A Band Stand on Courthouse Square

401 3rd St Wausau

Having Fun in Downtown Wausau, Wisconsin/A Band Stand on Courthouse Square
Marathon County Historical Society
Written By Marathon County Historical Society

Marathon County Historical Society- home of the Yawkey House Museum & The Woodson History Center.

The Bandstand on Courthouse Square

In 1920, the aging bandstand on the courthouse square was damaged in a windstorm, which started a chain of events that led to the playing of a baseball game and more.

Not long after the grounds were created back in 1853, the courthouse square had become one of the main outdoor gathering places for the early citizens of Wausau, especially after a bandstand was built sometime in the 1860s. It had been used for decades for open air concerts, afternoon picnics, religious sermons, and as a place for civic organization.

But the band stand had seen better days by 1920, and many felt it would be better to remove or replace the old structure.

It was not a entirely new discussion. Around the turn of the century, there was spirited discussion about whether to replace or remove the aging structure, which many saw as an eyesore. At one point in 1910, the Committee on Public Property even announced that the bandstand was to be relocated to someplace else. But no one could agree on where the bandstand ought to go, and a few months later some funds were allocated for repairs and a fresh coat of paint instead.

But over the 1910s, new circumstances had emerged to complicate the discussion. These included questions of how to maintain the lawns of the square with regular pedestrian usage and the challenges of how to accommodate large number of automobiles on streets not designed with parking in mind.

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And so when a windstorm damaged the bandstand in 1920, the discussion again came up on what to do with the aging structure. The bandstand would need far more than a coat of fresh paint this time, and if it was to be saved it would likely have to be replaced or removed for good.

Save the Bandstand

The public liked the bandstand where it was, and a spirited public campaign to replace the bandstand emerged. A fund was set up to collect money for a new bandstand, and the citizens of Wausau were solicited for contributions. The highlight of this campaign was a baseball game that pitted the employees of Marathon County and the city of Wausau against each other—with all the proceeds going to the fund.

"I have accepted this responsibility, ... only after careful consideration" ... "As for these players, most of them are members of the county board and city council. I must ask that you remain quiet during the game because as officials they are not used to applause. However, if there are any aggrieved taxpayers in the grandstand who desire to throw pop bottles at them they have my permission." -Mark Bellis in a speech addressing the crowd before the game.

The game ended up raising around $150 for the cause, however it was not enough for what was turning into a bigger project. By this point the effort had expanded not only to a new bandstand, but now included bathroom facilities and a “comfort area for women and children.” The money raised was not enough to cover these additions, and the bandstand fund was set aside until enough contributions could be collected to complete the entire project.

The creation of Marathon Park in 1921 ended up overshadowing the project, which became a much better and by 1922 the courthouse bandstand was taken down for good. There were still vague ideas about getting back to the project when funds could be secured, but it largely faded into obscurity. Years later, the fund was rediscovered and although they remembered the baseball game fondly, the money (with a good bit of interest after sitting there for over a decade) was given to the park department rather than revisiting the forgotten issue of the courthouse park bandstand.

Since the 1920s, the courthouse square has itself undergone considerable changes. The courthouse was replaced with the modern one to the south east, and the block was turned into commercial buildings in the mid 1950s. Then those buildings were demolished and the block again became park space where people gather to take in a concert, enjoy some food, or take part in public discourse.

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