Most of America’s large cities have an iconic park, often a century old, if not much older. Detroit’s Belle Isle, in the middle of the Detroit River, opened in 1845. Central Park in Manhattan opened in 1858. San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park, which offers a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, opened in 1867.
Some of the designers of these parks are nearly as famous as their creations. Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of many of the great city parks, is known as the father of landscape architecture.
Although many of these well-known parks were opened in the mid-1800s, none of them is the oldest city park in the country.
About 2 million acres of public parkland flourish in the country’s 100 largest cities alone, according to The Trust for Public Land’s 2021 City Park Facts, the latest edition of the nonprofit’s annual parks data compilation. That’s roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park and larger than several states. People do not have to go far for a history lesson. An estimated 75% of residents in those metros live within a 10-minute walk of a public park, up from less than 68% in 2012, the trust notes.
24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the Trust for Public Land report to identify the oldest city park from a universe of America’s 100 largest cities. Nearly all of those we considered commemorate or are associated with historical events. The oldest park, Boston Common, was founded in 1634 when Puritan colonists paid 30 pounds for the 44 acres, according to the Freedom Trail Foundation.
Local livestock grazed the pasture, or “common land,” until 1830. But Puritans being Puritans, Boston Common was also the site of public punishments for witches, murderers and other criminals, real or imagined. In 1775, Boston Common played a pivotal role in the American Revolution. It was there that British troops trained before clashing with colonists at the first battles of the war at Lexington and Concord.
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