History of St. Louis County Parks

by Esley Hamilton 
Preservation Historian for St. Louis County Parks & Recreation

The First Parks in St. Louis Neighborhoods

Before St. Louis County established a countywide park system, efforts had already been made to create parks in the county. University City purchased land for Lewis Park in 1920, and Clayton opened Shaw Park in 1937. In 1932, C.A. Tilles presented Tilles Park at McKnight and Litzsinger roads to the city of St. Louis, which operated it until 1957, when it was given to St. Louis County Parks. Jacob Babler gave Babler Park to the state park system in 1934.

St. Louis County Parks: The Beginning and Acquisitions

The first park to be presented to the county was Creve Coeur Park, dedicated in 1945 as a war memorial. It was managed by a board of trustees for many years under the guidance of noted conservationist A.P. Greensfelder, a University City businessman.

In 1950, a new county charter replaced the old three-judge system with a county superintendent (now called County Executive) and County Council. Article IV of the charter created a department of parks and recreation under a Commissioner (later Director). St. Louis County Parks are acquired in various ways - through federal lands, generous donations, bond issues and purchases.

Federal Lands

That same year, the county was able to acquire Sylvan Springs Park and the first part of Jefferson Barracks Park as surplus federal lands. West Tyson Park and Lone Elk Park were later acquired from a former federal munitions depot. The St. Louis County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board was set up in 1951 and the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission in 1957.

Generous Donations

Since its beginning, the park system has benefited from personal generosity.Buder Park was given in 1954 by the estate of Gustav A. Buder Sr. in memory of his wife Lydia. John Allen Love gave Love Park in 1959 and Janet Bissell Dimond gave the Bissell House in 1961. In 1968 Laumeier Sculpture Park was a bequest of Matilda Laumeier, and Greensfelder Park came from the Regional Planning and Conservation Foundation. Leicester Busch Faust and his wife Mary gave 100 acres for Faust Park in 1968, and their bequest doubled the park in 1996.

Bond Issues

Bond issues have also been crucial to the growth of County Parks. Those passed in 1955 and 1959 funded the development of several neighborhood sites. The bond issue of 1969 provided $25 million for the purchase of Queeny Park, the development of three recreation complexes, and much more. Another bond issue in 1977 permitted the acquisition of McDonnell Park and St. Vincent Park, along with other sites, while the 1986 bond issue provided funds for the Fountain Lake Sports Complex, the St. Vincent Community Center, a memorial to military veterans at Jefferson Barracks, and other projects. The Water Park opened at St. Vincent in 1994, using county funds.