Historic Memphis Parks


The Memphis Park Commission was established in 1900 and since that time has played a key role in promoting the "green" appearance of Memphis.  The original parks, Overton and Riverside, were designed by Landscape Architect George Kessler, and connected by long, avenues (Parkways).  As Memphis grew, so did the city-owned park lands and facilities.   Kessler went on to design the Fairgrounds, Forrest Park, Confederate Park and other sites. Many private citizens of Memphis made significant contributions by deeding land to the city.   In addition, Robert Church, the City's first African-American millionaire, established a park that still bears his name.  Overton Park and Court Square have been thoroughly covered by previous web pages.  This page will only cover some of the more historic parks of the more than 100  Memphis parks.

   

The Memphis Park Commission has continued to grow over the years and currently acts as steward for six thousand acres of parkland, the city's museum system, seven golf courses, twenty-five community centers, eight senior citizen centers, thirteen "After School" programs, and the Mid-South Fairgrounds, among other facilities. It is an object of pride to Memphians and a tribute to the vision of its founders and designers.  The parks featured on this page are in no particular order.  Click on the small photos to see enlargements.

NAACP Letter

 

 

Thanks  to the Memphis Public Library and the University of Memphis Library for many of the  photos on this page


 
Riverside Park (Martin Luther King Riverside Park)  . 498 W. Mallery
 

Riverside Park was designed by George Kessler in 1902 as part of his "grand design" for the Memphis Park system.  The park contains 379 acres, a 9 hole golf course, boat ramp and marina, a lake and scenic river views, playgounds, ball field, four lighted tennis courts, picnic areas, and three pavilions.  The park is located at S. Parkway and Riverside Drive.  The name of the park was changed to "Martin Luther King Riverside Park" in 1968.

 

       
       

       
       

Riverside Pavilion

Riverside Lake

Picnic Grounds - 1908

         Riverside Landing 

       
       

 

Confederate Park . 51 North Front Street
 

Confederate Park was designed by George Kessler as a Memorial to the Civil War, and was dedicated in 1908.  It was part of Kessler's original "Grand Design" for Memphis.  During the Civil War, the Mississippi River at Memphis was the sight of an intense battle as Southern forces fought to keep control of the waterfront.  It wasn't enough.  The Union crushed the Confederacy.  Many lives were lost as well as the control of Memphis and the entire river.  Those troops who died are remembered at Confederate Park.  Today, the park provides a great perspective of where the battle occurred and there are markers where you can read first-hand what happened during the battle.  

In spite of the Civil War theme, Confederate park became a dumping ground for a lot of old junk, none related to the Civil War - battered artillery from WWI, E. H. Crump's totem pole, and a concrete block inscribed with the Ten Commandments, as well as numerous fountains.  In 1964, the park finally got its Civil War centerpiece, a statue of Jefferson Davis.  Davis had lived in Memphis from 1875 to 1878 and a group raised the money to erect the statue.  Originally, the park had authentic Civil War cannons, but they were sacrificed for scrap metal during WWII and later WWII cannons were added to the park.  Those cannons have been removed and the Shelby County Historical Commission has announced plans to purchase 4 reproduction Civil War cannons to place in Confederate park.   Recently the city government very quickly renamed this park.

 

     

Esplanade

       
  

Marker:  Battle of Memphis Davis     -      Totem  

Confederate Hall - 1901

       

1907

1910 1910

1911

       

1909

From the river Vintage

Esplanade

       
       

 
Forrest Park . Union and Manassas
 

Forrest Park was established in the early 1900s and was another of George Kessler's "Grand Designs for Memphis" parks.  The park encompasses 8 acres.  The sculpture of Forrest is by Charles H. Niehaus, whose work can also be seen at the Library of Congress.  His sculpture is considered one of the finest equestrian public park statures in the U.S.  It took him 3 years to model it and nearly nine months for the casting.  It's 21' 6" high.  The cost of $32,359.53 was raised by private organizations.  The bodies of Forrest and his wife were re-interred from the family plot at Elmwood Cemetery to Forrest Park in 1904.

