Park History

Development of the Park

As with many urban parks of the period, Lee Park had practical beginnings. In 1894, the City of Petersburg dammed Willcox Branch, a tributary of Lieutenant Run, to create a reservoir called Willcox Lake that would supply water to the growing municipality. After annexing the adjoining property in 1921, the city set aside 462 acres as public land. The new Lee Memorial Park was formally dedicated to the people of Petersburg and to “the memory of General R.E. Lee as a testimony to his defense of Petersburg, 1864–1865, to his greatness as a soldier, and to his nobility as a man.” Along with other local memorials, such as Blandford Church and the Pennsylvania Monument on Wakefield Avenue, the park’s name embodied the south’s romanticized view of the “Lost Cause,” and its reverence for Lee, the great Confederate hero. Lee Park was easily accessible to urban residents, and with Willcox Lake as its centerpiece the park soon became Petersburg’s most popular recreation area.

Wilderness

In its design, Lee Park typified the uniquely American “wilderness” tradition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, emphasizing natural scenery and native flora as a symbol of local pride and a refuge from the ills of urban life.