Soden's Grove Park
Soden's Grove Park is located at the south end of South Commercial Street and is bordered on the north by Soden Road and on the south by the Cottonwood River.
Named in honor of William T. Soden, who completed the river dam and built a mill there, this park is rich in the cultural heritage of Emporia. In addition to his mill, Soden also built a furniture factory across the river from his mill. Early settlers came from as far away as 100 miles with their ox teams to patronize the mill. Soden's Grove was established originally as a campground for the mill's patrons and eventually served as a social center for Emporia and the vicinity, hosting 4th of July celebrations, Chautauqua programs, and camp meetings. At one time, Soden's boasted a skating rink, dance hall, and race track.
Following its halcyon days, much of Soden's Grove seemed to decline, even though it remained one of the City's major parks. Its primary use came from the baseball diamond, the questionable zoo, and the miniature train which is owned and operated by the Sertoma Club. Recently, this trend has been reversed as Soden's is now the scene of constant activity. The only baseball diamond within the park system is located here and it hosts play for State high school tournaments, American Legion, Babe Ruth, and EHS baseball teams.
The David Traylor Zoo of Emporia, Lyon County's most popular attraction, is also located in Soden's Grove Park and has become busy with picnics and visitors. The little train, which is usually operated during summer evenings, is still a popular attraction. A "toadstool" shelter house provides an established picnic area for park patrons, along with charcoal burners and picnic tables located in the park.
Recent improvements here include the construction of a handicapped-accessible restroom and an extensive grounds maintenance program which has greatly improved the appearance of the area. Unfortunately, some of the large established trees in the park have perished, however, a replanting program has taken place. Soden's Grove still offers a grove of large shade trees, including numerous walnut trees, which are enjoyed by many.
The Cottonwood River flowing along the south side of Soden's Grove may prove to be the nemesis of this Park, if not one way, then another. A good portion of the Park is subject to flooding, which makes certain improvements difficult to maintain. This flooding also is causing erosion to certain parts of the riverbanks and has resulted in several large pieces crumbling away in the vicinity of a roadway. Due to the inherent danger of the flood waters, the park is closed to vehicular traffic during periods of extremely high water. Improvements to the river bank have been difficult due to the discontinued practice of dumping snow and the effect that it and the chemicals have had upon it.
During 1986, Kansas Department of Transportation constructed a new bridge to span the Cottonwood River while at the same time realigning Highway 99, which caused considerable impact to Soden's Grove. Possession of the Marsh Arch Bridge, circa 1923, was transferred to the City and is now used as a fishing and pedestrian bridge, closed to vehicular traffic.
As mentioned previously, since the Zoo improvement has begun, more people are starting to use this location for picnics and other such activities, primarily in the grove area. Tree planting will be an ongoing activity, as there is a continuing mortality among the old, large trees. Additional drainage improvements are also planned, some of which will be done as a result of the Zoo improvement projects.
Headquarters for the Park Department are located in Soden's Grove. This has proven itself to be a good location to base our operations out of as it places us in close proximity to the Zoo, Peter Pan Park, several of the smaller parks, and many of our other activities.
Soden's Grove Park is enjoying a renaissance which assures its continuance as one of Emporia's major parks.