Orland Recreation History

History of the City of Orland Recreation Department

The roots of the Orland City Recreation Department extend back to 1917 with the formation of the first Park Commission to plan and coordinate the development of a central or civic park around the site of the planned Carnegie Library. The commissioners were Joseph Ralph Fotheringhame (accountant), Ralph Waldo Guilford (agricultural teacher), and Leslie Warren Wigmore (newspaper editor). The city had also been given a two-acre site in 1909 for a public park north of the downtown business area that would later be named Spence Park after the death of the donor William E. Spence in 1934.

In the summer of 1935, a plan was discussed using unemployed job-seekers from the newly formed Works Progress Administration (WPA) to build a municipal swimming pool in Spence Park. This was during the Great Depression and the citizens of Orland defeated the $8,000 bond election that December by 11 votes. However, this defeat did not dampen the dreams of Dr. Charles C. Bihler, local chiropractor and ardent baseball enthusiast.

“Bihler’s Dream” was for the city to purchase 18.5 acres east of Orland Joint Union High School and turn it into a municipal park and playground with softball and hardball diamonds, tennis courts, horseshoe courts, children’s playground, and a swimming pool. Bihler and Carl Bertis Hoag (men’s clothing store owner) brought the idea to the City Council in June 1936 for consideration. After deciding that city owned vacant lots could be exchanged with the property owners of the vacant park site, the idea for a “Municipal Playground” was accepted.

As a “non-essential” public project, the work took several years to complete and was dedicated in May 1939. In October 1947, the city council named the municipal park “Vinsonhaler Park” in memory of Frederick Cornelius “Fred” Vinsonhaler, local pharmacist, city councilman, and Chairman of the Park & Playground Commission who had worked closely with Bihler to spearhead the project.

In 1955, L.W. Wigmore would write, “With Vinsonhaler Park and Playground completed, the first organized summer recreational program was inaugurated in the summer of 1940. This program has been enlarged and extended until today with one paid director and many High School and College students who are seasonal part time workers.  The recreational program covers the entire summer season and gives directed play in softball, twilight softball, swimming, tennis, soccer, basketball, volleyball and a dozen other sports to not only the youth of Orland but of the entire Land of Orland.”

--Gene H. Russell, Orland Historical & Cultural Society