Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Little History On Lafayette Park

One of the oldest parks in St. Louis, (Lafayette Park) is situated between Mississippi and Missouri, and Park and Lafayette Avenues. Its location is one and a half miles southwest of the courthouse, and it contains 29.95 acres. It was among the most beautiful and best shaded parks in the city until utterly desolated by the terrific tornado which swept over that portion of the city, May 27, 1896...Lafayette Park was a part of the St. Louis commons authorized by an act of the Legislature, passed in 1835, to be sold, the territory comprising the park having been reserved afterward by the city for that purpose. It was acquired from the city commons in 1844, and was dedicated and established as a park by an ordinance approved November 12, 1851. It was at first designated as Lafayette Square, and was known under that name for several years, until August 23, 1854, when the name was changed to Lafayette Park. Under the same ordinance a board of improvement was provided, which organized February 13, 1852. The first board consisted of Luther M. Kennett, then the mayor of the city; Samuel R. Curtis, city engineer; John C. Rust, Stephen D. Barlow and Edward Bredell. The ordinance made no appropriation, but was to take effect when $5000 should be subscribed and donated to inclose and plant the square. The property owners around the park then raised $8,173, which they paid into the board of improvement. With this money a plain paling fence was built around the park, and a large number of trees planted. In 1859 the city council made its first appropriation for the park, amounting to $2,000, and the same amount was set apart for their use the following year, a portion of which was utilized in laying out eight acres as a parade ground for use of the military companies of the city...
-Encyclopedia of the history of St. Louis

I almost jumped out of my seat when I read that Edward Bredell Sr. was on the board of improvements for Lafayette Park. The park had been used in the antebellum era as one of the earliest baseball grounds in St. Louis by the Cyclone and other clubs. Bredell's son, Edward Bredell Jr., and one of his employees, Merritt Griswold, were the founding members of the Cyclone Club and it seems likely that the elder Bredell may have had a role in steering them towards Lafayette Park as a potential place to play. I've always been interested in the elder Bredell's story. He's an interesting guy and, being a rather prominent citizen of St. Louis, there's a great deal of information about him out there. This piece of information may give me the excuse I've been looking for to write something up on him.

Also of interest to me is the amount of money being raised and the improvements going on around the time the Cyclones would have first been using the park. There are a couple of sources that mention the fact that the Cyclones and the other clubs raised money for improvements to the park to make it suitable for baseball. If memory serves, I believe that the clubs were given permission to use the park under the condition that they made some improvements to it. It seems that this was part of a larger program of improvements going on to the park at the time.

One more thing I should point out is the mention that the park had been originally part of the commons. This is something that I've mentioned before and believe to be rather significant. The availability in St. Louis of large areas of land, I believe, played a large role in the development of the game in the city. There was ample land available to play the game in antebellum St. Louis and this encouraged and enabled the creation of numerous clubs in a short period of time. One thing I've not really touched on but am beginning to look at is the transfer of parts of this common land into a public park system. This was a process that seems to have begun in the late 1830's and you see the results with not only Lafayette Park but Carr Park, the Fairgrounds, and other parks in the late antebellum period.

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