It must have been a fabulous home that Mark Woods and his son, Pace Woods, Sr., were visiting in the late-1920s: the New York City home of John F. Harris. Harris had been a childhood friend of Mark Woods and his brothers, and he had become a successful investment banker. He was a Lincoln native who wanted to do something back home to honor the memory of his parents.
According to Pace Woods, Jr., his grandfather, “…suggested that [Harris] donate a park to the citizens [of Lincoln].” That he would do. Pioneers Park came to life on roughly 600 acres of rolling prairie north of Van Dorn in west Lincoln that Harris donated over the course of three years (1928 – 1930). The Harris family also donated several animal sculptures for the park, including the bronze buffalo that greets visitors at the center of the east entry’s roundabout.
Another Lincoln native designed the wonderful park. Ernst Herminghaus was a landscape designer for Woods Bros developments and was trained at Harvard University as a landscape architect. The easternmost 80 acres of the park, closest to Coddington, were the first to be designed, and the plans included incorporating vistas of the Nebraska State Capitol Building that was then under construction.
Pace Woods, Jr., wrote that his family’s nursery, located south of Sheridan Boulevard and east of South 33rd Street, donated evergreen trees and lilac bushes to line the Coddington Street approach to Pioneers Park.
Pioneers Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As historian Ed Zimmer noted in the site’s Registration Form, Lincoln was undergoing a period of phenomenal growth in the 1920s. During the Depression, the park provided much needed public recreation space. It likewise created employment for people and galvanized development opportunities for the city’s parks and recreation spaces.
True to their form, the Woods brothers and other families of means used a combination of creative and practical resources to make this civic opportunity meaningful and long lasting. In the spring/early summer of 2015, Woods Bros Realty will launch half of a 125-tree donation to the Pioneers Park area to commemorate this longtime relationship and its 125 years in the community.