Monday, November 15, 2010

Autumn in Tower Grove Park

Vine-covered tree near Grand Blvd.
entrance to Tower Grove Park
Any season is a great time to visit Tower Grove Park, but if you haven't yet enjoyed an autumn day there this year, I would highly recommend getting there before the remaining color is gone. 

Although sometimes called one of the City's "best kept secrets", the park has a huge number of devotees and was recently hailed by the Riverfront Times as the "Best Public Park" for 2010.  It may be overshadowed by the better-known and more-visited Forest Park, but, in my opinion, its relative peacefulness is a big part of its charm.  On my most recent visit, the word that kept coming to mind was: serenity.  

Tower Grove Park was donated by Henry Shaw to the citizens of St. Louis in 1868.  In addition to its beautiful natural scenery and wildlife (particularly birds), the urban forest boasts some of St. Louis' finest landscape architecture, statuary, and numerous Victorian-era pavilions that can be reserved for weddings, picnics, and other events.

The park includes four full-length sculptures (William Shakespeare, Alexander von Humboldt, Christopher Columbus, and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben), and a music pavilion surrounded by marble busts of composers Mozart, Rossini, Beethoven, Wagner, Gounod, and Verdi. Other ornamental works are scattered throughout the park.

Main Drive in Tower Grove Park, early morning.
Christopher Columbus by Ferdinand von Miller, dedicated October 12,
1886. This first statue of Columbus in the U.S. is believed to be "the
only statue in the US of a bearded Columbus, a feature added at the
insistence of the donor [Henry Shaw]. A rumor has it that objecting,
the sculptor carved on the statue:  'I knew he didn't have a beard.'"
The Music Pavilion is surrounded by this marble bust of Mozart as
well as ones of composers Rossini, Beethoven, Wagner, Gounod, and Verdi.

Echoing the words of one of the park's commissioners in 1883, the park's official website states that "the public pleasure grounds of a great city . . . are disassociated from all political, religious or social antagonisms; people generally visit them in their happiest, most reflective moods, and on days when the cares and anxieties of business and labor are laid aside."  Those words ring true to me in general, and particularly in relation to Tower Grove Park.

Autumn may be on the wane, but the park is a great place to visit in any season.  The park is the site of many of the City's gatherings throughout the year, including the popular Festival of Nations, which saw its largest crowd to date140,000 visitorsin summer 2010.  And on Saturday mornings from May through early November, the Tower Grove Farmers' Market and Bazaar (located just west of the Pool Pavilion) is bustling with shoppers and other visitors. Particularly in the summer, this is a great time to bring the entire family to the park, as throngs of kids splash in the wading pool and enjoy the nearby playgrounds.  

Enjoying the music at the Festival of Nations,
 Summer 2010.

Families splash in the fountain at the Wading Pool Pavilion,
adjacent to the Tower Grove Farmers' Market.
 For much more information on Tower Grove Park's history, attractions, and events, be sure to visit the park's official website or the City's site dedicated to the park.  If you really want to dig into its history, check out this digitized version of the 1883 Tower Grove Park of the City of St. Louis. Review of its Origin and History, Plan of Improvement, Ornamental Features, Etc. With Illustrations.

Of course, if you want to get a true flavor of the parkget out and enjoy it!


  1. I recently read a book about Henry Shaw's Victorian gardening ideas, and the many chapters on Tower Grove Park were particularly interesting. His botanical garden was quickly and completely erased after his death by other people's preferences, but Tower Grove Park still retains a lot of his original plan.

    A central argument was one of the Olmsteadian picturesque (wild and natural in appearance) against the gardenesque (strict, formal, and educational). Tower Grove Park was given to the citizens of St. Louis to make us better, more cultivated people, and the choice for a more gardenesque look was an important part of that. Trees were to be planted in easily viewed lines along undecorated walkways. The emptiness of the grassy fields and lack of undergrowth draws attention to the trees and makes them the primary object of focus. We contemplate them, and our minds are improved.

    It's interesting that you point out its serenity and it's 'natural scenery.' Serenity is a major part of it, but natural scenery is supposed to be minimized by design.

    I live right next to it and a giant oppossom has claimed my fire escape. It certainly does have an appeal to wildlife.

  2. Don't forget about the coyote from earlier this year! And the farmers market (April through October) is one of the best in the city. You gotta love Tower Grove...truly an amazing park.

  3. We at Hydro Dramatics were privileged to work with a wonderful person on the fountain and wading pool area in Tower Grove Park. W. Philip Cotton, Jr., was the true definition of the term, "A gentleman and a scholar". He began his college career at Mizzou, graduated from Princeton and after serving in the U.S. Army, received his Master of Architecture degree from Harvard. His career took him around the world, but his primary interest was historic preservation.

    Even with such lofty credentials, Philip remained soft-spoken and humble, and his goal to improve St. Louis through preserving the wonderful gems that surround us was foremost in his life. His delight in seeing the renovation of the fountain area in Tower Grove, was multiplied when he saw "the kiddies having such a wonderful time"! His enthusiasm was something I greatly enjoyed and appreciated.

    While Philip endured crippling scleroderma for many years, it never slowed him down. He passed away in June 2009, having seen his beloved Tower Grove Park become the beautiful, vibrant gem he worked so hard to preserve. I can't see the park without thinking of Philip, and be thankful for knowing him.

  4. Daron--Thanks for your insights on Henry Shaw's design for the park. I need to read up on it more.

    Joe--I agree with you re: the farmers' market. I love that you can take in the market, listen to some music (sometimes), and in warmer months, let the kids splash around in the fountain and play on the playgrounds.

    Anne--Mr. Cotton sounds like an extraordinary man. Judging from your comments, what I've heard of him, and this obituary in the Beacon, it sounds like St. Louis was very lucky to have him (and that you were lucky to know him personally).

    Thanks to each of you for your comments.