Marathon County Historical Society- home of the Yawkey House Museum & The Woodson History Center.
Marathon Park has been a focal point for the greater Wausau area since the late 1860s, when two local businessmen donated the land. But its beginnings came a decade earlier with the founding of the Marathon County Agricultural Society in 1857 by 34 local farmers and businessmen. Their intention was to promote agriculture in Marathon County. In 1867, two men – August Kickbusch, a land speculator and the first Mayor of Wausau (elected in 1872), and Bradbury Plumer, who was involved in the lumber industry – donated 80 acres of land to the Agricultural Society for a fairgrounds. Its first annual fair was held in 1868.
There were attempts in the 1900s and 1910s to develop parts of the fairgrounds to be used during the rest of the year, outside Fair time. These efforts got a big boost with the creation of the Marathon County Park Commission in November 1920. The Park Commission formed in response to state statutes and it provided an avenue for prominent citizens to invest in parks across the County.
Marathon Park officially was created in 1921 when the Agricultural Society gave the 81 acres known as the fairgrounds to the County. The gift came with some limitations, in particular a request that the County invest a sizable amount of money to improve the park’s structures and features. Cyrus Yawkey himself donated $20,000 to the project, with half going toward park improvements and the other half for use by the fair society.
The most ambitious improvements were to replace the aging judging barns and grandstand. The County hired the respected Milwaukee-based architect Alexander Eschweiler to design both striking structures, and both were built within a few years of the gift of the park. Other early improvements are less obvious today. The commission saw to the clearing of significant undergrowth through the forested area and developed “fine highways” of crushed granite, also described as “a network of driveways and foot paths, which intersect every portion of the big park.”
Thanks to the Park Commission, Marathon Park quickly became one of the best destinations for recreation in the County; whether there was a fair going on or not.