Established by Henry Shaw on his own private land, this 280-acre linear park was designed and developed by Shaw and donated to the City of St. Louis in 1868. Shaw had previously founded the adjacent Missouri Botanical Garden on land that was also part of his estate, Tower Grove. Little altered since its conception, the park is situated on a long, narrow strip of land that was once an open prairie. James Gurney, Sr., whom Shaw had hired from England’s Royal Horticultural Society to be head gardener at the Missouri Botanical Garden, served as consultant for Tower Grove Park. Curvilinear roads and paths were laid out closer to the edge of the property on the western half, while a wide central allée with a road and parallel paths runs the length of the eastern end of the park. Lily ponds, bridges, fountains, statuary, stables, residences, and two conservatories, including the 1878 Palm House (the oldest extant greenhouse west of the Mississippi) were strategically sited for their scenic benefits throughout the park, which also includes a collection of 435 varieties of more than 10,000 trees and woody shrubs. The park’s twelve shelters (in styles ranging from Oriental to Turkish) include pavilions, follies, and a music stand. Half of these were designed by architect Eugene Greenleaf, with other structures designed by Henry Thiele, Francis Tunica, and George Barnett.
Since 1988, under the leadership of the Friends of Tower Grove Park, the site has undergone extensive restoration and rehabilitation. An approach to planting, based on original plant lists and other documents guides the selection and installation of new specimens, gradually reestablishing much of Shaw’s original Victorian Gardenesque vision. A 2016 master plan by Rhodeside & Harwell landscape architects improved accessibility and expanded passive and active recreational opportunities. The daylighting of a historic stream, buried for more than a century, was undertaken by Lamar Johnson Collaborative with input from representatives of the Osage Nation in 2017. A tree restoration plan, developed with SWT Design landscape architects in 2017, informs the renewal of the park’s canopy. Tower Grove Park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1989.