More on Fanny P. LewisLast week I began the story of Robert E. and Fanny P. Lewis and their many donations to beautification efforts in Watertown. Robert was a native of New York and Fanny of Vermont. They were married in 1850 and 11 years later moved to Watertown, where he had a substantial interest in the G. B. Lewis Co. and they fell in love with our community.
I mentioned their purchase of the huge Civil War Soldier’s Monument in what today is Veterans Memorial Park, and today I’ll continue with other donations and gifts they provided and still provide through the trust fund established by Fanny before she died in 1905.
One of the more interesting donations was the Indian statue, which was located in the center of the street at the intersection of Main and Washington streets. The statue had drinking fountains for horses and also some for small pets
It remained there for many years until one day a car got squeezed between the Interurban tracks and the statue. The Interurban tracks actually went on either side of the statue back in the early 1900s.
After that incident, the statue was moved from that location to a spot in Union Park, a few blocks south and west of Main Street.
I was born and raised just a couple blocks from Union Park and remember how all of us neighborhood kids would climb all over the statue as part of their summer fun. Finally, the statue was moved from Union Park and now rests at its final destination on the Octagon House grounds.
When Fanny established the trust fund, the first trustees were William C. Stone, Frank E. Woodard and J. Fred Prentiss. Over the years, there have been many changes in the trustees. As recently as 1980, the trustees were L. J. Lange, George Niemann and Lorraine Schatz. Today the trustees are Pat Peterson, Bruce Kasten and George Neuberger.
The first use of the trust money came in the early 1900s when the land, now known as Riverside Park, was offered to the city for use as a park by Charles Kiewert of Milwaukee. He offered it as a gift, but with a couple stipulations, most notably that the city was required to spend $300 a year for 10 years improving the park.
That proposal was not universally supported in the community with some saying the city doesn’t need another park and others who didn’t like the idea of spending $300 a year. It took some time, but attitudes changed and when the trustees of the Lewis fund stepped up to the plate and offered to share the $300 a year in improvements, the gift gained traction and as they say, the rest is history. Today Riverside Park is the crown jewel of the city’s park system.
Fanny P. Lewis and her fund helped with many other community beautification projects. For example, if you go out to Riverside Park near the upper pavilion, you’ll find concrete steps from the upper level to the grass in front of the Main Stage for Riverfest and then to the west of those steps are concrete steps designed for seating. Those are part of her legacy.
For some years the fund also shared in the expense of planting new trees on boulevards where mature ones had to be removed, helped with beautification of downtown flower baskets and much more.
One of the more recent undertakings was the development of Fanny P. Lewis Park along the banks of the Rock River on North Water Street. For many years, that was the location of Klink ice house and beer distributorship. At one time many years ago, there was a railroad spur that traveled all the way from old North Western main line at North Church Street east to Water Street and then South on Water through the area that is now the park.
After the Klink businesses closed, the city ultimately acquired the property and the Fanny P. Lewis fund help pay the cost of the development. The park is relatively small, but includes sitting areas, a boat launch, parking lot, trees and shrubs. It is also the location of the Bobby Maas Memorial Fountain, which honors this patron of the arts in Watertown.
In addition to her strong support for beautification efforts in Watertown, Fanny P. Lewis’ estate left s substantial amount of money to then Northwestern College to help students with the education costs there.
As you can see, Fanny P. Lewis was a philanthropist and her fund continues her beautification efforts to this day, now over 100 years after her death. The fund is sure to continue this legacy far into the future.
Fanny P. Lewis is another example of a person who loved his/her community so much they gave back and continue to give back.
Watertown is indeed fortunate to have had Fanny P. Lewis and her husband Robert in our midst.