History of Memphis Parks

Overton Park
(Overton Park Diagram circa. 1901 G. Kessler)
(Click picture to enlarge)

Established in 1900 as the Memphis Park Commission, the Division of Park Services has protected the urban forest and has played a key role in promoting the City's health and appearance. In 1901, landscape architect George Kessler created plans for a parkway system like those in Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Overton and Riverside Parks were connected by long, leafy avenues in a formal pattern that preserved green spaces and provided a dominant grid pattern, giving shape to the City's eastward expansion. The parkway system is listed on the National Historic Register and has long been a source of pride among Memphians.

As Memphis grew, so did the city-owned park land and facilities. Architect Kessler went on to designed the Fairgrounds, Forrest Park, and other sites, and many private citizens made significant contributions by deeding land to the city. Robert Church, the City's first African-American millionaire, established a park that still bears his name. Galloway Golf Course was created in 1923 when the Red Acres subdivision deeded it to the City. The Overton Park Shell was created as a WPA project in 1936 and proved popular for outdoor concerts.

Our Vision Expands

During a century of city-wide growth, the Park Commission expanded its role. Today, the Memphis Park Services is a multi-dimensional provider of services, overseeing 166 parks with a total of 3,219 acres.

The world-famous Memphis Zoo and the award-winning Skinner Developmental Center for people with special needs are among the Division's many diverse properties. The Pink Palace Museum, home to the Crew Training International IMAX Theater and the Sharpe Planetarium, ranks among the five favorite museums in Southern Living magazine's Reader's Choice Poll. The Lichterman Nature Center, reconstructed at a cost of $7.4 million, reopened in October 2000 to showcase native plants and wildlife. The Memphis Botanic Garden pays tribute to the region's rich floral heritage with a butterfly garden and dozens of other seasonal displays.

Community centers, golf courses, public tennis courts, swimming pools, and athletic fields provide Memphis with outdoor and indoor recreation. The Youth Athletics Program, which includes hundreds of softball, baseball, and soccer teams, is one of the last such programs in a major American city that is free.

Always looking for ways to improve and grow, the Memphis Park Service is constantly improving and building new facilities. Please visit the Planning and Development page to see new and complete projects.


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