Tuhey Park

By Savannah Myers

Introduction

It’s a devastatingly beautiful winter evening in Tuhey park. The January air is crisp and cool against the skin, capricious in its ability to both sooth and sting any exposed area. Each breath creates a visible puff of warmth, swiftly extinguished in the frigid temperatures. Small snowflakes drift in serene paths from above, not at all concerned by the raging bonfire waiting to devour some of the few unfortunate flakes that melt in its maw. The smell of wood smoke and the subtle pops and cracks of the burning logs mingle with the comforting chatter of friendly voices. Neighborhood residents and commuters have all gathered around the fire, conversing leisurely and watching their children and friends shakily glide around the temporary ice-rink erected in Tuhey’s softball diamonds. The scent of hot chocolate floats through the air, carried by the steaming cups being passed around. The sound of children’s laughter and metal scraping ice punctuates the otherwise quiet area with bursts of noise. A warmth and sense of vitality infuses the atmosphere, ushering feelings of comfort, peace, and a sense community.

This scene is from the 1950’s. It popped into my head during an interview I conducted about Tuhey’s past with a previous Riverside Normal City resident. Today, those softball diamonds no longer exist. They belonged to Tuhey’s past social life, an incarnation of the community’s desires at the time. Tuhey has lived many different lives over the years, all eventually transforming so that the park could evolve into the next manifestation as the rest of the neighborhood has evolved around it.

History

Records of the park known as Tuhey stretch all the way back to the Great Depression. The outdoor pool and surrounding recreation space were constructed in 1934, on the site of a former dump. In this lifetime, Tuhey provided a recreational relief to the stresses and pressures of the Great Depression on the Muncie community. The funds for this “leisure-time innovation”[1] came from Federal emergency financing, which provided federal grants for relief purposes.[2] The pool was heavily used by the Muncie populace. The park area was also used in combination with other play centers for supervised programs and games, such as softball, track and field meets, volley ball, tennis, a doll show, Junior Garden Club, and many other activities. Children attending these relief activities received free tickets to go to the pool three times a week.[3]

In the 1950’s, there was a major controversy surrounding Tuhey during the Civil Rights Movement. At the time, the pool was accepted for white use only. There was a pool designated for African Americans to use in a different part of town. Though there appears to have been no written documentation banning African Americans from entering this pool, it was socially recognized as segregated. [4] Following the rising sentiment of the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans protested this inequality.[5] The mayor of Muncie, Arthur Tuhey, calmed racial tensions by officially declaring that the pool was not segregated. The park and pool were then renamed in his honor.[6] In this incarnation, Tuhey was an agent of social change, but this dark time in the neighborhood’s history was not the only thing to define it. Along with the turbulent social and political climate, there was also a strong sense of neighborly connection between the white families that lived in the RNC neighborhood.

It was around this time that the ice skating rink was implemented and utilized during the winters. During this period, Tuhey was more than just a pool, it was ingrained in the Riverside Normal City neighborhood. It wasn’t uncommon for children from the neighborhood to participate in the activities and events at the park, like softball games, playing football, high jumping in a sandpit, tennis lessons, and of course, swimming.[7]  Bob Hartley, a former childhood resident, used to attend church softball and pickup games at the Tuhey softball diamonds. “It was just something you did as an activity! There’d be streets lined with cars for games.”

This companionship between the neighborhood community and Tuhey continued into the 1970’s and 80’s. Kim Bowlling recalls her happy childhood there, “I grew up in the that neighborhood in the 70s. We swam at Tuhey every day and attended Emerson. We played all over the neighborhood until well after dark.”[8] However, it was during these years that Tuhey began to have a bit of trouble. The park went through a series of closures due to lack of funding for mandatory upgrades and lack of sufficient revenue. In 1973, the pool was closed by the order of the park board due to its inability to generate enough revenue to pay utility bills. “…last month total revenue at Tuhey was $1, 207 and the water bill was more than $1,200. [All the] receipts were barely enough to pay the water bill and left nothing for salaries and other expenditures.”[9] In 1980, the city of Muncie requested federal funding to help them renovate the pool. “Mayor Alan Wilson said the request for federal funds will keep alive city efforts to reopen the facility after three years of indecision over the facility’s future.”[10] In this manifestation, Tuhey took on the financial struggles of the city and came to physically embody the lack of funding through the deteriorating of the public facilities while it was closed.

