Marie B. Ellis Park started as one woman’s tribute to military personnel from Plant City. Now it’s a tribute to one woman’s dedication to the community.
Long before it was known as Ellis Park, the plot of land at 601 E. Laura St. was nothing more than a vacant lot. Ellis saw the vacant land and had an idea. With members of the military, including her three sons, soon returning home to Plant City, why not give them and their families something nice to enjoy together?
Plans to acquire and develop the park began in late 1944, when Ellis created the Civic and Veterans organization and collected donations. City Manager Theo McCall told Ellis the city had set aside the land with the intention of making a park for the black community to use, according to the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center, and that the park was up for grabs at no cost. She and her family jumped right in. Ellis herself planted flowers and trees around the park and she used water collected from homes around the park to keep them hydrated.
Ellis was also known for creating Plant City’s first Easter celebration and parade in 1941, and in 1945 she brought the festivities to the new park. Within 10 years, the park would host 300 children and their families for the annual celebration.
In March 1963, the year after Ellis died, Mayor Dick Elston and the city renamed the park in her honor.
The spirit of Ellis’s beautification efforts lived on in Donald Goodwine, another Plant City resident. Goodwine, a teacher who returned to town after his retirement, helped bring additional features to the park and also bought sporting goods for kids to use there. He died in 2009 and in 2011 the City Commission named the park’s three shuffleboard courts after him.
Marie B. Ellis Park is a 1.97-acre parcel that has a basketball court, a volleyball court, the Donald Goodwine Shuffleboard Courts, a playground and a gazebo.
Information from the City of Plant City and the Plant City Photo Archives and History Center was used in this article.