Early Owners Leave the Woods Intact
The McCallister family was the first documented owner of the land that today is the Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve.
Marcus Sherwood later purchased the land from the McCallisters, but he never cultivated it. Sherwood was a successful contractor who focus on raising horses and mules during retirement. The woods remained untouched.
In 1847, businessman William H. Stockwell became the next owner of the land. Stockwell’s total estate was 594 acres. It stretched from the location of the current Nature Preserve to the State Hospital grounds.
Several Parties Vie for Control of the Land
Land ownership was stressful for William Stockwell and his wife, Mary S. Stockwell. There were tough land battles for canal and railroad development, as well as encroaching pressure from the city, among other issues.
In 1919, the state of Indiana purchased all of the property except the 1-acre McCallister family cemetery from the Stockwells’ daughter, Frances.
The City Gains All the Land
In 1954, the city purchased a parcel of the land for a new stadium. Led by Mayor H.O. Roberts, Evansville bought 56.83 acres at the corner of Division Street and Boeke Road for $88,856.80. It became the site of Roberts Stadium.
In 1963, Senator Albert Wesselman persuaded the state of Indiana to gift the remaining 200 acres of Stockwell Woods to the city of Evansville. The land was set aside for park and recreation purposes and renamed Wesselman Woods in honor of Senator Wesselman’s vision.
The City and Its Citizens Oversee the Land
From the time the city received the land, various entities have been involved in planning, development, and promotion of what is now called the Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve. In 1972, the not-for-profit organization Wesselman Nature Society (WNS) was formed to manage the Preserve.
WNS Manages New Property
Howell Wetlands, one of the largest urban wetlands in Indiana is owned by the City of Evansville and is managed by the WNS. This area was officially designated a wetland in 1997 by the City of Evansville. Since that time there has been continuous restoration and management by the WNS and its partnering agencies to conserve this unique ecosystem and make it appealing to the community.