Currently, Tuhey is having many of the same problems with funding and attendance. After hearing about how popular the park was in the 50’s and 60’s, it’s a little underwhelming to visit the park today. Though we didn’t get a chance to observe Tuhey in the summer time, when the pool is open and park attendance is supposedly at its peak, we know from recent Star Press articles that there hasn’t been as much turnout. For the past couple of summers, the pool has had a few visitors but not enough to fill the Olympic size pool to capacity.[11] The city plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on upgrades to Tuhey park and pool. They’re aiming to increase interest in the use of both amenities but also draw people to the downtown area. “We need to generate the need to use our parks,” said the director of the Muncie Redevelopment Commission, Todd Donati.[12] Some of the improvements they plan to add are a basketball court, a sand volleyball court, a new shelter for the park, refurbishing the playground equipment, and replacing the bath house roof.[13] There has also been a movement to host more social events at Tuhey, such as the RNC’s Drool in the Pool and the recent Bison-tennial dedication. Though this problem with budget isn’t new, the effects after years of cutbacks have changed the running of Tuhey. Matt Bailey, the former Superintendent of Parks, reminisced about his time in the Parks and Recreation department and struggles he had. The loss of funding has made it “parks and rec. without any rec., and they could barely keep the parks in shape.” The running of the pool is also now contracted out, because the Muncie Parks Department is not qualified to run the park. “They have maybe the man power to run it, but no the education.” According to Matt, this is becoming a common occurrence in most cities.[14] The lack of funding and training make it easier on the city to contract out to the private sector.

Despite these struggles, the RNC neighborhood still has interest in Tuhey. The areas bordering campus are becoming more rental oriented,[15] but families with children still utilize the playground and open park space. Two parents mentioned regularly taking their children to the park. One of the reasons Heather Williams was drawn to the neighborhood was because of its proximity. Tuhey is basically in her backyard, so she feels safe letting children play in the park on their own.[16]

The integrated aspect of the park with the neighborhood has given Tuhey the opportunity to support many generations of neighborhood children. It’s this connection that many of the previous residents recalled with perfect clarity. They were able to easily conjure up scenes from their childhood based on their experiences and personal relationships with the park. To them, Tuhey was a place of community, of social gathering, and of childhood adventure. Though no one can be certain what the future holds, one can hope that Tuhey will continue to be this place to the residents of the Riverside Normal City neighborhood.

Final Thoughts

“Too much is expected of city parks. Far from transforming any essential quality in their surrounds, far from automatically uplifting their neighborhoods, neighborhood parks themselves are directly and drastically affected by the way the neighborhood acts upon them.”[18]

Tuhey is a general space that has been turned into a park by the architecture and landscaping added, but there is also a social component to the transition from space to place. A place embodies the experiences of the people who use it. In the past Tuhey was used for ice-skating and church softball, but it was more than just that. With the changing generations Tuhey transformed and took on new lives that embodied the community atmosphere at the time. In the 1930’s, Tuhey was a form of recreational relief from the economic and social stresses of the Great Depression. In the 1950’s, Tuhey was an agent of social change surrounding the segregation controversy, but also embodied the neighborly sentiment that residents felt toward each other through social gatherings like the ice-skating. In the 1970’s and 80’s, Tuhey reflected the financial struggles of the Muncie community through the physical decay of its public facilities.

These different incarnations show that Tuhey has the ability to change and reflect the social, economic, and political atmospheres of the RNC and Muncie community. Today, Tuhey is struggling to form this generational identity because of the lack of attendance. Spaces become places because of this lived-in component, and without it Tuhey will eventually just be a space. Perhaps this struggling is the precursor to another transformation, another new life in the history of Tuhey. Muncie’s representatives do have a plan in place to change the physical landscape of Tuhey in the hopes that it will attract more visitors.

[The] vision: to redevelop Tuhey Park into a world-class venue-known as “Tuhey Commons,” and to make it a key destination in central Indiana for recreation, competitive outdoor swimming events, leisure and social gatherings that would enhance Muncie and Delaware County’s economic well-being and sense of place for our citizens. [19]

Maybe Tuhey Commons is the next metamorphosis for Tuhey,one that current generations will look back on with nostalgic fondness. Who can say? All we know is that Tuhey has been an institution in Muncie, Indiana and the RNC neighborhood since the 1930’s. It’s contributed to the community by becoming a place in the hearts and minds of RNC residents and will continue to be a place as long as residents and visitors continue to form attachments and imbue the park with meaning through their embodied experiences.


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[1] Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown in Transition (248-249)

[2] The Federal Emergency Relief Administration–Washington University Libraries Digital Collections http://content.lib.washington.edu/feraweb/essay.html

[3] Rober S. Lynd

[4] Bruce Geelhoed, October 24, 2016

[5] Bob Hartley, October 13, 2016

[6] Bruce Geelhoed, October 24, 2016

[7] Bob Hartley, October 13, 2016

[8] Kim Bowlling, November 8, 2016

[9] Muncie Star Press article August 14, 1973

[10] Muncie Star Press article October 12, 1980

[11] Muncie Star Press article May 28, 2016

[12] Muncie Star Press article June 15, 2015

[13] Ibid

[14] Matt Bailey, October 24, 2016

[15] Beth Messner, November 19, 2016

[16] Heather Williams, October 16, 2016

[17] Rivke Jaffe, Anouk De Koning, from Introducing Urban Anthropology

[18]  Jane Jacobs 1961: 95, from The Life and Death of Great American Cities

[19] Why Tuhey Commons Matters by J. Andrew Dale, August 1, 2010