Peter Pan Park is located on the south side of the City, between South Congress and South West Streets from Kansas and Randolph Avenues south to the Cottonwood River. A small portion of the park is located south of the river.
The size of Peter Pan Park including its 4 acre lake is 51.7 acres. Peter Pan is certainly considered as one of Emporia's major parks, and its busiest.
The original 50 acres of the park was donated to the City in two parcels; 40 acres in 1926 and 10 acres in 1927, by William Allen White. The donation of this land was made in the memory of their daughter, Mary, who died as the result of a riding accident at the age of 17. William Allen White had written of his daughter -- "she was a Peter Pan who refused to grow up" -- hence the name of the Park.
There are deed restrictions which limit certain types of activity within this Park.
A memorial to Mr. White, a famous Kansas newspaper editor, featuring a bronze bust by noted sculptor Jo Davidson, was dedicated in July, 1950, by Herbert Hoover. Accompanying the bust is a plaque with a story relating to Mary White.
Several years ago, a motion picture production was made about the lives of W. A. and Mary White, with some of the scenes filmed on location in Peter Pan Park. Considering the above, this alone is enough to qualify the Park as a significant addition to our park system.
Elsewhere within the park is a monument dedicated to the memory of the United Spanish War Veterans.
As previously stated, Peter Pan is amongst the busiest of all our parks. In fact, it often times seems the park is over-used and congested. This, however, doesn't seem to detract from the good times being had by its patrons.
As might be imagined, Peter Pan contains many facilities. To begin with there is a wooden shelter, known as Kiwanis, that hosts a great many picnics, both for families and some of the companies or corporations around Emporia. Reservations for this shelter plus several of the following areas are available through the Park & Zoo office at 341-4365.
The Grape Arbor, a popular site for picnics, began a major renovation during 2003. Once completed, this area will be known as “The Arbor”, as the original vines providing the canopy for the area were actually trumpet vines, not grape vines. Cuttings were taken from the original trumpet vines and will be planted once re-construction of the area is completed.
Yet another specific area capable of hosting large groups is known as the Amphitheater. As no picnic facilities are located here, it is utilized primarily for concerts and an occasional play. There are also weddings held in the Amphitheater and occasionally in the "boat house" or "pagoda" located at the north end of the lake. Reservations can also be made for these areas.
Another link to the past, a wading pool presented to the Children of Emporia by Mr. and Mrs. Frank H. Reed in 1931, is operated by the Recreation Commission and is located adjacent to the stone comfort station which serves the entire park.
Several years ago the City obtained a grant which provided for the construction of a new handicapped accessible restroom, which was built in a fashion to resemble structures of the era during which the park was built, along with additional sidewalks and handicapped parking. This necessary facility is located in the vicinity of the Kiwanis shelter and the “Arbor”.
Other recreational facilities include three tennis courts , two lighted ball fields, a horseshoe court, various piecesof playground equipment and picnic tables located throughout the park. All of these facilities are heavily used throughout the season.
There is a bronze sculpture of Peter Pan which was donated to the City located in the vicinity of the wading pool.
Many of the structures located here -- benches, trellis, walls, and so on -- are WPA or similar program projects. Several years ago it was noted that some of these had fallen into a state of general disrepair, not only because of age but also because of extensive vandalism. In the meantime, the Park Department has undertaken the renovation, where possible, of some of these structures. This will continue to be an ongoing project as funding and manpower allows.
Over a period of many years, Peter Pan Lake had gradually filled in and deteriorated completely as far as quality and appearance was concerned. The deepest water level was around three feet and the mud had become potentially dangerous. A decision was made to rebuild the lake, and work proceeded, executed by the Sanitation and Street Departments. The results were a greatly improved appearance of the entire area, and a 12 foot deep lake providing good fishing. This was a very extensive project. The lake is stocked on a regular basis by the Kansas Deprtment of Wildlife and Parks.
There is an old WPA constructed monkey island located in Peter Pan Park. During the 1970's, this eyesore was converted into a waterfowl exhibit and operated as such for several years. In the meantime, with the construction of the Emporia Zoo, and due to the condition of this structure and the expense of trying to maintain a clean water supply, it has been abandoned as an animal facility. Numerous discussions have been held regarding what to do with monkey island.
Improvements contemplated for Peter Pan include construction of sidewalks connecting areas of the park, addition of interior lighting, rebuilding old structures where possible and practical, clearing more area along the creeks and ditches, additional tree and shrub plantings, and perhaps the construction of an additional comfort station.
Peter Pan Park is truly an asset to Emporia. By the virtue of its age, it is blessed with many established trees and features several interesting buildings. With the construction of the new Riverside Elementary School on the west side of the park, it’s use will most likely continue to increase. Peter Pan Park is an asset to the quality of life of Emporia and it serves an enormous number of people each year, providing many hours of enjoyment.