The park has long been a point of racial controversy in Memphis, with local officials and other groups periodically rallying to rename the park and remove the statue of Forrest, a revered cavalry leader in the Civil War, who also was a slave trader and a leader of the Ku Klux Klan after the war.  There are also efforts to move the graves of Forrest and his wife Mary.  Forrest was considered an innovative cavalry leader during the war.  He enlisted as a Private and was promoted to General by the end.  His nickname was "Wizard of the Saddle" and he never lost a battle.  After the war, Forrest served as the first Grand Wizard of the KKK.  In 1875 Forrest was welcomed at the "Jubilee of Pole Bearers" an African-American political group.  He received great applause for his speech that focused on friendship between the black and white races.

 Forest Park has now been added to the National register of Historic Places.  Recently, the city government quickly renamed this park, but  efforts to disinter the bodies buried there have, for now, been laid to rest.

 

       
       

General Forrest

Skating in the Park

  Aerial view of Park

           1905

       

   

1906                  

1909   

-

1909

       

* The Forrest Monument Park is extensively covered on a separate page   >.    . Forrest Monument

 

 


 
Jefferson Davis Park .  Riverside Drive at Jefferson
 

When Riverside Drive was constructed in the mid-1930s, Jefferson Davis Park was built on what had been an old dumping ground for construction debris and dredge materials from the Mississippi River.  It was enlarged to its present size in 1937, using more material dredged from the river.  The Park was named after Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, who lived in Memphis from 1869 to 1878 and who was president of an insurance company here.  Recently, the city government very quickly renamed this park.

 
       
       
    Rare photo of Davis

2011 Flood

       

 
W. C. Handy Park .  Beale Street
 

W. C. Handy Park, located on Beale Street, was dedicated to "Father of the Blues", W. C. Handy in 1931.  Since its creation, the park has been a meeting ground for musicians, with Blues artists still playing in the park for tips.    Today, the area is an outdoor performing arts park, where in good weather, street musicians start wandering about noon.  The old Beale Street Market House from 1899 originally occupied this site but was torn down to make room for the park.  The statue of Handy was decidated in 1960.

 
Entrance to Handy Park Statue of  W. C. Handy Dnnny Thomas 1955  
       
  Handy Dedication 1931 Handy Park 1953  
       
       

 
Robert R. Church Park .  Beale and 4th
 

This park is named after Robert Reed Church, who was a business leader, philanthropist, and millionaire born in 1839.  In 1899, because the City of Memphis didn't provide recreational facilities for its African-American citizens, Mr. Church opened "Church's Park and Auditorium".  The park was beautifully landscaped and manicured, with bright flowers, tropical trees and peacocks.  Their was a swimming pool for the children.  The auditorium had a seating capacity of 2,000 and became the cultural center for the region's African-American community.  The center hosted world leaders and speakers from Booker T. Washington to President Theodore Roosevelt.  And the house orchestra was led by none other than W. C. Handy. 

Years later, the city took over management of the park and auditorium, and during the 1940s, in a racially motivated move, the city renamed the Auditorium "Beale Avenue Auditorium".   After years of neglect, some structures on the site were demolished, including the auditorium.   And then the land was empty and barren until 1987, when it was finally refurbished and landscaped into a tree-shaded grassy area.  In 1993, the park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and was made part of the Beale Street Historic District.  In 1994, Roberta Church, the granddaughter of the founder, gave the park and the city a large 22,000 pound white granite and bronze memorial monument, erected in memory of and dedicated to her father, Robert Church, Jr.  The monument features a bronze bust of Robert R. Church, Sr.

