St. Louis, Missouri
by Dawn Woolcott
The clip-clop of hooves traveling the wide paths throughout the park are reminiscent of a long-ago past. With paths built to be wide enough for horse and buggy, Tower Grove Park was once the perfect place to see and be seen as the upper classes took a casual ride under the cool shade of the park’s trees. Now those wide paths are enjoyed more by walkers, runners, and baby strollers, but are still used by a horse named Moonshine.
Moonshine is a Clydesdale horse that has resided in the park’s stables for years, pulling a carriage and giving delighted passengers a step back in time as they too enjoy a ride under the tree canopy. Moonshine’s companion is a Shetland pony named Sheffield who has also lived at the stables for many years. The horses are living the good life with light duty, plenty of treats, regular baths and grooming, and lots of attention from visitors. The historic old limestone Victorian era stables once were the home of working mules who powered the maintenance of the park. Once the mule power was replaced by mechanized horsepower, the stables were no longer in much use and generally just used for storage. After years of deferred maintenance, the stables recently received a much-needed refurbishment in 2019. The rescue operation worked to keep it as authentic as possible, including the unique cut wood floor. A few modernizations were added including a new horse-washing station and upgraded restroom facilities for staff. Repairing crumbling stonework, resetting the foundation underneath the stone floor, and updating electrical work were just a few of the repairs it required. The old structure is just one of many historic and photo-worthy buildings spaced throughout the park that require regular maintenance. The Victorians loved their buildings to be attractive as well as useful.
The Victorian era was a period of intense growth in St. Louis, and a fascinating place to walk and see outstanding brick and stone architecture – especially near the two main parks, Tower Grove and nearby Forest Park. Tower Grove Park was opened in 1872 and is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2022. The land for the park was gifted to the city by a retired St. Louis merchant, Henry Shaw, who also created the Missouri Botanical Garden on part of the estate surrounding his country villa. Mr. Shaw was reputed to be a believer in the importance of parks to a community “not only as ornaments to a great city, but as conducive to the health and happiness of its inhabitants and to the advancement of refinement and culture.” His particular interest in the classics and from his travels in Europe are reflected in the architecture, statuary, and many of the park’s historical treasures.
One of the most memorable and unique features of this park are the many pavilions set around the park – each with its own character and style. Used as bandstands and places to picnic, these pavilions especially reflect Mr. Shaw’s flare for an exotic European influence.
The 289 acre park has many historic aspects to it including The brick Piper Palm House, which is the oldest greenhouse west of the Mississippi River. The Tennis Center was added in 1931 and its three newly refurbished grass courts are the only public grass courts in the nation. Yet it is the 10-stall horse stables that are in the oldest building in the park, and a major reason why Tower Grove is a National Historic Landmark Park, along with Central Park and Boston Public Garden – just one of seven such parks in the United States.
The park is unique in that a separate non-profit organization, The Friends of Tower Grove Park, is responsible for the maintenance of the park and its buildings. This is a monumental responsibility, combining financing sources from several different areas, but mostly via donors and volunteers. It was an anonymous donor who helped with the costs of refurbishing the stables – a donation of over $400,000 – just for the love of history and horses. The love of horses is a powerful motivator, and we are all the beneficiaries – not just Moonshine and Sheffield.
You can take a guided tour of the stables or a guided history of the park walk at various times during the month. If you are in St. Louis, check their website for the current schedule. The park also hosts many events, a Farmers Market, and concerts. If you’d like to visit St. Louis’s Tower Grove Park and see this beautiful national treasure, try one of these cruises that stops in this beautiful city on the Mississippi:
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