For many years, Doling Park was Springfield’s premiere recreational spot—and it all began because of a wayward cow

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Doling Park’s dance pavilion is pictured in an undated postcard. (Courtesy of the Doling Park Museum)

Few, if any, people today remember Doling Park’s earliest days as Springfield’s top leisure locale. Back in the late 1800s, things like cave tours, the “Shoot-a-Chute” and Sundays spent lakeside drew visitors from Springfield’s polluted city limits.

Far more recall the days of the Doling Amusement Company’s rides, Fourth of July fireworks shows and school picnics. And yet, the largest number probably identify the park in terms of its longtime skating rink, one of the first in Springfield.

But regardless of what one remembers best about Doling Park, the fact remains that memories were made there.

Doling Park became a reality due to the generosity of James M. Doling. A local businessman and state representative, Mr. Doling was a defining influencer in several crucial areas of Springfield’s development. He became enthralled with the land after tracking down one of his cows, which caused him to stumble across the park’s cave. He was so impressed by the land that he decided to buy it, which he did in 1882, and vowed to turn it into some kind of a nature preserve.

He stayed true to his word.