Park place: Establishing recreation system was linchpin of improving Memphis

Hidden Memphis feature story for The Commercial Appeal

Oct. 9, 2011

The founders had a plan, and it began with the parks.

When Memphis was established in 1819, parks and open spaces were as much a part of the vision as the Mississippi River, commerce and cotton. With a total of 36 acres decreed by the founders (the earliest being Court Square, Market Square, Exchange Square, Auction Square and the promenade along the bluff), Memphis established itself as a city on the cutting edge of culture, recreation and meeting the needs of the community.

Today, with activists and leaders suddenly intent on expanding and utilizing existing green space as an amenity to attract a creative class of people and industry, it’s a resource the city has actually been cultivating and sitting upon since its earliest days.

As early as 1889, Judge L.B. McFarland began looking into the creation of a park system for the city. Nine years later, John C. Olmsted, son of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the designer of New York’s Central Park, visited Memphis to investigate the possibility of such a system.

The mood of the nation following the Civil War, Reconstruction and the yellow fever epidemics led to an avid progressive movement of city beautification … (read more)


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