On July 4th, 1876, two great things happened:the United States turned one hundred years old, and Carondelet Park was born!
In 1875, St. Louis was a dense, packed city. Grand Avenue – today’s S. Grand Blvd. and the western border of the Grand-Bates neighborhood – was the city limits. Even close to St. Louis’s center, beyond Grand Avenue was little more than thin-spread farms, sink holes, and wide open space. Down in south city, where Grand-Bates would eventually be, was only the town of Carondelet, settled by Clement Delor de Treget (think “Delor Street”) in 1767. About ten blocks wide, Carondelet was tucked tightly against the river, and beyond it was rolling pasture land.
In 1875, there would have been little recognizable in this little corner of South St. Louis – River Des Peres was a still a wild river, Grand Avenue was paved in gravelly, crushed limestone, and Carondelet Park didn’t exist. But one of those things was about to change.
St. Louis civic leaders had a new idea – what if three great urban parks were created in the city’s corners, one to serve the south side, one to serve the north side, and one to serve the west? This plan was strategic – it would both provide much-needed recreation space, and nudge St. Louisans to spread out and settle new portions of the city. St. Louis voters liked the sound of it. The north side got O’Fallon Park, the west got Forest Park, and on the south, St. Louis spent $143,000 for the 179 acres of land that became Carondelet Park. The plot of land had belonged to carpenter Alexander Lacey Lyle, whose 1840’s country home – one of the oldest residences in St. Louis – can still be seen in the park today!
On July 4, 1876 – the day the United States turned 100 – Carondelet Park was born. Since it was the nation’s centennial some suggested calling it “Independence Park,” but Carondelet Park stuck. By 1880, Carondelet Park had paved cinder roads and a large “lagoon” (today’s Boathouse Lake). Fifteen years later, Carondelet Park sported elegant floral arrangements, dozens of horse hitching posts, the beginnings of a second lake (Horseshoe Lake), free public concerts, and organized baseball games.
The park’s design, which incorporated the natural rolling hills of the St. Louis landscape, was laid out by F. Soloman and landscape architect Maximillian G. Kern, who also laid out Lafayette Park and much of Forest Park.
Carondelet Park Today
Today, Carondelet Park remains an active recreation space used by thousands of St. Louisans every week – just stop by Boathouse Lake on a cool evening to see one of the best scenes of diversity St. Louis has to offer. The park features trails, picnic pavilions, two lakes, sports fields, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and the YMCA Rec Plex and pool. The park connects directly to Trailnet’s River Des Peres Greenway, and its edges touch four neighborhoods listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including Grand-Bates.
For more information regarding Carondelet Park, see Friends of Carondelet Park.