Forest Park was dedicated at a large public ceremony on June 24, 1876 — the year the nation celebrated its centennial anniversary. Ulysses S. Grant was President and, on the same afternoon, General George Armstrong Custer was massing his troops to attack Sitting Bull and the Sioux nation near a small Montana stream called the Little Big Horn.
The 1874 survey by Julius Pitzman showed that Forest Park consisted of 1,371.75 acres, and today it is still one of the largest urban parks in the country, approximately 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park.
Maximillian G. Kern, Forest Park superintendent and landscape gardener, designed the Park’s original plan. Kern also designed Lafayette Park and parks at the Compton Hill and Chain of Rocks Reservoirs.
MEET ME AT THE FAIR
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair) used the western half of Forest Park.
A wrought iron fence ran through the middle of Forest Park, enclosing the fairgrounds. It bisected the Park from north to south, roughly on a line parallel with DeBaliviere Boulevard.
Of the 15 main palaces built for the Fair, only the Cass Gilbert-designed Palace of Fine Arts (Saint Louis Art Museum) was constructed as a permanent building. The others were built of plaster of Paris mixed with fibers, a material called “staff.”
The River Des Peres was temporarily placed underground in a wooden channel for the Fair. Later, a 1923 bond issue funded the project that took the river underground permanently. A man-made river was installed in the Park as part of the Forest Park master plan.
FOREST PARK TODAY
More than 12 million visitors a year use Forest Park.
An estimated half million people attend special events, such as the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, each year and an additional half million patronize The Muny.
Within Park boundaries there is a primary forest, a secondary successional forest, and several fragile ecosystems.
There are approximately 18,000 trees in Forest Park.
For more detailed history and memories of the park, click here. (pdf)
FOREST PARK MASTER PLAN
Decades of deferred maintenance led to the deterioration of Forest Park. The City of St. Louis undertook a master planning process for the Park’s restoration in 1993. Co-chaired by Parks Director Gary Bess and Forest Park Forever board member Kathryn Nelson, the plan took two years of public meetings. In 1995, the City of St. Louis adopted the plan to integrate the Park’s natural and man-made systems into a cohesive and mutually beneficial ecosystem. The goal of the plan was “to create a total park experience through a variety of natural, cultural, educational, and recreational facilities, opportunities, and amenities. “the City invited Forest Park Forever to play a partnership role in the implementation of the plan. $94 million was raised in public and private dollars for the Park’s first phase of restoration, which included:
Water: Transformation of the Park’s lakes and lagoons into a “river-like” system which promotes better water quality, less flooding, and a self-sustaining Park environment.
Nature: Restoration and preservation of the Park’s forests, meadows, prairies, savannas, and other wildlife habitats, to ensure an ecologically sound natural system that can be enjoyed by all Park users.
History: A renewed emphasis on the historic prominence and grandeur of the Park’s central gathering place, the Emerson Grand Basin.
Infrastructure: Repair and modernization of the Park’s sewers, roads, curbs, and other infrastructure.
Culture: Reaffirmation of the Park as home to many of the region’s leading cultural institutions.
Education: Expansion of educational and youth programs, events, visitor services, and outreach activities.
Access: Improved access and circulation into and within the Park.
Recreation: Improvement of the Park’s ball fields, golf courses, tennis courts, and other active recreational facilities.
Maintenance: Establishment of an ongoing public/private partnership to oversee improvements in the Park and ensure that the glory, once restored, remains untarnished — forever.