Call Box: Splash Water Park went down the drain in 2010 …

Dear Call Box: I recently visited Metropolitan Park and noticed that the Splash Water Park at Kids Kampus was no longer there. Can you tell me what happened?

C.A., Jacksonville

Dear C.A.: The Splash Water Park went down the drain in 2010. The seasonal water park and Kids Kampus were torn down and converted into an open play field as part of the renovations to Metro Park.

The park s multimillion-dollar renovation was part of then-Mayor John Peyton s initiative to improve public spaces downtown, according to a city website.

The city redeveloped portions of Metro Park based on insight from residents and because there were few public spaces in the urban core for visitors to enjoy direct access to the St. Johns River, the website said.

The 10-acre Kids Kampus opened in March 2001. Its largest attraction was a safe city bicycle driving range, modeled after downtown, that included street signs, traffic signals, pretend roads and mini buildings representing a grocery store, gas station, restaurant, bank and police station.

It also had a large jungle gym area. Its seasonal water park featured Three Friends, a boat-shaped structure with water cannons, a slide and climb-on bridges.

Dear Call Box: I recently read an interesting book from the Jacksonville Public Library called The Orphan Train about children from New York City being sent to the Midwest in hopes of being adopted. This morning I read a Letter to the Editor about the First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville that helped orphans sent here on the trains in the early 1900s.

What can you tell us about that?

N.M., Jacksonville

Dear N.M.: We can add a little more to what you already know. The Letter to the Editor, which ran shortly after a story on the downtown church s 175th anniversary, said that church leaders, particularly the Rev. William Boggs, played a key role in offering safety, hope and new homes to hundreds of children who came here on the trains.

Boggs, along with the Rev. D.W. Comstock, led the movement to establish the Children s Home Society of Florida in 1902, said letter writer Charlie Cromer, the society s state board chairman.

More than a century later, the society serves more than 50,000 children and family members throughout our state, including 10,000 in Northeast Florida, Cromer wrote, adding that the society was grateful for the church s support.

Betsy Towers, a long-time member of First Presbyterian, said there was little additional information in the church archives.

She said some children were sent to Tampa for placement as well.

We are very grateful for the association that the Children s Home Society has had with the First Presbyterian Church, Towers said.

We talked to David Clark, the society s regional director of philanthropy, who said that he had been told the orphan trains came to Jacksonville after the Great Fire of 1901, and that the children were used for free labor to help rebuild the city.

Comstock came to Jacksonville to start the society, and the orphan train movement was part of his reason for coming, Clark said. Comstock went to Boggs for help because First Presbyterian already had raised the funds to replace its wooden church, which had burned in the fire, with a Gothic Revival structure.

The society s website provides more information. It says that thousands of dirty, malnourished children boarded the trains desperately hoping to find families.

Older children especially strong ones found homes quickly. Younger ones, however, often went from city to city before someone noticed their sad, lonely eyes. More than 400 arrived in Florida, adding to the state s already growing population of homeless and abandoned children.

Public welfare was nonexistent, and few laws protected children, spurring a national movement triggered by the constant stream of orphans traveling the tracks, the website said.

On a quest to find families for homeless, neglected children, the movement ventured to Florida in the early 1900s, counting on support from the wealthy. But the year before, fires destroyed much of Jacksonville, eliminating potential philanthropic dollars and underscoring the need for a foster and adoptive placement agency.

Submit questions by emailing [email protected]1, calling (904) 359-4622 or mailing to Call Box, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231.

Please include contact information.

If you have a picture to offer with your question, feel free to send it.

Sandy Strickland: (904) 359-4128


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