Established by city ordinance in 1851, Lafayette Park is the oldest developed urban park in the vast Louisiana Purchase Territory. It first served as a parade ground during the Civil War, but was extensively reshaped and beautifully landscaped after the war by the renowned landscape architect, Maximillian Kern, who was its first superintendent. The park truly came into its own during the Victorian “Gilded Age” of the late 1800s, when as many as 10,000 city residents would visit the park on a typical Sunday to enjoy a concert band, cross the lake in a swan boat, stroll among the impressively maintained floral displays, or simply admire the exquisite townhouses and mansions that surrounded the park on all sides.
Devastated by a great tornado in 1896, the Lafayette Square neighborhood surrounding the park experienced serious decline in the first part of the twentieth century, as families moved further from the city or were hurt financially by the Great Depression. By the late 1960s, however, intrepid urban pioneers were beginning to buy and restore its fine homes, eventually bringing national recognition to Lafayette Square as an outstanding example of urban renewal, with more than 375 restored Victorian homes on display. Lafayette Park, the central jewel of the Lafayette Square neighborhood, richly deserves its status as both a place of continuing beauty and a vitally important part of Saint Louis history