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Traxler Park shrouded in fog
Photo by Mike Kohlbauer
A Closer Look

Traxler park

Our beautiful tree filled park nestled between a lagoon and the flowing Rock River

Story and Interview by Teresa Nguyen

January, 2021

Goose Island was big in the 1930s and ‘40s. If the lagoon’s ice was too thin, the Janesville Fire Department would come down and spray water on the land to create some rinks. It was a real treat to go. ~ Nancy Nienhuis

1870s - Though other parts of the city of Janesville were being settled, businesses were growing and residential areas were developing nicely, the land where Traxler Park is located was occupied by squatters. A squatter is a settler with no legal title to the occupied land, land that is typically not yet allocated by a government. At the same time, hundreds of cows owned by local farmers, were roaming around the general area.
 

At this time, hundreds of geese were known to congregate there, which is why it became known as “Goose Island.” For several years, the island was surrounded by water, connecting to the rest of the city on the south end by a small bridge built by the squatters.

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Early 1900s - Fishermen in canoes could circle the island fishing for bass. The city passed an ordinance prohibiting livestock to run at large in the city. After the ordinance, the island area was abandoned by the people and became overgrown with weeds. The area became a dumping ground, and the island gradually became connected to the mainland.


Janesville’s first City Manager, Henry Traxler, was an advocate for parks, stating that the goal was to provide “a breathing place, playgrounds and parks for the beautification and recreation of Janesville citizens.” Mr. Traxler’s city administration oversaw some of Janesville’s most progressive achievements, including the development of our beautiful park system.

1920s - The city hired John Nolan to prepare a plan for the Goose Island park.

1928 - The Lions Club purchased the area known as Goose Island and donated it to the City to be used as a public park.

They put up a skating shack on the lagoon, cleaned up the site and leveled it with dirt, preserving the ice skating and swimming beach. The city refurbished the old Bathhouse building,which the Rock Aqua Jays took over maintenance of, after the Rock River Boat Association dissolved. 

1930s - Goose Island was perfectly nestled between the beautiful Rock River and a lagoon on its east side, filled with beautiful stately trees and ample room for community fun. The area became a favorite recreation spot for families in Janesville.

In a brief interview with retired General Motors nurse and local agriculture leader, Nancy Nienhuis, she described the popularity of the park back in her day: 
Henry Traxler
Janesville's First City Manager
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Nancy Nienhuis
“Goose Island was big in the 1930s and ‘40s. If the lagoon’s ice was too thin, the Janesville Fire Department would come down and spray water on the land to create some rinks.

It was a real treat to go, even though we wouldn’t have that much time to spend there. I often went with my sister and my cousins and we had to get a ride into town. It took a lot to get the cows milked, everyone fed and then get ready with our skates to go off to Goose Island.

They had Adult Skate there every night, plus racing and figure skating. It was fun to watch…there were some beautiful skaters! I was not one of them. There would be neighborhood kids who would set up hockey games with cones and such.

We went sledding a lot more than skating. We usually would go to a big hill over in Emerald Grove. But we loved going skating at Goose Island and gathering in the warming house to warm up.

Going to Goose Island was a lot of fun, but we didn’t have a lot of time to be out. There were still chores left to do on the farm.”

1940s - 1950s - Up to 1,000 people could be found skating at the park’s ice rink! It was a very popular hangout. Kids would bring their hockey skates or figure skates, getting dropped off by mom or dad after school, leaving the kids there to play until the sun went down!

The city was given the Bathhouse, previously used by the Rock River Boat Association and the city refurbished the building. The Rock Aqua Jays took over maintenance of the building after the Rock River Boat Association dissolved.

1955 - The city built the concrete revetment around the lagoon, planted around 200 crabapple trees on the north side of the park and built the Warming House. The fireplace in the Warming House was a popular spot to warm up from the freezing temperatures out on the ice.

It was a cozy building where you could change into or out of your skates, goof around with friends and enjoy refreshments served at a small counter. A phone on the wall was used to call home when you needed a ride and the cars would line up bumper to bumper, either dropping off or pikcking up kids.
 
1956 - In February of that year, the name was changed to Traxler Park to honor Henry Traxler for his part in its creation. 

There was both a land rink and the lagoon rink. Often, parts of the lagoon were closed off because of the dangers of thin ice. Sometimes they would completely close off the lagoon.
 
There was also a hockey rink next to the land rink. There were even ice-skating competitions in the park!
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The Traxler Park Warming House - Photo by Teresa Nguyen
Snowy Forest
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Traxler Lagoon under ice and snow in January 2021 - Photo by Teresa Nguyen
1960’s - Park attendance was at its peak with nearly 43,000 attendees and an average daily attendance of 622. At one point, there were 16 ice rinks throughout the city. By 2000, the city only maintained the Traxler Park rink and the Janesville Ice Arena - an indoor facility.

