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Slater Park's history includes namesake, possible dream

GORDY MOORE/DAILY GLOBE Two girls enjoy time on swings at Worthington’s Slater Park earlier this week.

WORTHINGTON — Slater Park may not be one of the oldest parks in Worthington, but its name and the land it’s on have a much deeper background — both factual and fanciful.

Ray Crippen’s book, “The Names of Nobles County,” sheds light on the background of the park. Dr. Sidney Alexander Slater, a Virginia physician and surgeon, became the first superintendent and medical director of the Southwestern Minnesota Tuberculosis Sanitorium at Worthington in 1919 and served there for more than a quarter-century.

Slater earned a national reputation for his work in treating and preventing tuberculosis, published multiple scholarly articles on the subject and became one of Worthington’s most distinguished residents. The Sanitorium, or “San,” as it was often referred to, owned a large 60-acre tract of land, and patients frequently spent time on the lakeshore around the area what is today Slater Park. There came to be three large, main buildings, Dr. Slater’s house, a power plant and much more.

Most of the Slater Park property was purchased by the city in 1959 for $12,250. The east area of the park — with the modern boat landing — was obtained earlier, in November 1943 and July 1945, from Besse Ludlow for $1 on each occasion.

The park was eventually named for Slater, but, due to the “Stony Point” in the west area of the park and the large boulders along the shore, the area was originally just called Stony Point.

Today, Slater Park is one of the most expansive and amenity-filled public spaces in Worthington. The east side features the boat landing and large treed green space, but the west side has further amenities — and an interesting story.

In the portion of Slater Park that was a part of the sanitorium grounds, there is playground equipment installed in 2006, ample on and off street parking, a nice grassy area perfect for playing any game (as well as a large shady area), bathrooms with a water fountain, a picnic shelter and several grilling stations. Slater Park also offers beautiful, unique views of the lake and Worthington, as well as several fishing spots along the wooded shore.

The Slater Park beach is one of the more desirable in Worthington, because of the gently sloping shoreline and shallow swimming area — not to mention that the lakeshore and bottom are both far sandier and gentler on the feet than other areas.

To those who live near the park, the beach is sometimes called “Iowa Beach” due to the large numbers of Iowans who frequent the park in the summer.

This “legend” of Slater Park was found in Rose’s History of Nobles County by Pastor John Stewart of the Worthington First Covenant Church, and is as follows:

The Battle of Stony Point In 1896, some Worthington gentleman found in Lake Okabena an old-fashioned single-barreled shotgun of the style in use years ago. The barrel of the gun was deeply encrusted with rust, and the stock, which was of black walnut, was badly eaten and washed thin by incessant contact with the waves of more than a quarter of a century.

How the old gun came to be there was of course an unsolved mystery, but the Worthington Herald editor had a dream and printed it. Here is the story he wove about the old gun:

“Away back in the early sixties, so the story runs, a party of Sioux indians belonging to the band of the ferocious and bloodthirsty Inkpadutah, who conducted the massacre at Spirit Lake, were encamped at Stony Point (on West Okabena Lake) laying in a supply of fish. This was but a few days after the Spirit Lake butchery, and the United States cavalry was scouring the country in search of the terrible chief and his band.

“While the Indians were quietly fishing, a detachment of soldiers suddenly appeared behind them, deployed in a semicircle, so that escape to the north, south and east was impossible. In this predicament the Indians plunged into the lake, which was very deep in those days, and by swimming under water all but one managed to elude the bullets of their pursuers and escape in safety to the other side. They took their weapons with them. The one mentioned, when about 200 yards from the shore, raised himself from the water to yell defiance at the troops on the bank. It was his last yell on earth. A sharp crack from a musket, a short struggle in the water, and the Sioux brave sunk to a watery grave. Finding it useless to continue the pursuit, the soldiers took the back trail to the eastward.”

It seems that the true story behind the shotgun will never be unearthed, but the editor’s creative story/dream sparks the imagination.