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Colfax dedicates J.D. Simons Memorial Park

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  Colfax now has a new park.

Well — it is really a new “old” park.

As Scott Gunnufson, village president, noted during the dedication of J.D. Simons Memorial Park during the Colfax Founder’s Day Main Street Block Party, Saturday, August 6, for many years, people have been referring to the park at the intersection of state Highways 40 and 170 by a variety of names.

“Between all of us, we had so many different names for this particular location,” Gunnufson said.

The park has been called “Triangle Park,” “the park where the Class of 1958 has planted a flower garden,” “Flagpole Park” —  “the park where the dam used to be.”

The dam between Eighteen Mile Creek and the Red Cedar River was removed more than 15 years ago.

J.D. Simons Memorial Park is named after the founder of Colfax.

About 20 people attended the park dedication.

Troy Knutson, who was awarded the first J.D. Simons Community Volunteer award at the park dedication on Saturday, said that J.D. Simons had built his first cabin somewhere along Eighteen Mile Creek and most likely in the location of J.D. Simons Memorial Park.

Knutson suggested naming the park after J.D. Simons, who died in Washington state in May of 1918 when the milk truck on which he was riding swerved to miss a car and then overturned. J.D. Simons’ body was brought back to Colfax by rail, and he was buried in Hill Grove Cemetery a few miles out of town on county Highway BB.

“Troy brought it to the Colfax Commercial Club that it would be so fitting to name it J.D. Simons Memorial Park … the village board unanimously approved naming it J.D. Simons Memorial Park, so now the rest is history. (J.D.) now has a park here where he once resided,” Gunnufson said.

Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, prepared the resolution to name the park and brought it before the Colfax Village Board for approval at the June 27 meeting.

Troy and Michelle Knutson arranged to have a sign made for the park and donated the sign to the village.

More accurately, Troy and Michelle arranged to have two signs made, but one of the J.D. Simons Memorial Park signs will remain in their possession until the first one needs to be replaced in ten or 20 years.

Time capsule

In addition to dedicating J.D. Simons Memorial Park and presenting the first J.D. Simons Community Volunteer award to Troy Knutson, the park dedication ceremony August 6 intended to include burying the time capsule from the Colfax Sesquicentennial Celebration in 2014.

“When we had the 150th we had all intentions of burying the time capsule. (But) there is a spaghetti mess of wires in Tower Park, so there is no good place to bury the time capsule there. It got pushed off, and as it came time to name J.D. Simons Memorial Park, we thought it was fitting to tie in both the time capsule and the dedication,” Gunnufson said.

“We do have a hole ready for the time capsule, but after the last rainstorm, there is some water in the hole, so we will wait to bury it after the ground has dried out,” he said.

“When Colfax has its 200th anniversary, and hopefully Founder’s Day will keep going until then, that can be part of their ceremony to uncover the time capsule,” Gunnufson said.

Mark Mosey, the biology teacher at Colfax High School and the advisor for the Colfax chapter of the National Honor Society, worked with National Honor Society students to put together the time capsule for the Colfax Sesquicentennial celebration. NHS students who worked on the time capsule included Zach Meyers, Isaac Lee and Hunter Lieffort, Gunnufson said.

Items in the time capsule include a DVD of pictures of Colfax taken from Troy Knutson’s book, “Looking Through the Lens,” a flyer from Kyle’s Market to show the grocery prices, a compact energy-saving light bulb, a cell phone and a sample of water from Tainter Lake to find out if the water quality has improved over the next 50 years.

Timeline

After accepting the award for the J.D. Simons Community Volunteer, Troy Knutson gave a brief history of J.D. Simons, who was born in New York State on July 26, 1834.

J.D. Simons had one sister, Annie, and a brother who died in infancy. In 1852, J.D. moved to Michigan, and ten months later he  moved back to New York state. In 1854, he moved to southern Wisconsin, and one source said he moved to the West Central Wisconsin area and married his wife, Mary, in 1861, Knutson said.

J.D. and Mary had no children of their own but adopted two girls and raised them, he said.

When the Simons came to the area, everything in Colfax was first developed on the north side of Eighteen Mile Creek, from the school to about where the park is now, Knutson said.

“This is where the whole village started. There was nothing in the downtown area until the railroad came through, and that’s when they started building what we know as Colfax today,” he said.

When J.D. Simons first arrived in the area, the settlers started calling Colfax “The Creek,” Knutson noted.

Settlers began raising rutabagas, potatoes and tobacco, with rutabagas being the main crop initially, he said.

In 1904, the village was incorporated and named Colfax after Schuyler Colfax, the vice-president under Ulysses S. Grant.

In 1868, J.D. Simons built a mill on the creek and started grinding wheat into flour for the other local farmers. His wife, Mary, operated a store out of their log cabin where she sold sewing material and needles.

J.D. Simons was postmaster in Colfax from 1872 to 1894.

In 1893, Mary passed away and was buried at Hill Grove cemetery. In 1899, J.D. Simons moved to Bellingham, Washington, with one of his adopted daughters. He returned to Colfax every summer to check on his business interests and to visit with the people of the area.

On May 6, 1918, J.D. Simons died following an automobile accident in Washington state. The milk truck on which he was riding overturned when it swerved to miss a car, and J.D. Simons died several hours later. The death certificate classified it as “shock,” Knutson said.

“We are 99.9 percent sure he is buried at Hill Grove Cemetery next to his wife. In 2014, we had a fundraiser and bought a gravestone and had inscriptions put on the family stone at Hill Grove,” he said.

The J.D. Simons Community Volunteer award was an idea formulated by Mark Johnson, vice-president of the Colfax Commercial Club.

“We want to highlight the effort that the community gives back. There are several outstanding individuals who do this on a day-to-day basis but never get recognized, nor do they ask to be recognized. They do it out of the kindness of their heart and for the well-being of our community,” Gunnufson said.

The Colfax Commercial Club plans to make the J.D. Simons Community Volunteer award an annual event to recognize individuals who volunteer their time and to present the award during the Colfax Founder’s Day Main Street Block Party in August.