If you’re like me, you’re interested in the history of the day-to-day places you go to, walk around, or drive past. A place that’s long piqued my interest is Mansfield Park, one of Muncie’s most unique recreational areas. I’d been going there to catch bluegill for years before I decided to look into its story. Later, I decided to explore the place even more through the use of a couple of drones.
I love parks, and I’ve written about them here occasionally. High Dive Park in Elkhart is an all-time favorite of mine, as was Muncie’s West Side Park until officials dismantled its great climbing structure and I grew up. Although Mansfield Park sits firmly in Muncie, it’s actually owned and operated by Center Township. Muncie’s southeast side was hurting for recreation areas in the 1970s, so Center Township attempted to rectify the situation by purchasing a portion of land off of Meeker Avenue to establish a park. A group of residents -primarily Sutton Elementary School parents- disagreed with their choice of location and campaigned for a park closer to home. So did other nearby people, who clamored for a larger facility to replace a small baseball field they’d erected along Eaton Avenue1.
Based on the community’s feedback, Center Township changed course and purchased land from Eloise Mansfield in September 19772. Several years earlier, construction of the Muncie Bypass had stripped her brother’s farm of the topsoil necessary to continue crop production there3. William Mansfield, who the park was eventually named after, had died in 1973.
Bill Chambers spearheaded the park’s creation but its layout was developed by Jim Savage of Environmental Planners, Incorporated. Savage designed the park’s initial phase, which included a fishing pond built from the “borrow pit” dug when a nearby overpass was created, an unlit little league baseball field, a parking lot, and a drive entering the facility from Eaton Avenue. The first phase was expected to cost $143,000, but Center Township retained the option to purchase another nine acres for which they’d budgeted $500,0004. At the time, Savage asserted that a larger version of Mansfield Park could accommodate shelter houses, restroom facilities, playgrounds, and tennis courts5.
R.C. Keller won the bid to build the park’s facilities at $126,000, and his firm soon set out to slightly fill the pond and complete other infrastructure necessities6. Bowerman’s Fish Farms of Indianapolis stocked the park’s pond with game fish in 19807, the same year Mansfield closed early to add a new roadway, parking lot, and multipurpose building8. Though it was initially planned, an official connection to South Manhattan Avenue at the park’s west side never materialized.
Mansfield Park was home to a large, recessed playground surrounded by benches, a Little League baseball diamond, two tennis courts, picnic areas with tables, parking for a hundred cars, a lodge, and the spring-fed fishing pond when it was dedicated on September 10, 1982. The 22-acre facility was handicapped accessible, and the park was overseen by a caretaker who lived in the southern part of the lodge.
Mansfield Park’s pond is probably my favorite part of the place. No other parks in Muncie feature one! I love water, and it’s incredibly easy to catch bluegill there, so long as you open your bail and wait five seconds. I’d long heard that the pond was an old quarry, which isn’t true, but I knew it wasn’t deep since the old “borrow pit” had been partially filled in while the park was being constructed. Nevertheless, I wanted to see if anything interesting existed underwater. After I bought my ROV drone, I threw it into the pond’s southeastern corner, the deepest part of the old pit, for a test run. Although it’s probably no deeper than two meters at maximum depth, I saw a lot of bluegill. Unexpectedly, a bass ambled through at the end of the video I took.
I took more underwater footage from the northern section of the pond near the pier. The vegetation is thicker there, and the water is more shallow. Occasionally, you’ll see a catfish lazing in the little creek that travels from the pond toward the lodge. One of these days I’ll take the drone somewhere more interesting, like Prairie Creek Reservoir, Lake Mohee, or Phillips Pool.
The pond at Mansfield Park is pretty forgiving for even the worst fishermen among us. Sometimes, that’s me: Four or five years ago, I managed to spend three hours there without a single catch though it wasn’t for a lack of trying! I fished from all angles, I used different baits, different reels, and different presentations. Still, though, I left the place skunked. As I trudged back to my car, a seven- or eight-year-old kid walking around the pond asked if I’d caught anything. I hadn’t, I grumbled. Had he?
