Pettibone Park started as land in the state of Minnesota. In 1857, Alzono Barron filed plans with Houston County for "Island City", which was to be developing the island into an attractive well plotted out city, but these plans never developed. Buffalo Bill Cody owned land on Barron Island during the late 1800's as well. Around the same time, "White Beaver" Powell bought four acres on the island, reviving the dream of "Island City", but nothing developed (1885).
All the land on Barron Island was acquired by A.W. Pettibone for $62,000 in 1901. In July of the same year, Mr. Pettibone deeded Barron Island to the Pettibone Park commission for $1.00 to oversee that this land would be used as a public park for the citizens of La Crosse. Along with the land, Mr. Pettibone set up a $50,000 trust fund to be used for the upkeep and park development.
The next year, 1902, Mr. Pettibone appointed a committee to draw up papers to have Barron Island deeded to Wisconsin from Minnesota. One year later, 1903, a gazebo pavilion made of native Minnesota sandstone was constructed by Mr. Pettibone. For many years after deeding over the property, Mr. Pettibone continued to work on the park development, spending his own money for improvements and supplies.
In 1904, the bathhouse was constructed through the efforts of G.A. Keller, at a cost of $1,200. Finally, after 16 years (1918) an act of Congress transferred the land to the state of Wisconsin. An island in Buffalo County, Wisconsin was traded to Minnesota for Barron Island. Just one year later, 1919, the land was annexed by the City of La Crosse as part of the City's Second Ward.
A memorial rock was placed by the pavilion in honor of A.W. Pettibone in 1922. The enormous rock from Milwaukee and engraved by John Forrer was brought to La Crosse by railroad. From there it was transported to the park by a river barge. The following is the wording on the memorial rock: "This tablet is here, placed by the City of La Crosse in grateful recognition of it's honored citizen Albert Wells Pettibone. Mr. Pettibone made this a park, and in the year 1901, gave it to the city, together with a generous fund for its maintenance."
In 1926, a Mediterranean eclectic revival styled bathhouse designed by Otto Merman opened at a cost of $28,455. Four years later, a lagoon warming house was built (1930). In 1931, the lagoon bridge was also built. After the lagoon warming house and bridge was built, the La Crosse Recreation Department fishing derby began (later named the Babe Weigent Derby) in 1945.
A stone remembrance monument was erected at the entrance of the park in 1950. The monument wording is as follows: "In honor of Albert Wells Pettibone the donor of this park. Erected by his grandsons, John S. Pettibone and Wilson N. Pettibone 1950."
To keep up the interior of the bathhouse, in 1976, all of the walls, restrooms, and locker area were plastered at a cost of $25,570. One year later, 1977, the lease of the Pettibone Boat Club was renewed but then expired in 2002.
With Artesian well completed, the Pettibone Park Commission donated $700 for supplies, while labor was donated by WWTI Building and Trades apprentices, John Dingeldein, supervisor in 1979. This same year was the first year for electricity in Pettibone Park.