1963 - The Eternal Flame was built for President Kennedy. It was intended to represent JFK’s grave in Washington DC. Because of energy and cost, the gas flame is no longer functional.
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Annual Ceremony at Veterans Memorial Plaza
Over the years, Veterans Memorial Plaza established numerous memorial monuments including a Gold Star Mother Monument, Purple Heart Medal Monument, Medal of Honor Veterans Walkway, Vietnam War Memorial and a Global War on Terrorism Memorial.

1970s - The Janesville Jaycees (now dissolved) operated a big firework display in a 2-5-day event for the 4th of July. Attendance would range from 30,000 - 40,000!

1980s - The Rotary Club started hosting the Mud Volleyball Tournament. They started setting up the mud volleyball courts in the parking lot using cement blocks to contain the mud, which was very labor intensive. 

1995 - The Noon Rotary Club requested to build three mud volleyball courts for their annual Rotary Corn Roast event. A fourth court was later added.

August 5th, 2000 - Powerful straight-line winds associated with a line of thunderstorms moved through Rock County and caused approximately $8.1 million dollars in property damage. Hundreds of trees at Traxler Park were uprooted and dozens more badly damaged. The community pulled together to clean up the mess, which looked like a war zone! Thankfully, a few of the parks' oldest trees were unharmed. Several new trees were planted in the aftermath. 
 

2002 - An expanded 2-boat launch was created to accommodate 15 vehicle/trailer parking stalls in north Traxler Park.

2003 - The Friends of Traxler Park began hosting ice skating in the park. 

Around this time, The Golden K Kiwanis Club began a special fundraiser called Truck on Ice. The club waits for the Traxler lagoon to freeze, then puts a large red truck on the ice. People can purchase a ticket to guess when the truck will break through the ice.

There are several prizes, with this year’s top prize at $2,000! 


The fundraiser supports scholarships for Craig and Parker seniors, homeless students, Craig Closet, early literacy programs, the Boys and Girls Club of Janesville and the Boy and Girl Scouts.

To purchase a ticket, contact kiwanis.truck.on.ice@gmail.com or call: 608-322-6315

The Golden K Kiwanis Truck on Ice - Photo by Marsha Mood Photography
You can also buy tickets at Mac's Pizza Shack at 2307 Milton Ave every Saturday from 11-1 PM, which includes a $5 coupon for you from Mac's Pizza Shack! You can also purchase a ticket from any Golden K Kiwanis member.

Visit the Golden K Kiwanis Facebook page for additional information.

In 2003, the city prepared a Goose Management Plan for city parks. Some of the methods tried were Dog the Geese Program (unleashed dogs to chase geese), noisemakers, a No Feeding ordinance, trapping and relocation and using dead goose decoys.

2008 - The 100-year Rock River flood left a large portion of downtown Janesville, including Traxler Park, under water, disrupting the rest of the summer’s community activities.

2010 - The Rock Aqua Jays took over the 4th of July holiday event in the park.


2017 - Maintaining an ice rink was cut from the City budget and volunteers took over creating the rinks (with some city assistance) and organized skating opportunities.

2018 - Janesville Youth Hockey President, Edward Chady, led a volunteer effort to bring skating back to Traxler Park. Chady felt that local kids needed a space to skate and play.
In a Gazette interview, Chady noted, “I think it’s great to have it open to the public to get people involved in skating. There’s pretty limited ice time at the ice rink (Janesville Ice Arena).” 

2019 – The first annual Dragons on the Rock event, a rowing benefit for Kandu Industries, took place in September at Traxler Park. Several teams of 12-20 rowers and 1 drummer in each “dragon boat” raced to raise funds for Kandu Industries, Inc.

Ian and Lauren Knox
Skating at Traxler Park in 2013
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The Rock Aqua Jays Waterski Team - Ballet Line
2020 - Janesville’s Jolly Jingle Parade was adjusted to avoid crowded downtown streets during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Jolly Jingle Reverse Holiday Light Parade was moved to Traxler Park and participating floats were stationary in the park while people in cars drove around the loop enjoying the festive displays. 
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Traxler Park is a busy location throughout every season. Every May, a Memorial Day ceremony takes place at Veterans Plaza in the park. In summers, the Rock Aqua Jays waterski team regularly entertains the community and, this year, the group hopes to host the National Championships in August! Numerous community events such as Dragons on the Rock, Janesville Renaissance Faire, Trunk or Treat and other great festivals are held at Traxler Park throughout the year.

Let us hope that 2021 sees a return to 'normal' following the COVID-19 pandemic and we can all gather at this beautiful gem in the heart of our city for exciting new and fun family events!

Learn more about Janesville's 2021 events on the City of Janesville, Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau or Downtown Janesville, Inc. pages.
The Lagoon is a favorite fishing spot - Photo by David Abb
Click on the icon to visit the Facebook page.
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City of Janesville
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Downtown Janesville, Inc.
Janesville Area Convention
and Visitors Bureau
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Veterans Memorial Plaza at Traxler Park - Photo by Ann Eckert Bennett
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Sources:
janesville.granicus.com
Wisconsin Historical Society
Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
City of Janesville
WisconsinHistoricalMarkers.com
Kandu Industries
Golden K Kiwanis Facebook page

The Janesville Gazette