Originally part of the St. Louis Commons set aside by early French settler Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau, this land was later designated as a cemetery in 1842. In 1866 the seventeen-acre site, originally known as City Park, was dedicated by city ordinance as Benton Park, in honor of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Two acres of the site’s perimeter were carved out to form the public streets that define its edges: Jefferson Avenue, Arsenal Street, Illinois Avenue, and Wyoming Street. The neighborhood surrounding the park, which shares its name, began developing after the Civil War and is mostly composed of modest single-family dwellings.
A natural cave beneath the park site shapes its topography. Park superintendent and horticulturalist Edward Krausnick laid out the rolling terrain and added two lakes, a circular fountain, and rustic stone bridges. Meandering pathways shaded by canopy trees offer vistas through the park and into the neighborhood. Krausnick introduced rare trees, shrubs, and flowers and established a greenhouse that supplied plants for other parks on the city’s southside. A large granite monument erected in 1882 commemorates Civil War colonel Friedrich Franz Karl Hecker.
In the twentieth century, the park fluctuated through periods of disrepair and improvements. Although most of the Victorian era plantings slowly disappeared, early improvements including two stone bridges and the circular fountain remain. The reconfigured lake, perched over the subterranean cave system, has been rehabilitated and lined with concrete. It is regularly stocked with fish. Contemporary features include a pavilion and picnic tables, tennis courts, playground for outdoor recreation, and fixed benches dotting the pedestrian paths. The Cherokee Community Center, adjacent to the park’s south end, was built in 1967. Benton Park is a contributing feature in the Benton Park Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.