History of Yetti Polk Park
During the early morning hours of Tuesday, December 2, 1913, rain “of cloudburst dimensions” pounded the area of the headwaters of Nolan Creek for several hours, causing a rapid rise in the water level that swept through the city of Belton. The turbulent waters carried away the old Tobler home, located just across the creek from the courthouse square, and five members of the W. C. Polk family.
The deceased included Mrs. Polk, the former Yettie Tobler, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Julius Tobler; and four Polk children – Yettie, age 17; Florence, 15; Marion, 11; and James, 5. Mr. Polk, aware of impending danger, got his son William to safety but was unable to get the rest of his family out of the house before the flooding waters swept it away. Later on Tuesday, the day of the flood, hundreds of searchers combed the banks of the creek looking for the bodies of Mrs. Polk and her children. They found those of Marion, Florence, and James near the John Ferguson place southeast of the city, and they discovered Mrs. Polk’s body on an island in a collection of drift but it washed away before they could recover it. They found her body again on Wednesday on the Tyler place above the mouth of the Nolan. At ten o’clock on Sunday morning, a search party of about one-hundred fifty people found daughter Yettie’s body on a gravel bar near Chalk’s Bluff, about two miles from town. Mr. Polk laid his wife and four of his five children to rest at North Belton Cemetery. He would remarry and father five more children. The flood, remembered as “the great flood of 1913,” washed away all three of the town’s bridges, destroyed about fifteen houses, and damaged many others. The event caused much sadness among residents for the lives lost and damage caused throughout the city.
In February 1914, public enthusiasm ran high for civic improvement in Belton. The Belton Civic League, formed officially in February 1913 to clean up, beautify, and improve the town, was in active pursuit of the establishment of a park in the area where the Polk home once stood. The idea to create a park in the area devastated by the recent flood originated first in a desire to protect life. The prevailing thought was that future use of the property must not include housing. Increased support for the park came with the idea to use the area as a memorial. On March 14, the league announced they had secured funding and purchased the property adjacent to the Polk home, and that Mr. Polk and Dr. Batte each had donated their respective lots for the new park.
At a meeting of the league on March 17, the program included the presentation, “What We Hope to Make of the Yettie Tobler Polk Memorial Park” by Mallory Blair, a local attorney. The league described their hopes for the park as:
“The park will be an object of civic pride, a place whose beauty will appeal to all, a place in which all the citizens of Belton have an equal and a common interest, a place of rest, comfort, and pleasure.
“The park may be made an object of pride before strangers visiting the city.
“It may be made a place of social resort where men tired of the office or store may go for rest and recreation; where friends may meet on another.
“One of the greatest features of the park is the memorial which it is helping one of her citizens to erect to those who were dear to him, the tender memory which it must always awaken in the hearts of those who know the true, sweet lives of the mother and children in whose honor the park is named, their sad tragic death adding to depth of feeling in the memory.”
Following a series of land transactions to secure the property, efforts began to transform the flood swept district into an attractive park, with flowers, grass, shrubbery, children’s playgrounds, bandstand pavilion, and a general gathering place. With time came the addition of camping facilities, tourist houses, and a dam just below the bridge on Main Street to create Lake Bassel, named for the late Mayor Neal Bassel. The Sanborn map in 1921 shows a plank bandstand at the west end of the Central Avenue Bridge, now commonly referred to as the Jail Bridge, and a restroom a short distance away.
The park has seen improvements and additions over the years. During the Great Depression, the National Youth Administration worked in the park. A plaque on the bridge that carries traffic on Davis Street over a ravine in the park credits the group with building the rock-walled bridge in 1938-1939. This bridge and others in the park as well as the pavilion contain interesting stonework.
On June 3, 1939, the anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, the formal dedication of a water fountain occurred at the park. Daughters of the Confederacy Bell County Chapter 101 erected the fountain made of rock from the hills near Belton. The plan called for continuous plantings of red and white flowers, the colors of the U. D. C., in the flowerbed surrounding the fountain. The poppies growing there at the time were from seed gathered in Flanders Field [a common English name of the World War
I battlefields by a World War 1 veteran and given to the chapter.
A local resident recalled renovation of the pavilion in 1980 as part of a larger effort to bring the park back from a dilapidated state to its former glory. More recently, the City of Belton added playground equipment and provided restroom facilities, and they continue to maintain the park grounds.
For more than one-hundred years, Yettie Polk Park has been the destination of countless visitors for all types of entertainment, celebrations, and events. Beginning in the mid-1930s and continuing for many years, the City of Belton and Belton Chamber of Commerce held a series of weekly band concerts in the park and the White Horse band provided the music. Among the many current uses of the park are the annual Fourth of July celebration, fishing, hiking and biking, kayaking, picnicking, concerts, sports, and
family and public gatherings.
Address: 101 S. Davis Street, Belton, Tx
Hours of Operation: 5 a.m. – 11 p.m.