Special Report

The Oldest City Parks in America

SerrNovik / iStock via Getty Images

Most people probably don’t realize it, but history might be practically in their backyard or just around the corner. Many towns and cities around the country are home not only to historical sites but also to municipal parks dating back centuries. Not only do these recreational areas give city dwellers a breather from congested urban life and a chance to relax in a more serene setting, the sites offer a window into our country’s distant past, as well. (See which cities have the highest concentration of historic places.)

About two million acres of public parkland flourish in the country’s 100 largest cities alone, according to The Trust for Public Land’s “2021 City Park Facts,” the latest edition of the nonprofit’s annual parks data compilation. That’s roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park and larger than several states. And people don’t have to go far for a history lesson: An estimated 75% of residents in those metros live within a 10-minute walk of a public park, up from 67.5% in 2012, the TPL notes. 

24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the TPL report to identify the 50 oldest city parks in America’s 100 largest cities. Nearly all of them commemorate or are associated with historical events. The oldest park – Boston Common – was founded in 1634 when Puritan colonists paid 30 pounds for the 44 acres, according to the Freedom Trail Foundation. Local livestock grazed the pasture, or “common land,” until 1830. But Puritans being Puritans, Boston Common was also the site of public punishments for witches, murderers, and other criminals, real or imagined. And in 1775, Boston Common played a pivotal role in the American Revolution. It was there British troops trained before clashing with colonists at the first battles of the war at Lexington and Concord.

Click here to see the 50 oldest big city parks in America

Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan dates back to before our country’s founding, too. Established in 1733, the site was once the council ground for Native American tribes, and it was there that Peter Minuit famously purchased Manhattan in 1626. Named “the plain” by the Dutch, the site was used as a parade ground, meeting place, and cattle market. It still stands near another marketplace – Wall Street.

Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, established in 1850, combines stunning Victorian garden architecture with history within its 48 acres. Dotted among its botanical gardens and sculptures are gravesites for everyone from paupers and Civil War veterans to politicians and famous locals, including “Gone With the Wind” Author Margaret Mitchell. All told, 70,000 people are buried at the cemetery.

Each park has its own history and significance, and each proves a step back in time is close to home. (Want more of a glimpse into the past? See 50 photos from American life in the 19th century.)

50. Coeur d’Alene Park, Spokane, Washington
> Year established: 1883
> Park agency: Spokane Parks and Recreation Department

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Source: MattGush / Getty Images

49. White Park, Riverside, California
> Year established: 1883
> Park agency: Riverside Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department

Source: TriggerPhoto / Getty Images

48. Drips Park, Kansas City, Missouri
> Year established: 1882
> Park agency: Kansas City, Missouri Parks and Recreation

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

47. Baxter Square, Louisville, Kentucky
> Year established: 1880
> Park agency: Louisville Parks and Recreation

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Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

46. Lincoln Park, Long Beach, California
> Year established: 1880
> Park agency: Long Beach Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine

Source: Mshake / Getty Images

45. Savage Park, Toledo, Ohio
> Year established: 1877
> Park agency: Toledo Division of Parks, Recreation and Forestry

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44. Monroe Park, Richmond, Virginia
> Year established: 1877
> Park agency: Richmond Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

43. City Park, Dallas, Texas
> Year established: 1876
> Park agency: Dallas Park and Recreation Department

42. Pease Park, Austin, Texas
> Year established: 1876
> Park agency: Austin Parks and Recreation Department

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Source: dszc / Getty Images

41. Armory Park, Tucson, Arizona
> Year established: 1874
> Park agency: Tucson Parks and Recreation Department

40. Hyde Park, Fort Worth, Texas
> Year established: 1873
> Park agency: Fort Worth Park & Recreation Department

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39. Hanscom Park, Omaha, Nebraska
> Year established: 1872
> Park agency: Omaha Department of Parks, Recreation and Public Property

38. Belle Isle Park, Detroit, Michigan
> Year established: 1872
> Park agency: Detroit Recreation Department

37. Acacia Park, Colorado Springs, Colorado
> Year established: 1871
> Park agency: Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services

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36. Pantoja Park, San Diego, California
> Year established: 1870
> Park agency: City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department

35. Saint James Park, San Jose, California
> Year established: 1868
> Park agency: San Jose Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services

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Source: trekandshoot / Getty Images

