Daniel Kent Tenney was an important figure in Madison’s development and growth, both politically and financially. Tenney is considered one of Madison’s first park philanthropists, along with Thomas E. Brittingham, George B. Burrows, and William Freeman Vilas. Tenney’s contributions to the city of Madison helped shape it into the great park city it is today.
Born in New York state, Daniel K. Tenney moved westward with his parents and nine older brothers and sisters in 1850. They settled in a small community near Cleveland, Ohio, but when Tenney was sixteen he decided to join his older brother who had settled in Wisconsin.
Admitted to the bar in 1855, Tenney was a lawyer, long-time activist, and “Madison’s favorite curmudgeon.” Elected to the Madison Common Council in 1860, Tenney was the youngest man to ever serve on the council at the age of 26. Tenney championed Madison’s burgeoning tourist industry. In 1870, Tenney moved to Chicago to establish a law firm and remained there for 23 years. However, during that time Tenney subscribed to Madison newspapers, visited often, and got involved with major improvement projects.
In 1897, Tenney moved back to Madison, what he considered his hometown, and returned to civic affairs. By 1899, the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association (MPPDA), the predecessor of the Madison Parks Division, had become a well-respected organization in the acquisition, development, and maintenance of the land.
In 1899 Tenney bought fourteen acres of land near Lake Mendota for $1,500 and offered to give another $2,500 for the development of the land as a park. This donation, however, came with some conditions. First, MPPDA would hold the land in trust for the city. Second, the association would develop and maintain the park. Third, another $2,500 would be raised for park development from other sources. MPPDA agreed and development of the park began in 1900. The donation helped the MPPDA switch its gears to begin focusing on expanding in-city parks for the less affluent. The city council dubbed this park Tenney Park and it has kept that name ever since.
*Mollenhoff, David V., Madison: A History of the Formative Years (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1982), 326-328