, 2022-08-20 06:00:00,
Picnics, birthday parties, ball games and exceptionally nice days are all elements that might bring someone to one of Kansas City’s 200-and-some parks.
The peaceful greenspaces might seem ubiquitous in the city of fountains, but the acres of parks Kansas Citians know today weren’t always there.
Lisa, a Flatland reader, asked, “What was Kansas City’s first City Park?”
To answer Lisa’s question, we went straight to the source: the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department.
Kate Warfield, the department’s archivist, said while the answer isn’t quite that straightforward, she usually names Kessler Park as the city’s first park.
‘The city within a park’
In the 1890s, Kansas City businessmen William Nelson and August Meyer advocated for and started the Park Board. By 1895, the board had access to funding and the ability to condemn land for the purpose of establishing parks.
Warfield said the Parks Board was born as Kansas City was on the cusp of expansion, and city leaders wanted a comprehensive plan on the city’s future.
George Kessler had already designed and supervised the construction of Merriam Park, just across the state line in Kansas, and several privately funded parks such as Hyde Park (which is now maintained by the city). He submitted his application to design Kansas City’s parks and boulevards and was accepted.
Kessler’s designs followed the City Beautiful Movement, which believed a city full of beautiful places would foster social order and a greater quality of life for citizens.
“Boulevards will get you from one end of the city to the other … but my gosh, we’re going to make it really beautiful while you do this utilitarian thing,” Warfield said of the original Park Board’s mindset.
Kessler and the board’s philosophy toward park development in Kansas City is sometimes referred to as creating a city within a park.
North Terrace Park and West Terrace Park were some of the first projects approved and funded by the city. North Terrace Park (renamed George E. Kessler Park in the 1970s) is generally considered the first completed park.
The park sits in Kansas City’s historic Northeast neighborhood. At the time of its construction the neighborhood was home to some of Kansas City’s most elite businessmen and their families. Many of the castle-like mansions endure around Kessler park today.
Kessler designed a park on more than 300 acres that embraced the wild and rugged forests and…
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