing walking and running paths throughout the park, and  converting the existing structure into bathrooms and an indoor space that can be used for storage and small events.

“With any project of this size, it is slow moving and requires money to complete,” stated Kendra Wright, the head of the city’s Natural Resources Committee and Reinventing Central Park Committee member. “We (the Reinventing Central Park Committee) thought we would be further along in fundraising at this point, but the pandemic threw a wrench in our plans. We aren’t going to let it deter us though. Right now, we are focused on getting the grounds ready and raising money for the playground.”

The Reinventing Central Park Committee began fundraising for the park project, which is estimated to cost upwards of $360,000, in the fall of last year. Past fundraisers included selling specially designed Central Park T-shirts and a duck race through the creek that runs through the Central Park. The committee currently has coin cans out at various businesses within the city.

“It is a long-term project but the main thing is that we just keep plugging away at it,” said Brian Limbaugh, an active member of the Reinventing Central Park Committee. “Our vision is that Central Park will once again be a vital space in the community. We want it to be a true community park where residents of all ages gather, from little kids to elderly adults, but that will only happen through the investment of the community - citizens and businesses alike donating time and money.”

The Reinventing Central park Committee is actively seeking monetary donations for the park. Anyone interested in making a contribution may contact Limbaugh at 217-556-9038.

The information on the natural spring was taken from Hillsboro A History by Dorothy Bliss, where a more extensive history of the spring can be found. 

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