HISTORICAL POSTCARDS OF SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI
From the time of the early settlers, the area known as Doling Park was a stopping place for people traveling through the area. It stands at the intersection of Talmage and Campbell in northern Springfield. There was beautiful virgin timber and a very large cave with a spring flowing from it. Within the cave was a six-foot-tall waterfall. There were stories that the cave reached all the way to Springfield's Public Square, but this has never been proven. The cave was sometimes called Giboney Cave.
The first white settlers to own the land called Doling Park were John Thomas Giboney and his brother James Giboney. They purchased the 40-acre tract in 1846 for $60. The Giboneys built a cabin on the site which later became the roller rink and is now the Northview Community Center. They used the spring for fresh water and refrigeration.
The park was named for James Marshall Doling, who came to Springfield from Paris and Gallatin, Missouri. He became one of Springfield's outstanding merchants, instrumental in the building up of north Springfield. J.M. Doling was also a state representative for two terms. He was also an important force in getting the railroad located in north Springfield. In 1882 he purchased the land from the Giboney's for $2,500. The Doling family lived at 409 Lynn Street. One day the family cow wandered away and Doling chanced upon the beautiful cave surrounded by trees. He liked it so much he bought it and announced that he would make a park out of it someday. James Doling and his son Robert made the park a recreation center. From the spring waters they built three lakes (later, one larger lake). They added a pavilion, a ride called "Shoot-the-Chutes," a theater, bandstands and a picnic area. They built bathhouses for the ladies and men, with swimsuits available for renting.
On March 17, 1907 a group of three Springfield businessmen, Charles Brooks, William H. Jezzard and Ben E. Meyer, calling themselves "The Springfield Amusement Company," purchased Doling Park from James Doling for $50,000. This began the heyday period of the park. Among the attractions were two bandstands, rental boats, a professional baseball park, an Indian Camp, a dance hall, a penny arcade and pony show. There were a total of 19 amusement park rides, including a roller coaster, Tilt-a-Whirl, funhouse and a merry-go-round powered by a spring. This merry-go-round is now in the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. There was swimming, fishing, boating and a very popular theater which seated 2,000. Ice cream was sold in homemade waffle cones, a recent invention from the World's Fair of 1904 in St. Louis. Tours of the cave were available for ten cents and it was widely thought to be worth the money to see the waterfall.
William H. Jezzard eventually bought controlling interest in the company and sold Doling Park to the City of Springfield in 1929 for $85,000. The city originally began to build the park up by adding a gasoline-powered railroad and introducing it at the Frisco Veterans' Reunion in 1929. They also opened boat service inside Doling Park Cave. The city parks department also stopped what had been a ten-cent admission charge to enter the park. The Shoot-the-Chutes ride was deemed unprofitable and was shut down in 1929.
In the 1960s and 1970s roller skating was the big draw to Doling Park. Several famous skaters got their start at the Doling Skating Rink and many went on to build skating rinks of their own. The rest of the park showed a marked decline during this period.
In the 1970s the last of the rides were removed. The lake was made smaller and fountains were added for aeration. In 1979 the lake was drained and Springfield 4th and 5th graders from the Wings (gifted) program sifted through the dust and silt to find archaeological materials for the SMSU archaeological department. In 1982 the city fireworks display (now Firefall) was removed from Doling to help prevent pollution in the lake. A swimming pool and tennis courts were added. The roller rink was turned into the Northview Leisure Center, later the Northview Community Center. The dance hall is now Doling Community Center.