Early History of City Park:
City Park was once part of the Jean Louis Allard Plantation, and is located alongside Bayou St. John, an important early route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River. The Allard Plantation was originally established in the 1770's, and was later purchased by philanthropist John McDonough in 1845. When McDonough died in 1850, he donated the plantation to the City of New Orleans. In 1854, most of it was designated a city park. In 1891, Victor J. Anseman, the "Father of City Park," formed the City Park Improvement Association which worked to obtain funding to make this wild area into a real park.
City Park was the favorite site of New Orleans' Creole gentlemen's “affaires d’honneur,” under the "Dueling Oaks." Duels were fought for major, and often minor reasons, such as perceived assaults on the honor of the ladies or gentlemen--you could literally look at somebody in the "wrong way" and find yourself on the wrong end of a pistol. The duels were fought until first blood was drawn, and many resulted in death. This practice was not outlawed until 1890.
During the Depression, the Roosevelt Administration, through the WPA, built lagoons, bridges, fountains, gardens, and stadiums. Sculptor Enrique Alferez was commissioned by the WPA to create beautiful works of art still decorating the Park--"Benches with Figures," "Reclining Nude" and "Reclining Nude eating Grapes," "The Grass Gates"--all can be seen today near the Botanical Gardens. The mystical "Popp Fountain" is also his work.
Formerly a forest, the present-day park spans about 1300 acres, and is one of the biggest urban parks in the nation. City Park has the largest collection of mature oaks in the world, some over 600 years old. These wonderful, graceful trees are worth a visit all on their own. Through these oaks winds the wonderful Celebration In The Oaks during the holiday season. The Park is the best birding spot in New Orleans, and has 11 miles of lagoons with bass, trout, and other species of fish. The Couturie Forest and Arboretum Trail is a 33-acre preserve of a large stand of mature mixed hardwoods in natural condition.
The Park boasts an historic carousel dating from 1906, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, inside the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. Storyland is a fairytale playground, where children have played for generations. There are two free playgrounds, one of the largest public tennis facilities in the South, Tad Gormley Football Stadium, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Soon, the Great Lawn will connect the Peristyle with the Gardens. The Peristyle and Bandstand are favorite sites for weddings and other celebrations.
The Hurricane--Then and Now:
Katrina dealt a near-death blow to City Park, but thanks to the persistence of the citizens, has finally obtained funds to rebuild and refurbish some of the landmarks. The historical structures have been rescued, the Botanical and Sculpture Gardens, as well as the Museum have re-opened, and the large golf courses and driving range are coming back strong. It is still vibrant, beautiful, and a favorite for family get-togethers.
For more information about City Park, or to check on the great schedule of events, go to the official website.