Home Culture & Heritage Saint Joseph’s Parks and Parkway System

Saint Joseph’s Parks and Parkway System

a Comprehensive Vision

Dig deep into the pile of studies, reports and plans gathering dust and pull out a copy of the best plan Saint Joseph ever developed. City planning consultant and perhaps the principal architect of the “City Beautiful” movement, Charles Mulford Robinson, completed a conceptual plan in 1910 funded by the Ad Club of Saint Joseph. Building upon Robinson’s work, landscape architect George Edward Kessler (responsible for 230 projects in 23 states and 100 cities, including Hyde Park in Kansas City and the Parks and Boulevard System in Kansas City) presented in 1912 what would become a master plan for a city-wide parks and parkway system in Saint Joseph. In 1916 John Charles Olmstead of Olmstead Brothers (who with his step-brother Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., built upon the legacy of their father’s monumental landscape design practice to a national client base of 3,500 commissions) contributed additional advice and suggestions for the master plan.

“A good park system is all pervading. It penetrates, in one form or another, all parts of the town, spreading its influence where it does not actually transform, injecting new life and blood into the dry bones of the street system, and changing for the better the general aspect of the town. If we can work out for St. Joseph a good practicable park system, we shall have quite a different community to deal with …”

– Charles Mulford Robinson in his 1910 report,  The St. Joseph of the Future, commissioned by the Ad Club of St. Joseph

“A quiet drive or stroll in a large park, or in the country, with perhaps a family picnic under the trees, would be far more restful and therefore more rational than to rush off by train to some Coney Island pleasure resort, with its various artificial attractions.”

— John Charles Olmsted

Kessler’s 1912 plan for development of Prospect Park, now the location of Huston Wyeth Park and Lookout, and the Fort Smith historic site

Ultimately George Elberton Burnap, the former landscape architect for the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds in Washington D.C. would be engaged to oversee work on Saint Joseph’s parkway system. Among Burnap’s numerous projects in Washington is the planting plan for the Tidal Basin on the Jefferson Memorial. Work to implement the city-wide parks and parkway plan would continue off and on for a decade under Burnap’s supervision and consultancy until its official ‘completion’ in December 1927.

Additional work on the city’s parks and parkway system would continue throughout the ensuing years and decades with additional improvements, additions and subtractions, planting schemes and removal of planting schemes, lean economic periods resulting in various maintenance deferrals as well as growth and decline in the numerous adjacent neighborhoods located throughout the system. In fact, critical elements of the parkway system concepts originally presented by Robinson in 1910 have never been completed.

Complete Park System, Charles Mulford Robinson, 1910

Most important among these, and of significant value in enhancing quality of life in the old north end of Saint Joseph, as well as the broader economic development of the community, is a run of parkway planned to connect the area around Krug Park and St. Joseph Avenue through the bluff land above Waterworks Road overlooking the Missouri River valley to the area now near the Remington Nature Center and Wyeth Hill. Tuning Fork thinks this is the direction the City needs to travel. We think the citizens will agree that our best, most proven and already long paid for plans are the ones worthy of continued investment and implementation. A city should seek to put natural and unspoiled beauty and pastoral recreation within reach of city dwellers through its parks and parkways. These four luminaries of landscape architecture – Robinson, Kessler, Olmsted and Burnap – have given Saint Joseph a comprehensive plan for the development of our public green spaces. Throughout their plans, writings and reports one matter of advice remains constant – future development of any part of the system must always consider its effect on the plan and success of the whole system. The system, not any single part, stands alone. Address blight and neglect in our parks and parkway system. Restore Krug Park and facilitate its long-planned connection to the riverfront. Finish the Parkway.

John Charles Olmstead
George Elberton Burnap
George Edward Kessler
Charles Mulford Robinson

“When one is seated under a tree, quietly contemplating a beautiful landscape, one should not be in danger of being hit by a baseball or golf ball or be subjected to the annoyance of boys engaged in some game, yelling close at hand.”

— John Charles Olmsted

“Planning should be comprehensive. Even though a grand urban design could only be realized in bits and pieces, and over a long period of years, still we should always know where we are going.”

— George Kessler

“In a campaign for civic development or civic beautification, a certain generous per cent of the fund raised for that purpose should be devoted to the development of already existing and proposed parks, with the intent of making some immediate display as a means of encouragement. A few parks completed, which may be pointed out as the first result of the city planning campaign, will serve as a powerful aid in soliciting further contributions to the cause.”

— George Elberton Burnap

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