parks

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MIDDLETOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
"Linking the Past with the Present for the Future"

Madison Township Bicentennial Sketches
(1799-1999)

by George C. Crout

Madison Township Communities

Growth of Local Institutions
 

Parks

In the late 1950's, city planners began to eye an area in the Elk Creek Valley, which was still unspoiled, and which had not yet been suburbanized. Realizing that this area represented a choice building location of the future, especially as local water mains were extended into the region, a major block to earlier development, officials felt that action was necessary.

In 1963 the Middletown Master plan proposed the Elk Creek regional park.

When first proposed in 1963 as part of the new official master plan for Middletown, many thought it too ambitious a project. Some farmers in Madison Township opposed the buying up of good pasture land for a play area for "city folks" and others in the township feared an annexation attempt. At first the city Commission was divided, 3 to 2 on the proposal.

The proposal presented to the Commission originated with Weber W. Sebald, past president of the Armco Steel Corp. and a member of its board of directors. With Armco Park no longer available, becoming the site of Miami University's Middletown Campus, Sebald called his banker friend, Russell Weatherwax Sr. He indicated he was ready to give the city $100,000 in securities to aid in the purchase of land for a large regional park.

Being an avid golfer, he had proposed that a golf course be included.

Weatherwax called City Manager Dan W. Kothe, asking for a meeting with him on "a matter of great importance that would certainly be of interest to the city," Kothe arranged the meeting with Bill Donham, chairman of the commission also in attendance. At the meeting, Weatherwax informed the two city officials of the desires of Sebald and of his intended gift. When the proposal went before the full commission, two member opposed it, but after considerable study, the commission agreed to accept the gift and proceed with the land acquisition.

In late 1964 an option was taken by City Solicitor Tilmon Ellison, to purchase 540 acres of land in the Elk Creek area. Ellison converted the Sebald securities to cash, and July 26, 1965, the section known as the Lovely farm was purchased, financed in part by an open space grant from the federal government. The land was obtained for $400 an acre, a very reasonable price in those days.

According to Kothe, the main reason for developing the Elk Creek land which was officially named the Weber W. Sebald Park on Aug. 1, 1966 was to create "a green belt around the city to protect the great natural resource of the Elk Creek Valley for all to enjoy." The second reason was to develop a golf course for the city. Middletown was one of the few Ohio cities that did not already have a public municipal golf course, a recommended facility for a modern city.

Since Sebald's initial gift, other land and improvements were financed from the municipal capital improvements fund, federal and state grants, gifts and trusts from various are groups and individual citizens. In a recent statement City Commissioner noted that today the Sebald gift 'represented only 9 percent of the total costs..." of the park. It has now grown to 814 acres with many improvements.

In the city's annual report for 1971 it was noted: "In the spring of 1972 the city's 36hole golf course, will be opened for play,- a clubhouse is under construction- The course was named in honor of the late Russell Weatherwax, Sr. His family made a $75,000.00 contribution to the course, used largely for landscaping, making it one of the most attractive in the state.

When completed it won the outstanding Park and Recreation Facility award from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association for 1972. It was cited for the uniqueness of design and planning, and the 36-hole course has already won national acclaim.

The Jennie Sorg Trust, set up in 1918, due to its low yield was broken and the city took the $5,000 received from this to build a shelter at the park in her honor.

According to Middletown's Annual Report for 1973, the parks and recreation department opened the picnic area at Sebald, which was used extensively in July and August. The most popular area was around the bridge and the public "dipped and played in the creek waters." In conjunction with the Audubon Society, the "Interpretative Area Development Plan" for Sebald Park was completed, and included the development of two major trail systems.

Some 800 acres, including almost 350 for the golf course are now included in Sebald Park; and the master plan for the park calls for more acreage. It will include a developed nature study and interpretive area, field game areas, overlooks and, hopefully, the famous Butler mound, an archealogical treasure of the area built 30,000 years ago by the Mound Builders and which should be enjoyed by the people of today.

New access roads are also on the planning boards. The present value of the park land with its improvernents is over $7 million. Bob Metz, in presenting the first plans to the Park Board described the park as " a first class facility."

Sebald Park is now operated as a unit of the Butler county Metro-Parks system which serves all residents of Madison township.
 


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