Henry Shaw, from whose country estate Tower Grove Park takes its name, arrived in St. Louis from England in 1819. At that time the town was becoming an outfitting point for the West and Shaw shrewdly invested in the hardware business. He also saw the advantage of river shipping rather than laborious overland routes, especially in transshipment of sugar from New Orleans. Shaw accumulated a fortune before he was forty, retired from business and traveled widely. On a trip to England, he was impressed by the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew and later determined to establish a botanical garden in his adopted City. Accordingly, the Missouri Botanical Garden was £ounded and laid out on Shaw's land, adjacent to his country home in 1858. A museum to house his library and herbarium was completed in 1859, followed by an arboretum, green houses and formal gardens.
At his death in 1889, Henry Shaw was lauded as an outstanding benefactor of St. Louis through his gifts of the Garden, Tower Grove Park and the Washington University School of Botany. He is entombed in a stone mausoleum on the Garden grounds. Like most of the other Garden structures, from Shaw's time, it was designed by architect George Ingham Barnett. Barnett's work is seen in Tower Grove, Shaw's country home, completed in 1849 and extended after his death. The name derives from its tower and the adjacent groves of trees. Nearby, facing on Tower Grove Avenue, is his town house, built in 1851 on the southwest corner of Seventh and Locust Streets. After Shaw's death it was removed and rebuilt in the Garden in 1891.
The most prominent structure in the Garden is the Climatron, a geodesic dome designed by R. Buckminster Fuller in 1959. Within this first geodesic greenhouse, a variation of temperatures can be maintained for a wide variety of tropical vegetation. Elsewhere in the Garden can be found special greenhouses for desert, Mediterranean and floral displays. In the Linnaean greenhouse built by Shaw, is the Garden's camellia collection. Outdoor display areas are notable throughout the Garden, including formal rose gardens, an English woodland garden and the new Japanese Garden in the southwest corner of the Garden grounds. Contrasting with the older structures is the new John S. Lehmann building, built in 1972 at a cost of $1.8 million. It houses the library and the herbarium in a temperature controlled environment, as well as offices and educational facilities. The Garden offers many botanic courses and workshops for children and adults. Several fountains embellish the beautifully landscaped grounds and facing Magnolia Avenue is the headquarters of the National Council of State Garden Clubs.
A 2,200 acre arboretum is maintaines by the Garden at Gray Summit, Missouri. Shaw's Garden, as it is popularly known, now covers 7999 acres and with its modern plant display and propagation facilities, is the nation's leading botanical garden.
In 1819, when Henry Shaw first viewed the land which he later acquired in the Tower Grove area, he described it as a vast undulating prairie, without trees or fences, but covered with tall luxuriant grass. Even thirty years later, when Shaw occupied his country house, the area was remote from St. Louis. So remote, in fact, that when he asked his friend, Doctor George Englemann, to become the Garden's first director, the doctor declined stating that he did not wish to "live so far away from St. Louis!" Dr. Engelmann was a distinquished St. Louis physician and botanist, who, when he learned that Shaw intended to leave his estate to the public, convinced him that a botanical garden would be an appropriate gift. In the years after the Civil War, Shaw decided to donate nearly 300 acres of his land to the City for a public park. It required exceptional vision for him to foresee the development of the treeless and waterless prairie into the magnificent park that it was to become.
Acceptance by the City included the provision that public funds would be used for the Park's upkeep. Since the site was beyound the City limits of that time, the Park was created by an act of the State legislature on March 9, 1867. It was to be administered by a board of commisioners with Shaw a life-time member. Shaw was also the chief designer for park improvements, with civil engineer Francis Tunica in charge of construction. The Park tract was three-tenths and one and one quarter miles in length from Grand Boulevard to Kingshighway. It was the intention of the donor that a 200 foot wide strip around the Park's perimeter was to be reserved for the erection of handsome residences, with their revenue to go toward the support of the Botanical Garden. This plan did not work out and the only "villa" remaining is the one designed by George I. Barnett and occupied by the park superintendent at Tower Grove and Magnolia Avenues. Until recently, the superintendent has been Miss Bernice Gurney, grandaughter of James Gurney who was brought by Shaw in 1868 from Regent's Park in London to act as the Garden's chief gardener and landscape architect. He was succeeded by his son as park superintendent in 1920.
Tower Grove Park was laid out as an English walking park, in a semi-formal arrangement, with fanciful gazebos and pagodas in gay colors scattered around the grounds. More than 20,000 trees were planted and curving driveways were laid out in a "gardensque" style. A straight center drive runs westward from the Grand entrance, interrupted at several points by circles containing statuary, terminating at the transverse drive from the Tower Grove entrance. The "villa strip" was purchased by the City and added to the Park in 1926, making it the City's second largest park, covering 285 acres.
All of the Park's entrances are reached through ornamental gateways with wrought iron work and stone pylons. The East Gate at Grand was designed by Shaw in 1870. It is marked by large limestone piers topped by zinc weeping lions. Tall thirty foot columns, with limestone bulls at their tops, located at the Tower Grove entrance, once supported galleries under the dome of the old Courthouse. They were acquired by Shaw when the rotunda was remodeled. Marking the 200 foot strip, at this point, are limestone markers topped with stags. This gateway was erected between 1868 and 1870. At the Arsenal Street entrance or South Gate, also dating from 1870, is a stone gate house designed by George I. Barnett. This was the last Park building built by Shaw before his death. Nearby is a "well-house", one of twelve built in the early 1870's, as the only source of water for the Park. When a water pipe was laid in Arsenal Street in 1872, a tap was made providing the Park with City water.
As a result, a lily pond and fountain were built near the north entrance. On its north side are the "ruins" a picturesque arrangement of stone blocks from the 1867 fire ruins of the first Lindell Hotel. East of this is the Music Stand, completed in 1872 and surrounded by polished granite pedestals bearing busts of famous composers. All of this was made possible by the generosity of Henry Shaw. Also donated by Shaw are three major pieces of statuary in the Park, representing Columbus, von Humboldt and Shakespeare. All three are the work of sculpture Ferdinand von Miller of Munich. The Shakespeare and Humboldt statues were unveiled by Shaw in 1878, followed by the Columbus statue in 1886. The latter is in a circle of the center drive near the East Gate, Humboldt's figure is located in another such drive circle east of the pond and Shakespeare's is in the circle of the transverse drive near the center of the Park. The three statues are mounted on red granite pedestals designed by architect Barnett.
As a memorial to the Park's donor, a battery of tennis courts with a stone entrance house was erected by the City in 1952. A bronze portrait medallion of Shaw, formerly on the base of the Humboldt statue, was remounted on the west wall of the gate house at that time.
In 1968, a statue of Baron von Steuben was presented to the City and erected in the Park north of the "ruins". It had formerly decorated the Liederkranz Club on South Grand.
At the Park's Kingshighway entrance, is a stone castellated gateway with forty foot towers, designed by Barnett.
Supplementing the traffic entrances to the Park are four pedestrian gateways interspersed at convenient locations on the Park's perimeter. Another evidence of Shaw's concern for walkers was the thoughtful provision for shelter given by the many summer houses in the Park. Tower Grove Park today is a highly prized and intensively used recreation space for South St. Louisans.