The story behind the hill in the park

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

If you're new to Fort Wayne or less than 20 years old, you probably have no idea how Reservoir Park came by its odd name. For decades, though, the answer was obvious every time your turned on a water faucet.

The top of the hill at Reservoir Park today is bare, except for some grass and rocks. But it wasn't always that way.

At the top of the hill was the cap to a 4.8 million-gallon water tank that was built in 1880 and supplied the city's first municipal water system. Water from deep rock wells was stored in the tank until it was needed.

The park's lake was created when soil was dug to form the earthen dike along the water tank's sides.

Not only did the reservoir supply the city's water, it also provided recreation, like fishing and sledding. In addition, the park in 1916 hosted perhaps the most ambitious project ever undertaken by the city: a week-long festival commemorating Indiana's centennial.

A 14,000-seat theater was built on the side of the hill, and a massive stage was erected on the island that used to be in the center of the lake. During that week, six plays were presented each night depicting Indiana's heritage.

As with everything, however, age began to take its toll. Around 1950, the water tank ceased functioning, and plans eventually called for the landmark hill and watertank to be leveled.

The cost of a complete leveling, however, proved to be steep. It would have cost $110,000 to level the hill, even though it cost the city just $20,000 to buy the park in 1880.

Finally in 1959, the great cap above the hill was bulldozed off and the underground tank filled with soil. In its final years the above-ground part of the tank was considered a hazard and a white elephant as the sidewalk around it began to deteriorate.

The demise of the park's namesake was a blow to the park's vitality, but ``The Rez'' began to live again when a newly landscaped lake and new recreational center were dedicated in 1975.

--Aug. 29, 1981

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