Colfax Sesquicentennial 2014: I.S.W.A. Park

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  In honor of the Colfax Sesquicentennial celebration July 17-20, 2014, the history installment for this edition of the Colfax Messenger is the I.S.W.A. Park.

Part 8: A private park turned public …

If someone asked you about the name of the park on Railroad Avenue where the Colfax Free Fair is held every year, you would probably say, “It’s called the Colfax Fairgrounds.”

But the Colfax Free Fair started in 1919, and beginning in 1910, the park was known as the I.S.W.A. Park.

I.S.W.A. stands for the Independent Scandinavian Workingmen’s Association.

The I.S.W.A. served both Swedes and Norwegians and eventually became known as the Scandinavian American Fraternity.

The I.S.W.A. was founded in Chicago in the 1880s. The branch in Eau Claire began in 1889, and the Eau Claire Independent Scandinavian Workingmen’s Association formed its own Grand Lodge in 1893. The organization served its members by providing life insurance, sickness and accident funds, and emergency funds.

According to news reports, 1,175 members, both men and women, belonged to Eau Claire’s Norden Branch 1 in 1950.

Colfax park

In June of 1910, the I.S.W.A. Park was dedicated with a big celebration that included 300 people who came to Colfax from Eau Claire by train.

One of the featured speakers was Wisconsin’s Secretary of State.

The Friday, June 10, 1910, edition of the Colfax Messenger included this article on the front page:

“The I.S.W.A. Park in the village is now one of the permanent fixtures, being formally opened with a big celebration last Sunday.

“The day was an ideal one, and continued fine with no rain until nearly night, which admitted of the execution of the entire program, that was highly gratifying to those who had the matter in charge.

“A special train from Eau Claire arrived here at about 11 o’clock A.M. and brought about 300 people, among whom were members of the Norden Lodge No. 1, I.S.W.A. of Eau Claire, who held their annual picnic with the local lodge.

“Immediately after the arrival of the special train, a procession was formed, headed by the Wisconsin State Band of Eau Claire, and marched to the Park, where the program was carried out as advertised. After the splendid dinner in the Park, which was partaken of by a host of people, the program was continued first by the address of welcome delivered by Hon. O.G. Kinney; then the speech of Secretary of State James A. Frear. It was pronounced the best ever heard here, while Hon. F.E. McGovern of Milwaukee was a close second. Other parts of the program were equally good, and on the whole, it was a day long to be remembered by the Colfax people, as it marks the opening of another one of nature’s beauty spots that cannot fail to be a benefit to the community.

“The local lodge of the I.S.W.A. has made a great effort to put their park in shape for its opening, and are to be congratulated upon their success.”

Colfax park

The members of the I.S.W.A. maintained the five-acre park in Colfax for 14 years, until the expense, along with other problems, convinced Lodge members the park should be donated to the Village of Colfax.

The April 17, 1924, edition of the Colfax Messenger included this article on the front page under the headline S.A.F. Park Made a Gift to Village (Members of Nordland Lodge by Vote 3-1 Display Public Spiritedness at Recent Meet.)

“Colfax now has a park it can call its own.

“Thanks to the members of the local lodge of the Scandinavian Fraternity.

“On Friday evening of last week, it was voted 3 to 1 to adopt the following resolution:

‘Resolved, that the local lodge No. 50 of the Scandinavian American Fraternity donate to the Village of Colfax, the park in the eastern part of the Village, commonly known as the I.S.W.A. Park, and authorize the trustees of the park, by legal description to the said incorporated Village of Colfax. Said Park to be always  be used as a Public Park. The Village to erect a suitable stone or arch to be placed in said Park with the inscription:

‘Donated by the Nordland Lodge No. 50, I.S.W.A. with the year and month.’

“‘Further resolved that this resolution be read at three consecutive regular meetings of the Lodge, first reading to begin February 8th, 1924, and shall constitute the first reading. At the meeting of the third reading, it shall be voted on by the Lodge.’

“The third reading and voting took place at the meeting held last Friday evening. The Messenger is informed by one of the officers of the Lodge that, in the transfer of the propery to the village, there will be one more little provision, and that is that the Village erect suitable quarters for the housing of livestock for the community fair.

“The land comprising the Park, five acres, was bought by the members of Nordland Lodge about twelve years ago. Upon the completion of the purchase, work or clearing the land for park purposes was started. From the beginning, the work incidental to clearing the land and providing buildings, was left to a few, as is usually the case in such public-spirited undertakings. The promoters found that it was useless to ask for contributions from people outside of the village, so it was somewhat of a struggle with the expense falling upon residents of Colfax and the immediate vicinity.

“With the purchase and clearing of the land, the members of the Lodge found that buildings would be necessary, so the late O.G. Kinney negotiated with Mr. Bunker of Menomonie to ascertain what the cost of a pavilion would be. A small pavilion was erected, but it was found to be not large enough to house people in the event of rain. So after one of the gatherings of the Bygdelags Stevne, of which Carl Moe was a president, it was found that there was money enough left to erect a larger pavilion — the one in use at the present time.

“The fact that the work incidental to maintaining the park, also that of the Lodge, the agitation to turn the Park over to the Village was started about two years ago. Members of the lodge were contributing regularly to meet the expense of the up-keep of the Park. Only a few years ago, the Lodge purchased 9,000 feet of plank for seats. At the last count, there were only nine pieces of plank left. Many of the spruce trees planted have been ruined, tops having been cut off for Christmas trees.

“With these abuses of the park and the fact that other things were going to destruction, and the realization that other expenses were coming on, such as repainting and reshingling the buildings, the agitation resulted in the action taken last Friday evening.

“The move on the part of the S.A.F. is a most commendable one, and the members of the Nordland Lodge are entitled to much praise by the people of Colfax.

“The Park is really a beauty spot and natural Park. In fact, it is about the only piece of land within the village available for park purposes. So we are now assured a permanent Park for Colfax, thanks to the members of the Nordland Lodge No. 50, S.A.F. The Messenger believes it expresses the sentiment of the Colfax people when it says: ‘Three cheers for the members of Nordland Lodge.’”

Park Drive

For many years, the paved street going into the fairgrounds was known as Park Drive.

Last month, the Colfax Village Board approved renaming Park Drive as Fairview Drive to avoid confusion with other Park Drives in Colfax, namely the Park Drive on the south side of town that includes the City View Villa Court and the new Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center.

An Internet search of maps for Colfax reveals that the drive around the fairgrounds is identified as S.A.F. Park Drive — Scandinavian American Fraternity Park Drive.

It is easy to imagine how S.A.F. Park Drive became shortened to Park Drive. It is not apparent how the other Park Drives in Colfax — including the small section of street by the Cedar Country Cooperative Car Wash — came to be known as Park Drive.