William McKinley Park146 Years of History (1871-2017)
McKinley Park has a rich and fascinating history. It began as a natural low swampy area with a flowing stream called Burns Slough. In 1868, levee construction to prevent flooding of Sacramento cut the slough off from the American River. The slough became an agricultural canal for irrigation purposes, and later became the park lake. August 3, 1872, the Sacramento Union newspaper, wrote, "this historic stream, so lively and full of danger in the time of high water, and so demure and harmless during the summer season."
In July 1871, the City Street Railway Company opened East Park (McKinley Park) as a 30-acre "suburban place of resort." Located outside the city limits, and at the end of the
streetcar line, the park was created to increase ridership on the horse-drawn streetcars.
East Park had a two story structure, "Summer House," with balconies and a cupola with a
fine view of the surrounding agricultural country, and the Sierra Nevada and Coastal
Ranges. The building included a refreshment saloon, bowling alley, and music stand as
well as an outside dance platform which also doubled as a basketball court. The grounds
included walkways and drives landscaped with trees, shrubs and flowers.
A lake was
created from the remnants of Buns Slough. The lake was bordered by walks and lined with
poplar and willow trees. A rustic wooden bridge crossed the lake and recreational fishing
took place in the fish stocked lake. The park included picnic grounds, ball grounds, and a
zoological garden which included deer, raccoons, and other animals.The new park gained a reputation as an entertainment destination. Community events included festivals with food booths, musical performances, dances and free concerts. East Park became a popular weekend destination for picnics and sporting events. Popular sporting attractions included rifle shooting, sprinting races, baseball, and bicycle races.
In 1896, hot air balloon ascensions and parachute jumps by significant aeronauts of the Time drew large crowds. The park became home to permanent attractions such as a bowling alley and a toboggan ride. The September 9, 1895 edition of the Record-Union describes the ride: "The toboggan or aerial railway affords a most exhilarating amusement
to hundreds of persons daily. It is the longest of the kind in the country, and the cars carry
their passengers around among the treetops, affording a novel experience."
By 1901, East Park had gone into a steady decline. The park was no longer profitable to
the trolley company. Over the years, as maintenance fell behind
and the grounds and
buildings became rundown, East Park became less popular.McKinley Park
In 1902, the "Tuesday Club," a woman's organization, convinced the city of Sacramento to
purchase East Park for $12,500. Mrs. Carrie Miller was the driving force for the City to purchase McKinley Park. She negotiated the price, raised funds and solicited volunteer
labor for park improvement. She oversaw the development of a children's playground,
athletic grounds, including a baseball and football field, and a running track where the rose
garden is now located. The park was renamed to honor assassinated President William
A 1913 park plan, showed the park divided into areas for lawn tennis, zoological garden,
picnic grounds, floral garden, deer park and running track. The Zoological Garden
included deer, rabbits, exotic birds, monkeys, raccoons, and alligators in the park lake.
Development of homes and businesses at the time, began to form the East Sacramento
neighborhood. In June 1927, the animals from the city park exhibits in McKinley, McClatchy, Southside and Del Paso Parks were transferred to the new Sacramento Zoo located in William Land Park.
The running track in McKinley Park along H Street was eliminated. A rose garden was
built in its place, in the same oval shape. The former deer park was converted to a baseball
soccer field, surrounded by picnic grounds, and a children's playground. In 1936, the Clunie Clubhouse and pool were opened with a $150,000 bequest by Florence Turton Clunie.
McKinley Park has a colorful and varied history, from its original state as a swampy rural
area with an ancient creek to an entertainment destination. The park has evolved into an
urban multi-purpose park, surrounded by homes and businesses. The park's current
amenities were built over the years through the efforts of both the City and many private
groups and individuals, and included such projects as the community-built playgrounds
built in 1976 and rebuilt in 2013.
The McKinley Park lake was named Lake Kiesel, after Frederick Kiesel, the infant son of
one of the trolley company owners. In the 1910s, a rustic bridge crossed the picturesque
lake, where evening strolls were popular. In the 1920s, the lake held a successful alligator
exhibit, which was a main attraction in the park.
In 1988, the lake was renovated and the island was added by volunteers and city staff to
provide a nesting location for ducks and geese. Additional renovations in 2017 provided
extensive improvements including a deeper lake, lake liner, perimeter and island shoreline, an aeration system, and an aquatic plant shelf, to improve the water quality, wildlife value
and aesthetics of
the lake. At the same time, the area surrounding the lake was improved
with fencing, site furniture, water-efficient irrigation and low water-use landscaping.
Sacramento History Journal of the Sacramento County Historical Society, (2003). McKinley Park The Origins of East Sacramento, (Vol. III No. 1).
Captions:East Park, Burns Slough and clubhouse, c. 1894Photo of horse drawn streetcar, c. 1980East Park Clubhouse in 1918, with basketball court/dance floorMcKinley Park Lake Kiesel, 19121913 McKinley Park plan, Lawn Tennis, Zoo, Gardens, Deer Park, and Running TrackPostcard of McKinley Park Lake Kiesel, 1912Postcard of McKinley Park Lake Kiesel, 1916Alligator Exhibit, McKinley Park Lake Kiesel, c. 1922McKinley Village Playground, 1996