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In Silver Springs Park, broader Springfield can learn from the shared 'human experiences' of joy, friends and hope

Silver Springs Park
Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail/used with permission
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Silver Springs Park, traditionally the only public park open to African Americans during the era of segregation, has a rich history dating back more than a century.

Silver Springs Park was established in 1918 on farmland that had been owned by Springfield school superintendent Jonathan Fairbanks. According to the Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail website, Fairbanks had died the previous year.

Silver Springs, likely named after the clear water that sprouted forth from the land there, was designated as the only park in Springfield for Black residents during segregation.

Today, it’s 13 acres – with a pool, a baseball diamond, tennis and basketball courts, picnic tables and a playground.

Denny Whayne, who grew up going to the park, said he remembers going to the park often and having picnics with his family and friends.

“That’s where all the Blacks gathered because we couldn’t go to the other parks,” Whayne said.

Whayne spoke about his former days when he would play baseball at the park. He says he had to be careful where he stepped, because in the outfield there was a pasture of cattle.

“And then when we were in grade school for an activity, when school was out, you know how kids have parties at schools and activities and everything? One of the activities we had as grade school teachers was all the grade school kids from one to sixth grade would walk with their teachers over to Silver Springs Park and spend the whole day over there,” Whayne said.

A ‘Day of Games’

In 1952, two community leaders, Gerald Brooks and Robert Wendell Duncan, launched the annual Day of Games – a time for sports, trophies, food and fellowship for the African American community here.

The day is known as Park Day, celebrated in early August of each year.

Norma Bland Duncan, who also grew up in Springfield, said she spent countless hours at the park when she was younger—but she had to wait for her father to get home before she could go socialize with friends at Park Day.

“We couldn’t go anywhere until he came home, and ate dinner, and changed clothes, and then we would go to the park. And we were always late,” Duncan said.

Today, Park Day is a community-wide event that celebrates both the history of the Black community and the progress that’s been made. It takes in August each year.

Besides Park Day, Silver Springs Park holds celebrations for Juneteenth and various sporting events.

A ‘woodsy’ area with fruit trees and wild game

Duncan says she remembers when this area was still largely undeveloped.

“The area where [African Americans] settled right over here by the park was woodsy," she said. Today, she lives about one block from the park.

"It was full of game rabbits and squirrels and trees, fruit trees and nuts and all of that. And then they knew how to farm. They came off the farm. They had their own gardens and stuff like that. They knew how to be self-sufficient and they had spring water to drink,” she said.

Timmons Hall: a symbol of the shared human experience

In 2015, Timmons Hall – a stone church that historically served Springfield’s African American community – was painstakingly moved, rock by rock, to Silver Springs Park. Today, it’s part of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. Timmons Hall’s history and engagement coordinator is Christine Peoples.

“Timmons Hall hall was overlooking the park then, because now, of course, it's been moved and relocated in Silver Springs Park. But they had baptismals where they were all lined up in white. And they would come from the church and this was like an all-day event where they would have baptisms, they would pray, they would be preaching. And then they would eat and fellowship. And the children would play in the park,” Peoples said.

Today, Peoples says Timmons Hall – and Silver Springs Park – are both symbols for the broader community. The pleasure and joy from going to a park, the hope from attending a church service, and the sense of community felt by just being together are not limited by a person’s background – they are human experiences that can be appreciated by all.

Silver Springs Park is bordered by National Avenue, East Scott Street, and North Hampton Avenue—it’s just north of Ozarks Technical Community College.

You can find a list of the historical sites on this heritage trail at africanamericanheritagetrailsgf.org.

As News Director, Jennifer oversees news gathering and production for KSMU-Ozarks Public Radio; in her role as Content Coordinator, she makes sure all programs on KSMU, including those produced locally, nationally, and internationally, flow seamlessly over the air. She trains the student reporters and announcers and hosts the monthly program Engaging the Community. Follow her on Twitter @jennwritesmoore.