Of course, he said, pulling his line from the water, which revealed a stringer lined with six catfish! He was waiting for his mom to pick him up so they could fry them up for dinner. I wound up going to Long John Silvers that evening, thankful that I didn’t have to catch my own dinner and humbled by the interaction.
Aside from the fishing pond, Mansfield Park’s most prominent feature is probably the two-story pavilion sitting partially over the water. The pavilion was designed to be reminiscent of old bandstands from the 1890s8, and the upper level is accessible via a spiral staircase. Cowan Elementary School held my “sixth-grade graduation” at Mansfield Park in 2003. I spent most of the evening hanging around the pavilion while a friend caught fish using hotdogs as bait. Although fishing trips to the park as an adult proved that I didn’t learn anything from my buddy, the pavilion is a striking feature nonetheless. It’s a landmark that makes the park even more unique than its peers.
I never realized how prominent hexagons are in the park’s design until I flew the drone over it yesterday. The pavilion is hexagonal, the playground is hexagonal, and even the area surrounding the park’s shelter is hexagonal! I wondered if the shape was particularly popular in the 1970s and 80s when this area of the park was designed. They weren’t, but it turns out that hexagons are one of nature’s most efficient geometrical shapes: they’re seen in honeycombs, turtle shells, the eyes of a fruit fly, the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, and even in the clouds on Saturn9. Now we can add Muncie’s infrastructure to that illustrious list.
In 1998, a 10-mile segment of the Cardinal Greenway, a rail trail along the abandoned CSX railroad, was completed from Muncie to Prairie Creek Reservoir. Although the Center Township Trustee initially refused to provide access from the greenway to the park10, by 2000, a new trustee completed a 600-foot paved path that did11.
Mansfield Park has seen other improvements in recent years: Not long ago, new benches were installed and its attractions were repainted in vibrant colors. Although the park was closed for the season yesterday when I flew my drone around, Mansfield remains popular for myriad reasons: its pond is a great place to relax, fish, and enjoy nature; and the park’s pavilion and lodge are unique around the area. Those hexagons are too, and while no playground will rival Miracle-Jamison’s Mark IV Timberline structures that once stood at West Side and McCulloch Parks, Mansfield’s looks fun for kids to explore and turn into whatever suits their flights of fancy.
That’s a lot to be said for a twenty-two-acre plot of land that owes its existence to the Muncie bypass. The highway hooks south shortly after it nearly touches the place, and it ruined William Mansfield’s farmland. I’m sympathetic to Mr. Mansfield’s loss, but I’ve loved exploring the park built on his land by land, air, and sea. Now that I know its history, I like the place even more. I’ll head back once the park opens up and hopefully catch a little more than some shade from a seven-year-old!
1 Bales, G. (1977, October 15). Township Will Open Bids Nov. 1 on Mansfield Park. The Muncie Star. p. 1.
2 Site Selected for Sutton area park (1977, September 28). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 21.
3 Meehan, K. (1982, September 5). Mansfield Park a Reality After Years of Planning. The Muncie Star. p. 30.
4 (See footnote 1).
5 Yencer, R. (1977, November 2). Low Bid on Mansfield Park Is $126,000. The Muncie Star. p. 10.
6 (See footnote 3).
7 Barnet, B. (1980-, June 13). Prairie Creek Will Get Fish Shipment Saturday. The Muncie Star. p. 19.
7 Mansfield Park Closed (1980, September 6). The Muncie Star. p. 7.
8 (See footnote 3).
9 The Hexagon (2022, March 8). Berkeley Economic Review. University of California [Berkeley]. Web. Retrieved March 4, 2023.
10 A neighborly thing (1998, August 17). The Muncie Star Press. p. 4.
11 Slabaugh, S. (2000, December 30). All fired up. The Muncie Star Press. pp. 1-4.
One thought on “Muncie’s Mansfield Park from land, air, and sea”
I wondered why I had never heard of this one, but then I left Muncie in May of 1982 and never looked back, other than a few favored haunts.
It is interesting that a township would do this on its own. And more interesting than some level of government would actually listen to citizens and choose a second location after complaints.