Land set aside for the public’s greater good started early in Cleveland history. Brookside Park is one of the earliest parks created for the growing urban population. However a park system was envisioned as the Civil War was coming to a close.
As early as 1865, the city of Cleveland began to see the need for establishing public parks. The city council committee proclaimed that Cleveland was “far behind most cities of its class” and encouraged the purchasing of parklands to provide for the city’s “great future population.” Councilman John Huntington (Huntington Reservation’s namesake) predicted this exponential growth, but was not taken seriously by some at the time. The city of Cleveland’s population was 43,417 in 1860 and more than doubled in 1870 to 92,829. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the first Cleveland board of park commissioners was established in 1871.
The first land purchased and improved for parklands was Lake View Park in 1874. Today that would be in the vicinity of the Browns Stadium. Again, John Huntington was a city councilman and had a hand in procuring this piece of property during his last year in service.
Lake View Park - 1876 Courtesy of Cleveland Memory Project
Lake View Park - 1890 Courtesy of Cleveland Public Library
In 1880, other notable parks were added, such as Miles, Clifton and Lincoln. Mr. Jeptha Wade donated 64 acres in 1882 where the Cleveland Museum of Art and University Circle are now located. William Gordon gifted 129 acres in 1892 to the city along the shoreway.
In 1894, two years later, Brooklyn Park was added to the City of Cleveland parklands and eventually changed its name to Brookside Park (1897). Large pieces of property were purchased to expand the parklands to meet the expanding population, including Garfield Park, Edgewater Park (now both managed by Cleveland Metroparks) and stretches of land along Doan Brook Valley. By 1890 the population of Cleveland was 261,353. Cleveland -- once known as Forest City -- was the 10th largest city in the nation.
date unkown - Courtesy of Cleveland Memory Project
Fishing in Brookside Park Pond - 1943 - Photo Courtesy of CSU - Michael Schwartz Library - Special Collections
Bookside Park Pool Postcard - Courtesy of Cleveland Memory Project
One year later in 1895, William Stinchcomb began to work for the city of Cleveland as a surveyor in the engineering department. That same year the city enlarged its greenspace with donations from the Shaker Heights Land Co. (Shaker Lakes) and a sizable gift from John D. Rockefeller to establish Rockefeller Park along Doan Brook Valley. Washington Park (now a Cleveland Metroparks Reservation) and Luke Easter Park were folded into the City of Cleveland parks by 1900. There is no doubt that young William Stinchcomb at this time was influenced by the vibrant growth of the city parks. Possibly his vision began to take shape in forming a county-wide boulevard system encircling Cleveland proper.
These “public pleasure grounds” provided a respite and a perfect greenspace for the ever-growing work force in the Greater Cleveland area to relax in. By 1900 the population had mushroomed to 381,768 in Cleveland and 439,120 in Cuyahoga County making Cleveland the 7th largest city in the nation.
Brookside Park was like many of the parks, with undulating hills, pastoral views, a flowing creek (Big Creek) for swimming, wading or skipping rocks; pathways on which to take a leisurely walk; picnic grounds; and fields for enjoying a pick-up game of ball or catching an afternoon nap. Literally thousands of folks flocked to these city parks on weekends.
Courtesy of Cleveland Memory Project
Game of baseball at Brookside Park - 1932 Photo courtesy of CSU - Michael Schwartz Library - Special Collections
Swimmers at Brookside Pool - 1930 Photo courtesy of CSU - Michael Schwartz Library - Special Collections
Aerial view of Brookside Park Pool - 1936 Photo courtesy of CSU - Michael Schwartz Library - Special Collections
The growth of Cleveland swelled even more to 560,663 by 1910. The parks needed to add amenities and added attractions. Ponds for boating and fishing, pavilions with dancing and concerts, pools for swimming, and sports fields to support scheduled events kept the working masses and their families entertained at a reasonable price or free.
Brookside Park in 1907 became a unique city park in that it was chosen to be the new site of the Cleveland Zoo that was formerly located at Wade Park. Interestingly enough, our very own William Stinchcomb was intimately involved in the move, as he was serving as chief engineer of parks at that time.
Brookside Park Baseball Stadium drew over 100,000 people at the World Amateur Baseball Champions in 1915. Brookside Park attracted 6,000 – 8,000 fans at regular scheduled games. In the winter, ice skating was very popular at Brookside Park. In 1901, one of the first Cleveland ice skating races was held in the park.
Brookside Park, since 1894, continues to be a popular destination for Clevelanders and outlying community residents. Baseball games, concerts, special events and of course the zoo attract thousands of visitors daily to this historic site where the public still finds great pleasure on these grounds.
Please refer to Roots Revealed blog entry Practical Dreamer 5/13/13, John Huntington: One Man’s Lasting Legacy 2/5/14 and Huntington Reservation: John Huntington’s Legacy 12/31/14 for more insight into the stories of William Stinchcomb and John Huntington.