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The bridges that span portions of Mackenzie Park are popular romantic spots for couples, such as these young lovers in the 1940s.

Wide Open Spaces

Mackenzie Park has lots of room for family fun

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

Since the days of the Tumble N swimming pool, Mackenzie Park has served as a recreation destination for people inside and outside the Lubbock city limits.

“It’s a very special, unique place,” said Randy Truesdell, community services director for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “There are a lot of attractions there and a lot of open spaces. It’s a wonderful park.”

Which was the original intent of Mackenzie, named for a Texas military hero and established in 1935 as a cooperative effort of the state, city and county.

“The city bought the land hoping to get a state park,” said Sarah Barwinkel, a Texas Tech graduate student who has researched Mackenzie as part of her master’s thesis on the New Deal and Lubbock. “Lubbock had limited park acreage before the 1930s.”

According to Avalanche-Journal articles, Lubbock County began the events that would lead to the development of the park, purchasing 80 acres of land just east of the city in 1919. Seven years later, Mollie Abernathy donated 138 acres in Northwest Lubbock for the establishment of a park. That led to the creation of City Park No. 1, the forerunner to Mackenzie.

In 1935, Abernathy sold the city an additional 332 acres of real estate in Yellowhouse Canyon for the price of $75 per acre (the value at the time was $100 per acre), according to The A-J. The Yellowhouse Canyon area was the site of the final battle between buffalo hunters and Indians in Lubbock County in 1877.

The Abernathy family insisted the land be used for a park, and language in the contract stipulated the acreage would be returned if used for anything else.

Acquiring the 547 acres of land was the first hurdle. Actually bringing the park to life became the subsequent challenge. Making the dream a reality led to a cooperative effort from those who called Lubbock home.

“Many organizations in the city were making the case that Lubbock was a growing community that deserved the facilities and amenities that other cities around the state were getting,” Barwinkel said.

However, she said. Lubbock had another motivation for wanting its own state park. The Civilian Conservation Corps, which sprang up after the Great Depression, was the organization that went to work on the project.

According to an A-J article, the CCC began constructing a barracks to house its workers on the site in the spring of 1935.

“The CCC camp was organized not only to benefit Lubbock,” Barwinkel said, “but to provide jobs during the Depression.”

By the summer of ’35, the 200-man CCC Company 3820 had planted thousands of trees and also built bridges and recreational facilities, according to an A-J article.

“A lot of the CCC structures are still there,” Truesdell said. “Mackenzie is one of our higher-use parks, and it’s large enough to accommodate large crowds for special events, such as the Fourth on Broadway.”

The park was named for Gen. Ranald S. Mackenzie, who fought Indian battles in the area and later scouted the South Plains for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. A plaque recognizing Mackenzie’s career was placed near the entrance off Interstate 27 in 1968.

Once the CCC completed its work and the park was opened, Lubbock asked the state to deed the land back to the city so it could be maintained locally. The unique arrangement — a state park overseen by a local municipality — was in place until 1993, when the city took possession of Mackenzie in a land swap that gave the state the Lubbock Lake Landmark site.

Barwinkel said former longtime U.S. Rep. George Mahon, D-Lubbock, and former longtime Chamber of Commerce President A.B. Davis each played key roles in process.

“George Mahon was instrumental,” she said. “The Lubbock CCC camp ran for a long time — almost six years. Typically, the camps were evaluated every six months on whether they were still necessary. That’s why it’s impressive Lubbock’s camp was here for six years (from 1935-41).

“One other important aspect for Lubbock was the park connected Lubbock and its leaders to important state and national agencies.”

Lubbockites enjoy a summertime picnic at one of the many picnic grounds in Mackenzie Park. The park has been the site of many such activities, as well as many others, since it was established in 1935 as a joint effort of the city, county and state.

Long before the park was established, the area was home to the Tumble N private swimming pool, which was built in 1921, according to The A-J article, and the public golf course — which would eventually become Meadowbrook — was built in 1923. In 1939, according to an A-J article, the city approved a new $25,000 clubhouse for the course.

“One of the other arguments for a state park was a lack of leisure sports, not just in Lubbock but on the South Plains in general,” Barwinkel said. “People would come from as far as 100 miles away to swim there.”

Other recreation attractions came on line as well. In the 1930s, under the leadership of city parks commission chairman K.N. Clapp, the park welcomed Prairie Dog Town, which became a popular tourist attraction within its first five years, according to the City of Lubbock’s Web site.

The next decade saw the addition of the Mackenzie Park Playground, which grew into Joyland Amusement Park, according to the Joyland Web site.

In 2006, the Wells Fargo Amphitheatre was unveiled, providing another entertainment option. Also among its amenities is a disc golf course.

Today, Mackenzie provides the backdrop for the city’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display and hosts a number of other events throughout the year.

“I have heard people here say they’ve never been to Mackenzie Park,” Truesdell said. “It has a lot of attractions like the golf course, Joyland and the amphitheatre. And the disc golf course has attracted a lot of young people who enjoy that activity.”

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The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION