The Remnants of a Long Lost Local Attraction
Updated: Jul 14
What remains of Epworth Lake Park?
Wilderness Park is the largest park in Lincoln, Nebraska. The park has over a thousand acres surrounded by trees, streams, wildlife, and according to multiple accounts is also the home of several ghosts.
Wilderness Park has an interesting history. In the early 1900s the Epworth League, a religious organization, constructed a local attraction near 1st and Calvert Street for boating, camping, outdoor activities, speakers, theatrical acts, and much more. The park had a donut shaped lake and an amphitheater that seated over 2,000 people. On occasion speakers would visit, some of the most notable were Billy Sunday, Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, and William Jennings Bryan.
Before the 1930s, the park was known to have thousands of gatherers each day during the summer months who enjoyed various activities. The convenience of the railroad and the number of cars that transported people from the park to Lincoln multiple times a day, allowed for a great number of visitors throughout the week. Many also stayed overnight in the rental cabins and in tents placed on pre-established sites. At one point, the area housed local residents who enjoyed a small town of their own with a local post office, bookstore, four restaurants, a grocery store, a bakery, and more to accommodate basic needs.
Unfortunately, during the 1930s torrential rains flooded the park, destroying most of buildings and camping areas. Although attempts were made to rebuild the park, efforts were abandoned in the 1970s and the city of Lincoln purchased the land. The area is now known as Wilderness Park.
Today, visitors of Wilderness Park can enjoy miles of hiking, biking, and horse riding trails surrounded by a densely wooded area. Dogs are allowed and picnic tables are available in certain areas. Several entrances and parking areas allow for numerous options for different starting points and also allow for opportunities to explore multiple areas without having to trek far to get there. Taking Jamaica Trail south will eventually lead you to a site that is said to be haunted. The train bridge above the trail is the site of the Rock Island train wreck that occurred in 1894. Passing under the bridge will send a chill down your spine as the temperature seems to drop significantly. Many people have reported feeling as if someone is following behind them while walking near the bridge, but when they turn around no one is there. People claim to hear screaming and feel cold spots as well.
Others have seen apparitions running through the woods to disappear behind a tree and never emerge on the other side. Others have heard disembodied voices and children laughing. The sense of being watched also occurs frequently. The rich history of the park, especially the abundance of people and the tragic train wreck that occurred there may account for the energy that still lingers today. There is also folklore associated with the "Witch of Wilderness Park" but finding her old house is an adventure of its own because it was most likely destroyed with the rest of the park in the 1930s.
A replica of the original Epworth Park archway can be found at the 1st and Calvert entrance and parking area. The first stone archway had Epworth Park in bold letters across the top, those letters are now gone, but the dominant nature of the gateway still shows the grand essence of the now lost and forgotten park. But the archway isn't the only remnant of the past known to remain within the parks boundaries, numerous accounts of ghost sightings and experiences have been recounted over years.
Although all the buildings are now gone, some foundations still remain, providing a sense of where some of the activities took place. The fact remains that the remnants of Epworth Park can still be found amongst the trees and trails. Understanding the significance of these landmarks creates a richer experience while wandering through the wilderness. At one point, thousands of people enjoyed their afternoons in the same place that is now known for its beautiful natural landscape and perhaps some of those people stayed behind.
Wilderness Park is open year round and can be visited anytime of the day during daylight hours. Walking through the Epworth Park entrance creates a feeling of being a part of Lincoln's history.
Check out the wonderful natural sites and see if you can find some of the old remnants of the past including the ghosts that are said to still linger amongst the trees.
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