Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sutton Park Story

The Sutton Park has always been an important part of the community, even before there was a community. Today’s park ground was part of the Luther French homestead in March, 1870, the town’s first real estate. The site of French’s first home, his dugout on the banks of School Creek is within the park. Though we credit French as Sutton’s founder, it is unlikely the prospect of a town was involved in Mr. French’s land decisions, much less the prospect of a park. He appears to have been a farmer just looking for a place to plant wheat.

John Maltby arrived early the next year to claim a homestead to the south of French’s and soon convinced Luther to subdivide his homestead into 600 lots for the town of Sutton which French immediately began to sell off to newly arriving townspeople. In the fall of 1871, French sold the last 400 un-sold lots to the Clark brothers, moved further down School Creek into Fillmore County acquiring another plot of ground for his wheat and resumed farming.

French’s sale of his homestead became central to the dispute that Sutton had with the Burlington Railroad when French fumbled the proper legal sequence involving recording land sales negating a deal railroad officials believed they’d completed.

The park site was the venue for an early patriotic gathering in response to the governor’s call for every Nebraska town to recognize the nation’s centennial on July 4, 1876. Dr. Martin Clark was in charge bringing in the town’s largest wagon for a stage and a crowd gathered for the occasion on the south banks of School Creek north of today’s Maple Street between Maltby and Way.

A band of Omaha Indians made the future park grounds their semi-annual campground as they traded with their favorite merchant and store: I. N. Clark and his hardware store. Dr. Martin Clark once offended one Indian gathering when he refused to sell their sick chief “medicinal” whiskey.

Sutton's Movers & Shakers at the gazebo about 1902.
Martin Clark was practicing medicine and I.N. Clark was operated a store and a boarding house when they became Sutton’s first serious developers with the original lots from French’s homestead and their additions to the west. But from the very beginning they had identified four blocks along School Creek as the location for a city park, a feature no self-respecting town could do without.

Martin and I.N. entered serious negotiations to donate this prize four square blocks to the city of Sutton for the park – negotiating not with the city, but with Mary Clark, Mrs. Martin V.B. Clark. Mary Clark and the other Mary Clark (both Mrs. Clarks were named Mary) were co-owners of the park property with their husbands. Mary (Mrs. I.N.) signed the documents along with the two men but Mrs. Martin dearly loved the trees along School Creek and could not bear to give them up refusing to sign.

The donation Sutton City Park property began in 1873 then dragged on and on. The town was using the property as a park; the trees shaded picnics, Indian encampments and other normal park activities. The pressure from both of the Clark gentlemen and sister-in-law Mary could not convince Mrs. Martin Clark to sign off on the property transfer for ten long years.

“Along the County Line” written by Rita Haviland and Jeanette Motichka and compiled by Nellie and Anne Sheridan tells the story of Mary Clark’s resistance. Finally in 1883 and because of her husband the deed was done and the deed for the park was transferred to the City of Sutton recognizing the first conveyance to the public in 1873..

Meandering School Creek carried on a lengthy battle with the city of Sutton by flooding the park every few years until town officials fought back straightening the channel. The new banks obliterated the precise location of the original French dugout site but it did orphan the southeast corner of the park which the city graciously enabled the Sutton Historical Society to acquire for the Wolfe School Museum.

Sutton’s City Park is one of the fine assets of the town with open spaces, a well-used pavilion and a fine feature-filled swimming pool. And it enjoys a long and interesting history.

This article first appeared in the July, 2010 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about the magazine contact or Mustang, Inc., 510 W. Cedar, Sutton, NE 68979.

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