Washington City was founded by 38 southern families in the spring of 1857. Brigham Young called these families to serve on a mission to grow cotton in an area explored by John D. Lee in 1852. The mission was called the Cotton or Southern Mission. Brigham Young knew that southerners knew how to grow or at least had seen cotton grown. The city laid out on the 6 or 7 of May and the officials for the city's operation were elected. Robert D. Covington was selected as the religious branch president, Harrison Pierce (Pearce) first counselor, and Jonathan R. Regeon (James B. Reagan) second counselor, Wm. R. Slade and James D. McCullough as Justices of the Peace, James Matthew and John Hawley as constables, Wm. Young and Joseph Adair as fence viewers, G.R.Coley was stray pound keeper, and Wm. R. Slade, Geo. Hawley and G.W. Spencer as school trustees. They immediately started to dig ditches, clear land and build a dam on the Rio Virgin so that they could plat crops. Cotton and corn were the main crops planted that first summer. Since they were Southerners they started to call thei new home "Dixie." This name soon spread to the rest of the area so Washington City is Utah's Dixie birthplace.
The area where the Willard O. Nisson park now stands was used as a campground in the latter part of the 1800's. It was known as camp Washington and as Hall's campground or pasture. Calvin Hall was the owner and operator of the campground. This provided for a place where visitors could come and stay in the small wooden cabins that were located on the property He also had a store located on the southeast corner of 200 W. and Telegraph St. This campground was the first place on Washington that had drinking water delivered in a pipe. A pipe was run from the northeast corner of 200 N. and 200 E. known as Hal's Head House. This provided clean water to the campground. The water system to provide water to the homes in Washington was built in 1931.
The Antone and Leroy Nisson Families wanted to honor their father, Willard O. Nisson so they arranged for the building of this park. Through an exchange of properties, this property became available to that Washington City could construct this facility. Willard was known as a great schoolteacher, school principal, city mayor, and a talented musician. Willard's sister Annie, the wife of Hans Peter Iverson, also came to Washington at this time. The Willard Nisson family home was located on the northwest corner of Main St. and Telegraph St.