SAN MARCOS — Most cities have parks, but San Marcos has Walnut Grove Park, which has “a park within a park.”
It has quite the history, too.
According to San Marcos Historical Society’s Tanis Brown, Walnut Grove Park had been an undeveloped park since the 1970s, where activities focused on equestrian and large events such as the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce’s annual chili cookoff in the 1980s.
Then in 1993, the historic Williams Square Barn, located at the intersection of Mission Road, San Marcos Boulevard and Twin Oaks Valley Road was moved to Walnut Grove Park to make way for road improvements and the new City Hall complex.
The park remained mostly undeveloped and then in 2000, the San Marcos Historical Society made a plea to the City Council to save an historic home located not far from the park.
The request was approved, and just two years later, another house from the area was also moved to the park. It wasn’t until several years later that the houses would be restored, but the moves led the way for the establishment of an historical component to the park.
About that same time the property adjacent to the park went up for sale and the city purchased the acreage complete with another barn.
“For the next two years a task force, which included area neighbors and representatives of the equestrian community, youth sports, the historical society and city staff, developed a master plan for Walnut Grove Park,” she said. “By 2005 the park was revitalized and the San Marcos Historical Society established Heritage Park to house their research library, photos, artifacts.”
“It’s called Heritage Park because the board members of the historical society named it back in 2005, and since we have gardens and a picnic area, as well as the Cox house and, I guess they felt it was a park within a park.”
Historic homes get renovations
Thanks to Roy and Bev Haskins, who spearheaded the renovations of the two historical homes with the help of county grants and lots of volunteer labor, the homes were salvaged.
However, the main museum for the historical society was located on San Marcos Boulevard, Brown said.
In 2008, the Native Garden in Heritage Park was planted through another city volunteer event known as VIBE. In 2009, the San Marcos School District built a brand-new San Marcos Elementary School, replacing the original school that was built in the 1940s, she said.
“This meant our museum building had to be relocated. By fall of 2010, the historic Mary Y. Connors Hall was reconstructed within Heritage Park and a brand-new ‘Welcome Center’ was constructed as well, so the historical society would have a place for the library, meeting and office space and storage.”
Tanis adds that Heritage Park is “a park within a park,” and Walnut Grove Park was — as you might guess — a walnut grove owned by Bill Uhland, who comes from a San Marcos pioneer family.
“Until the late 1970s the community could pick walnuts off the remaining trees while they were at the park,” she said. “After the redesign of the park in 2005, activities included an equestrian center for individuals and group events; soccer and multipurpose sports fields; trails for walking and biking; covered picnic areas; tot lots and play equipment; the Williams Barn which is used for weddings and large events and Heritage Park.”
What makes the park truly unique? A lot she said.
“I think Walnut Grove Park has something for everyone, some days it’s quiet and other days it’s buzzing with activity in every corner, a wedding or square dance, horses in the corral, sports, and a bit of living history,” she said.
People also use it for other things besides touring the historic homes, fun activities are almost always going on.
“We offer genealogy classes, have hosted performances, awards ceremonies, demonstrations, tea parties and during the week we host elementary students for a program called ‘Hands on History,’” she said. “We also host special events throughout the year.”
It’s also great place to visit if you are interested in the history of the area, or if you recently moved to San Marcos, you might want to learn about the city’s past.
“You can find out which streets are named after pioneer families, connections to famous people in history, and if you love seeing old houses, you’ll like our tour,” she said
Brown herself has a long history with the organization: “I first got involved in the mid-1980s when an abandoned historical house was being vandalized. Shortly afterward it was purchased and restored, but I continued to be involved until 1991 when I went back to college and then work. Eighteen years later, after I retired, I got involved again about the same time the museum was relocating to Heritage Park and have been around ever since.”
A bit of trivia that makes the area even more special aside from the Uhland connection, Brown said, is that many years later, his grandson Bill Uhland owned the Walnut Grove, and eventually sold it to the city of San Marcos.
“The park is in the Twin Oaks Valley area of San Marcos and is where the first Native American village was located over a 1,000 years ago because of the abundance of oak trees, water and flat land,” Brown said.
Tours of Heritage Park begin in the Welcome Center then the Connors Hall and includes the story of San Marcos history from the earliest inhabitants in the area, the Luisenos, the Rancho Period, early European settlers through the incorporation of San Marcos as a city in 1963.
The tour continues with a visit to historical homes and the native garden. Tours are offered at 1:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays or by appointment for groups over six people.
Tours take about one hour but can be modified to meet the audience.
Admission is $3 per adult and $1 per child. Call in advance to make sure the park will be open at (760) 744-9025.