Whlle the present site of Lafayette Park was set aside for public use in 1836, it took many years before the city grew out to it and it cou!d become a reality. It was dedicated as Lafayette Square in 1851 and was renamed Lafayette Park in 1854. The dedication ordinance provided for a board of improvements which included three residents of the vic nity of the park, also providing tnat improvement funds were to be raised by private citizens. By early 1852 money was available to build a wood fence around the park and to plant trees and shrubs. During the years up to the Civil War, a slx acre parade ground was developed and an ornamental pond was created amid extensive landscaping. The War caused a cessation of activity in the park's development until 1865, but soon thereafter a permanent park superintendent was appointed and the park was gradually turned into the city's finest recreation ground.
In 1868, the park was embellished by a statue of Senator Thomas Hart Benton by sculptress Harriet Hosmer. Its unveiling was witnessed by a crowd of nearly 40,000 persons. A year later, through the efforts of Charles Gibson, a bronze copy of Houdon's statue of George Washington was dedicated in the park. After construction of a band stand, weekly concerts were given during the summer months, benches were purchased and the police station was erected at the park's southeast corner. The iron fence around the park with decorative entrance gates was completed in 1869 with bond issue funds.
In 1870 the pond was enlarged, a fountain was added and boating became a popular park pastime. A large ornamental music pavilion, about forty feet high, was erected in 1876. During this period Lafayette Park, through expert gardening and maintenance, attained perfection in its landscaping and ornamentation.
The park suffered almost complete devastation in the 1896 tornado, which uprooted most of its large trees and destroyed the band stand and pavilions. Although restored in the following years, the park never again reached its former glory. It was only through vigorous efforts that the ornamental iron fence around the park was saved from the World War II scrap metal drive. The renewal efforts that are now being undertaken on the houses near the park have had a beneficial effect upon it. The old police station has been reopened as a museum and a generally improved appearance is evident in the park.
Image - View in Lafayette Park in the 1870's
Image - Old police headquarters building in Lafayette Park
Image - Statue of Thomas Hart Benton in Lafayette Park