    Church memorial Church Bust Handy visits park 1931

     Church Park c. 1910

       

Church Swimming Pool

Church Park-Auditorium-1940

          Beale Av Auditorium
       

Robert Church and family are extensively covered on a separate page.   >   RobertReedChurch  

       

 

Tom Lee Park .  357 Riverside Dr at Beale
 

Tom Lee Park dates from 1954 and encompasses about 30 acres, overlooking the Mississippi River.  The park is named after Tom Lee, an African-American river worker, who saved the lives of 32 passengers of the sinking steamboat M. E. Norman in 1925.  Today, the park is a popular location for walkers, joggers, roller bladers, and cyclists.  Tom Lee Park hosts events throughout the year but is most notable for the major weekend events during Memphis In May.  Prior to 1954, the name of this park was Astor Park and much of it was built up using "dredging spoil", so it could have landscaping.

 
Tom Lee sculpture

Tom Lee Park             

Tom Lee Tom Lee Sculpture

Tom Lee Park

       

May Festival in Park         

Memphis in May Tom Lee Memorial 1967

            Tom Lee Park

       
 

 

Fairgrounds Park .  940 Early Maxwell Blvd.
 

The Fairgrounds is extensively covered on a separate page.  Please visit the page   . Fairgrounds

       
Shelby County Building             Grand Carousel "Pippin" Coaster

Liberty Bowl

       
 

 

 
Mud Island River Park . 125 N. Front Street
 

Established in 1982, the 52 acre Mississippi River Park, located on Mud Island, includes bike trails, petal boats, rafts, as well as a hydraulic scale model of the lower Mississippi River.  Major cities and small towns located on the river are marked in the scale model and markers explain the history and facts about the river.  To learn all about the river, you follow the 5-block-long model.  The park is a unique historical, cultural and educational facility.  Mud Island first appeared in 1900 and became permanent in 1913.  At one time the island joined with the mainland but a diversion canal was dug through the island.   You can walk to Mud Island or take the Monorail car.

 
  River Walk River Walk River Walk
       

-              Entrance Boating Monorail to Mud Island
       

 


 
Audubon Park . 4145 Southern Av
 

Audubon Park, established in 1953,  is located near the University of Memphis and provides a wide assortment of entertainment options for visitors.  Within the 375 acres, there's a golf course, play area, tennis courts, soccer field, picnic areas, pavilions, and jogging/walking trails.  The Memphis Botanic Gardens are also located within Audubon Park.

 

       
       

       Cherry Trees

   Cherry Trees

   
       
       
 

 

De Soto Park - Chickasaw Heritage Park . Delaney at Desoto
 

De Soto Park was actually built by the Native American Indian inhabitants of early 16th century Memphis.  The De Soto Mounds are named after Hernando De Soto, who stormed through Memphis in search for gold in 1541.  These two elliptical mounds are believed to have been used as substructures for temples, or burial mounds.  In 1911, a park was built around the De Soto Mounds and in 1913, the park was named De Soto Park.  However, De Soto park was often referred to as Chickasaw Park because of the "Chickasaw Mounds" - even though there was already another Chickasaw Park.  Today, there is a basketball court, large spacious lawns and rolling hills and a splendid view of the Mississippi.   The De Soto Park name was officially changed  to Chickasaw Heritage Park in 1995.

 
 

 

 

   

Chickasaw Mound

 
 

 

Chickasaw Park - Bluff Park Front Steet

This Park is not the same as Chickasaw HERITAGE Park.  This early Chickasaw Park was a very small park on Chickasaw Bluff, next to Cossitt Library and the Customs House.  We only know about it because its name appears on early Memphis Post Cards.  This Chickasaw Park was demolished (Are you surprised?) in the 1900s.  A fire station and parking garage (Are you surprised?) are at the location now.

           

    Chickasaw Park 1914

Couple in Park

The area 1910

Beginnings of a Park 1910

 
 

 

Chickasaw Gardens Park .  Chickasaw Parkway
 

 Chickasaw Gardens is an upscale Memphis neighborhood.  In the heart of this neighborhood is Chickasaw Gardens Park - a 22 acre retreat, laid out by Harland Bartholomew in 1920.  The park features a lake with a concrete path around the west side.  No fishing or boats allowed.  The beautiful park and the curving streets, mature trees, and fine homes make Chickasaw Gardens one of the most sought after neighborhoods in the city.  The land here was originally part of the estate of Clarence Saunders of the self-service grocery fame.  It was part of an elaborate garden, with rustic bridges and a playhouse for his children.

