Janssen Park-Heart of Mena

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Janssen Park was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1979, after three years of research to verify the Park's history. Mrs. Christa Parsons spearheaded the project along with Glenn "Penny" Wimberly, the Parks Chairman. It is impossible to tell the story of Janssen Park without telling the story of Mena. The log cabin in the park was the only building on the land area we know as Mena, when the town was settled. The other items of historic interest were added as the town grew.

In 1895, Arthur Stilwell sent railroad scouts to the Ouachita Mountains (then thought to be part of the Ozarks). The men were to scout the area and lay out the best path for the soon to be built railroad, which was to run from Kansas City to a newly created town along the Gulf coast.

When the surveyors came there was very little cleared land. The area purchased for the future townsite of Mena was mostly a farm of 210 acres owned jointly by Dr. G.G. Baker and R.S. Owens of Old Dallas. (The county seat of Polk County.) The two men sold it to the Townsite company for $5,000. This comes to just about $1 per person, using today's population count.

The area was plotted in lots and placed on the market for sale. However, it was almost a year later, August 19, 1896, before the town fathers decided to recognize the town as officially settled. They chose the official coming of the first railroad passenger car as the town's birthday.

Mena was called a "diamond in the rough" by The Mena Star. However, with "sufficient polish and labor it would take on a metropolitan appearance as a railway division point and commercial center to command the trade as a large section of the country." And so it has.

Within one year the town that had began with some 300 campers in tents and wooden shacks now had 3,185 inhabitants with many store buildings, homes, churches and schools.

There were 223 cottage residences and business houses erected during the year of 1897. Of these, 104 were built upon the original townsite, 24 upon the Vineyard Addition, 34 upon the Hall Addition, 63 upon the Eureka Addition, and 8 upon the Hornbeck Place addition. This did not include a number of "shanty shacks".

By January 1898, a petition to move the county seat from Dallas to Mena had been signed by 1,200 voters and submitted to the county court. A special session was called to take action on the petition. The Townsite company donated an entire block upon which to build a new courthouse and donated $5,000 toward its construction.

Mena became home to hundreds of railway employees and was a stop-over for hundreds more. As a division point it was necessary to construct a roundhouse and other railroad related businesses. An area for holding cattle was needed, as were loading docks, water tanks and, of course, a depot.

It was Stilwell who decided Mena would be the name of this new town along the route to Port Arthur, Texas. He named her so in honor of his beloved friend and financier Jan DeGeoijen's wife, Folmina Margaretha Janssen DeGeoijen, whom Mr. DeGeoijen affectionately called Mena.

It was Mena's father for whom Janssen Park was named, as well as the town of Janssen. Later, Janssen had its name changed to Vandervoort (Mr. Janssen's wife's maiden name.) The change was required by the postmaster because there was already a town in Arkansas named Jansen and the mail was always getting mixed up.

Copyright by Shirley Manning

© Shirley Manning 2004