A Bit of History

Greene Square Park in Cedar Rapids has seen a lot of changes. Once the highlight of the downtown area, it had become a simple walk-thru for years before the city attempted to renovate it, and did their best to breathe life back into it.

And though it took some time for the City to get it the way they wanted, I think they finally managed to give the community what it needs.  Since the city unveiled the new community space in May, scores of people have ventured down to enjoy the colorful fountains, the creative artwork, and relaxing atmosphere.

Green Square Park: "Humans of Cedar Rapids" project. Photo by Cynthia Petersen

Green Square Park: “Humans of Cedar Rapids” project. Photo by Cynthia Petersen

The popularity of Pokemon Go and the cool splash pad have only added to the popularity. On any given night, groups of kids and adults alike can be found wandering the Square or relaxing on one of the many chairs and benches that line the walkways. (Strings of lights light up the center of the Square, and the free wifi are definitely a plus.)

It has taken a few years, but Greene Square has once again become the hub of the downtown community. With the public library on one side of the park and the Mueum of Art on the other, the heart of Cedar Rapids is becoming a meeting place for friends and colleagues, a place for kids to play, and a spot to just relax a few minutes before heading back to work.

Cedar Rapids’ oldest park, now referred to simply as Greene Square (named for Judge George Greene), was once home to a train depot, Union Station, built in 1897. (The depot was torn down in 1961.)

In those days, visitors got their first glimpse of Cedar Rapids as they stepped off the train, with the old Washington High School (now the site of the CR Public Library), the Carnegie Building (home to the CR Museum of Art, which used to be the library).

old washington high school

Old Washington High School Across from Greene Square. Photo Courtsey of Cedar Rapids History Center

According to an article on saveheritage.org, “a fountain with electric lights was one of the park’s early amenities, but it was removed by the 1920s and replaced by a pavilion.”

My mother moved to Cedar Rapids in 1936 when she was 5. The family moved into my great-grandparents on 8th Ave and 8th St. SE, while my grandfather looked for work. On Bank Night, while the grown-ups went to the Strand Theater (eventually the World Theater) to listen for the numbers to be called (she said Bank Night was like the lottery), the kids played in Green Square Park.

green square park before 2014

Greene Square Park, before the recent renovation. Photo Courtesy of the Cedar Rapids History Center.

A old cannon once stood in the square, which of course, was an attraction for kids. She said she remembers getting hurt once or twice on that old cannon, which remained in the park for several decades.

I like the new Greene Square. And as I sat at one of the tables and watched my grandchildren play, I realized how much I had missed it.

For years it had just been a large space in the middle of town, but with the addition of sculptures and other artwork, a colorful fountain, and beautiful landscaping, it can be enjoyed by everyone.