         

         
         
 

 

Peabody Park . 712 Tanglewood
 
Peabody Park is in Midtown Memphis near Cooper-Young - and is one of the nicest neighborhood parks.  There are 5 different slides, plenty to climb on and swing on and run around.  There's also a walking path and a gazebo, and the Raymond Skinner Center for disable adults.  When it's very hot, the Peabody turns on its sprinkler park.
 

       
       
 

 

Douglass Park . 1616 Ash
 

Douglass Park, established in 1913, was Memphis' first park for African Americans.  Located behind Douglass High School, it's where many children have come together since the 1960s for day camp during the summer months.  Children are taught how to play indoor and outdoor sports, arts, and crafts, children's theater, and they participate in competitive sports.  The Juneteenth celebration and the Douglass Expos is held in Douglass Park.

 

       
       

 


 
Overton Park - Court Square
 

Overton Park and Court Square Park have been extensively covered on other  pages of this website.  Please visit them.   Visit the Court Square page  > Court Square    .   Visit the Overton Park page  > Memphis Overton Park 

 

...  Memphis Overton Park  ... ...  Memphis Court Square   ...
       

 


 

Gaston Park   . 1046 S. Third

The original Gaston Park was also designed by George Kessler in 1902.  John Gaston donated the land for the park in 1912.   When Gaston's wife died in 1929, she left her mansion and the land to the city, who demolished the Gaston mansion
(Are you surprised?) and converted the land to Gaston Park, complete with a great community center.  (Because of inconsistencies in these dates this must have been a second Gaston park?)  In 1978, the center was refurbished and a library was added.  Today, the facilities include the Gaston Community Center, a pavilion, play equipment, ball field, basketball court, and fitness trail.

 

Gaston Park 1910

Gaston Park Library -1978

John Gaston Center 1950

Gaston Marker


 

East End Park .  On Madison in vicinity of Overton Square
 

Dating from 1889, East End Park was a PRIVATE park and a community gathering place for all Memphis.  It was the area's most elaborate entertainment complex and featured a lake, a music and Dance Pavilion, named Chrysanthemum Ballroom, a swimming pool, a roller skating rink, games, fireworks shows, a theatre with some bizarre vaudeville performances, and amusement park rides, including the "Tumblebug" and the "Pippin" roller coaster, which was originally built there.  Other park rides included a merry-go-round, "shoot-the-dip", a miniature railway, huge circle swings and 23 other amusements.   The park was moderately successful until 1903, when John D. Hopkins took over. 

John D. Hopkins was one of the most colorful characters to ever hit Memphis.  He had opened popular-priced vaudeville houses in Chicago and Boston, and opened amusement parks in St. Louis and Kansas City.  In Memphis, he had taken over the Lyceum Theater and the Grand Opera house.  It was inevitable that he would develop East End into a major venue for Vaudeville.   In addition, there was another big drawing card - alcohol!   East End enjoyed a major and successful run, but the golden days were numbered.  In 1913 ... Prohibition!  East End closed in 1913 and was placed in the hands of a receiver in 1914.  The Dance Pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1923.  The land was sold in 1924 and the lake was filled in.  By 1936 only a swimming pool and roller rink were left.  The carnival rides were only a memory.  The Pippin Roller Coaster and the Merry-Go-Round were dismantled and sold to the new Fairgrounds Park *.