34. DeFremery Park, Oakland, California
> Year established: 1868
> Park agency: Oakland Office of Parks and Recreation

33. Mestizo Curtis Park, Denver, Colorado
> Year established: 1868
> Park agency: Denver Parks and Recreation

Source: traveler1116 / Getty Images

32. Cooper Park, Lincoln, Nebraska
> Year established: 1867
> Park agency: Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department

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Source: daquellamanera / Flickr / Public Domain

31. Pershing Square, Los Angeles, California
> Year established: 1866
> Park agency: Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

30. San Jacinto Plaza, El Paso, Texas
> Year established: 1858
> Park agency: El Paso Parks and Recreation Department

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Source: StevenGaertner / Getty Images

29. Murphy Square, Minneapolis, Minnesota
> Year established: 1857
> Park agency: Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

28. Hemming Park, Jacksonville, Florida
> Year established: 1857
> Park agency: Jacksonville Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Department

27. Artesian Park, Corpus Christi, Texas
> Year established: 1854
> Park agency: Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation Department

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Source: artran / iStock via Getty Images

26. Chapman Park, Portland, Oregon
> Year established: 1852
> Park agency: Portland Parks & Recreation

25. Fremont Park, Stockton, California
> Year established: 1851
> Park agency: Stockton Community Services Dept (CSD) Stockton Public Works Dept(PW)

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Source: StanRohrer / E+ via Getty Images

24. Goodale Park, Columbus, Ohio
> Year established: 1851
> Park agency: Columbus Recreation and Parks Department

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

23. Orton Park, Madison, Wisconsin
> Year established: 1850
> Park agency: Madison Parks Division

Source: SputnikFX / iStock via Getty Images

22. Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia
> Year established: 1850
> Park agency: Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation

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Source: culbertson / iStock via Getty Images

21. Rice Park, St. Paul, Minnesota
> Year established: 1849
> Park agency: Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department

Source: Davel5957 / Getty Images

20. Sutter Land Grants, Sacramento, California
> Year established: 1849
> Park agency: Department of Youth, Parks, and Community Enrichment

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Source: jmoor17 / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

19. Portsmouth Square, San Francisco, California
> Year established: 1847
> Park agency: San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department

Source: Bastiaan Slabbers / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

18. East Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
> Year established: 1844
> Park agency: Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Source: RudyBalasko / iStock via Getty Images

17. Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois
> Year established: 1837
> Park agency: Chicago Park District

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Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

16. Cathedral Square Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
> Year established: 1835
> Park agency: Milwaukee County Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture (within City of Milwaukee)

Source: James Andrews / iStock via Getty Images

15. Van Vorst Park, Jersey City, New Jersey
> Year established: 1835
> Park agency: Jersey City Division of Parks and Forestry

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Source: Jacek_Sopotnicki / Getty Images

14. Market Square, Buffalo, New York
> Year established: 1830
> Park agency: Buffalo Division of Parks and Recreation

Source: SerrNovik / iStock via Getty Images

13. Patterson Park, Baltimore, Maryland
> Year established: 1827
> Park agency: Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

12. Columbus Park, Memphis, Tennessee
> Year established: 1819
> Park agency: City of Memphis Division of Parks and Neighborhoods

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11. Piatt Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
> Year established: 1817
> Park agency: Cincinnati Park Board

10. Gravois Park, St. Louis, Missouri
> Year established: 1812
> Park agency: St. Louis Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry

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Source: burtonphoto / iStock via Getty Images

9. Settlers Landing, Cleveland, Ohio
> Year established: 1796
> Park agency: Cleveland Department of Public Works

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / Getty Images

8. Moore Square & Nash Square, Raleigh, North Carolina
> Year established: 1792
> Park agency: Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department

7. National Mall, Washington, DC
> Year established: 1791
> Park agency: National Park Service, Region 1 – National Capital Area

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Source: ChrisBoswell / iStock via Getty Images

6. Military Park, Newark, New Jersey
> Year established: 1775
> Park agency: Newark Department of Public Works

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

5. San Augustín Plaza, Laredo, Texas
> Year established: 1767
> Park agency: Laredo Parks and Recreation Department

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Source: tarabird / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

4. Bowling Green, New York, New York
> Year established: 1733
> Park agency: New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / Getty Images

3. San Pedro Springs Park, San Antonio, Texas
> Year established: 1729
> Park agency: San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

2. Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana
> Year established: 1721
> Park agency: New Orleans Department of Parks and Parkways

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1. Boston Common, Boston, Massachusetts
> Year established: 1634
> Park agency: Boston Parks and Recreation Department

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