Sited atop a forested bluff some five miles northwest of downtown Buffalo, this 22-acre park was established in the 1880s as a private picnic ground called Germania Park. The final addition to the Buffalo Park and Parkway System, Riverside Park was designed by Olmsted Brothers in 1898, bringing to fruition Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.’s, long-held vision of a waterfront park. By restricting planting along the site’s western edge, the plan maximized extensive views along a particularly wide section of the Niagara River. The gently rolling terrain was divided into three areas by a wishbone-shaped carriage drive opening towards the river. A woodland section to the north was designed with a series of shallow ‘minnow pools’ meandering through tall oaks and maples with a thickly planted understory. Between the arms of the carriage drive, formal garden beds edged a small grove with stands of trees planted around an open area created for summer concerts. On the south side were open athletic fields, to which seventeen acres were added in 1912. To remedy separation from the waterfront by the Erie Canal, a pedestrian overpass allowed circulation between the park and a dock on the river, serviced from downtown by a steamboat.
The construction of the New York State I-190 Thruway in the 1950s interrupted access to the waterfront until the addition of the Irene K. Gardner Pedestrian Bridge in 1980. Lost in the 1930s, the woodland water feature was rebuilt as a dry rain garden in 2004 by the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. Called RiverRock Gardens, the design also re-established the Olmsted Brothers’ planting design for the north section of the park. Bisected by just one of the branches of the original drive, the park supports various community amenities, including baseball and football fields, basketball and tennis courts, an ice rink and two swimming pools. The park was included in the 1982 multiple property National Register of Historic Places designation along with other Olmsted parks and parkways in Buffalo. In 2004 the maintenance and operation of the park system was ceded to the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.