East End Park - 1907          

Entrance to East End

East End Lake 1900

       Rare 1895 Photo

Pippin in background 1912 MerryGoRound -1911 Train Ride 1910  Music Pavilion 1895

Music Pavilion 1900

 
 

Airplane Ride Billboard 1908 1923 ?? Variety 1914 1911

East End Trolley Stop today

 
 
     

East End 1892       East End Vintage Photo
 
 
* "Memphis in Black and White" by Beverly Bond and Janann Sherman; "Memphis:  Images of America" by John Dougan; and "Historic Photos of Memphis" by Gina Cordella and Patrick O'Daniel
 

       


 

Sunken Gardens Entrance to Morningside Park Neighborhood

The Sunken Gardens were on the wide median of E. Parkway.  They are no longer there.  The area is currently the location of the giant landscaped "M" which continues to be planted with seasonal annuals.  The Sunken Gardens were not a public park and Morningside Park was a neighborhood of upscale homes.

Sunken Gardens 1932           

Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens - 1931

 

 

Spanish War Memorial Park Central at E. Parkway

This memorial park honors the American Volunteers who fought Spain in Cuba, the Philippines and the Boxer Rebellion.  The centerpiece statue of this small park was erected in 1956 with funds raised by Spanish War Veterans of Memphis under the leadership of Fred Bauer, Commander.

   

       
 

 

Memphis Bluffwalk .  Along the Mississippi River
 

The Bluffwalk along the Mississippi River started as an idea in the 1970s to help in the downtown Renaissance.  Today it runs atop the bluff from Union Avenue to Martyr's Park.  Although the Bluffwalk had been a trail for decades, getting it officially developed was so controversial that it almost didn't happen.  It is so popular now, that this almost seems unimaginable.  The first section officially opened in 1999.

While this is not actually a park and because it's new, it doesn't quite fit on a "Historical" page.  However, it is felt that because of the popularity of this walk, it will be here a long time.

 

       
       

 

Gaisman Park 4221 Macon
 

Gaisman Park became "historical" in the mid 1950s because of controversy.  After a neighborhood young boy (Ronnie Jones) drowned in nearby Wolf River, City leaders felt they needed to raise funds to build a "Ronnie Jones Pool" in Gaisman Park.  Money poured in and many services were donated.  Suddenly the Park Commission announced that the new pool would not be named for the victim after all.  Instead it would be called Gaisman Park Pool.  The public felt they had been duped into paying for a pool and they weren't happy about the "Memorial to a Little Boy" statue that was unveiled.  It didn't even mention the name of the boy.  Eventually a plaque was mounted to the memorial with Ronnie Jones name on it.  The name of the pool remains Gaisman Park Pool

 

   

Memorial to a Little Boy

 
       

 

Martyr's Park Just north of the I-55 Bridge
 

Opening in 1972, this newer park was a long-time coming.  It's dedicated to those who did not flee from the yellow fever epidemic in 1878 and stayed to help those who were infected, and to bury the dead.  Almost 80 percent of those who stayed caught the fever and one-quarter of them perished.  The centerpiece of the park is the sculpture by Harris Sorrels.

 

 

Central Sculpture

Historical Marker

 
       
 

 
 

CREDITS: The "Historic-Memphis" Team would like to acknowledge and thank the following organizations for their contributions which helped make this page possible:  Memphis Public Library, University of Memphis Libraries, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Flyer, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Memphis Heritage, Tom Leatherwood Shelby County Register, Joe Spake, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, and many other individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on individual photos.

 

We do not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  We often find some great, un-credited photos and material on the Internet.  In addition we receive many unsolicited photos via email.  If we like the photos and material and they add to a particular page on this website, we do use them.  Should anyone write that we have a copyrighted photo or material posted, we will apologize for our mistake, and because the photo or material adds significantly to the page where it's located, we also ask to keep it in place and add credit for it, or if it's the owner's preference, we will remove it immediately.  We have only been asked to remove one, and that's because they wanted us to pay to use it.  We are 100 % non-profit volunteers and cannot pay.

Most Images displayed on this web site are the property of their respective photographers.  Please contact the photographer or owner, if you wish to obtain a reproduction of an image or if you wish to obtain permission to use an image elsewhere.

 

 Please visit the website that sponsors this page

   Historic Memphis Website