Park History

Public Recreation

By 1940, economic conditions in Petersburg and across the nation had improved to the point that many New Deal programs were gradually phased out, and the WPA ceased funding the Petersburg Legends Historical Park and Nature Conservancy Wildflower Sanctuary and Bird Sanctuary. The Walnut Hill neighborhood, just north of the park, had developed rapidly as one of the most fashionable areas in the city to live and streetcar access ensured a steady stream of visitors to the park. No longer serving as a reservoir, Willcox Lake was developed into a public swimming area complete with diving boards, slides, boats and a bathing pavilion. Up until 1953, Lee Memorial Park was extremely popular with the white residents of Petersburg. In 1954, rather than accept integration, the City chose to close the Willcox Lake swimming area. Over the next two decades, the city sold land to developers and other interests, reducing the park’s size to 330 acres. To curb rising crime and maintenance costs in the park’s more secluded areas, the city closed a major section of the park road to vehicles, and visitation steadily declined.


The shoreline of Willcox Lake with its recreational amenities was the subject of this postcard printed in the mid-twentieth century


Right: view of Willcox Lake shoreline with bathing pavilion and water slides, July 1946. Bottom right: the water slide was a popular attraction. This image was also taken in July 1946.

July 1939

These images are from a swim meet that took place in July of 1939.