Carondelet Park is a large St. Louis park with a lot of stories to tell. It is the city's third largest park and is the namesake of the former city of Carondelet, which is now a section of east St. Louis.
The Carondelet community was founded in 1767, originally under the name Louisburg after King Louis XV of France. The area’s name then changed to Prairie a Catalan after an original settler, Louis Catalin, before settling on Carondelet in 1794. The moniker is in honor of Baron Francois Louis Hector de Carondelet, a Spanish governor of the Louisiana Territory. Unofficially, the city was known by numerous other names as well. Delor’s Village, after the founder of the original settlement Clement DeLore de Treget, and Vide Poche (meaning "empty pocket") to name a few. The city of Carondelet was annexed to the City of St. Louis in 1870.
But how did Carondelet Park come about? In the mid-1860s, the City of St. Louis first proposed the creation of Forest Park. Residents north and south of the city were outraged over the half-day traveling distance to the proposed Forest Park. In order to gain popular approval of Forest Park, the city compromised with residents to create two new parks, one north and one south. These became O’Fallon Park and Carondelet Park.
St. Louis purchased 180 acres for the new park south of the city in 1874 for $143,000. Some of the land was from old Carondelet Common Fields from the former city of Carondelet, but part of the parcel was the Lyle estate. The Lyle Mansion was constructed on site in 1842 and still stands in the park today--although a use for it has yet to be determined.
Carondelet Park officially became a city park in 1875 and was dedicated on July 4, 1876, the centennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration. The park is unique not just for the interesting backstory, but it is also the only original landscape in the St. Louis park system. This means the landscape has not been altered and paints a picture of what the entire city could look like had it not been developed. Carondelet Park is an example of a Karst landscape, which is characterized by caves, sinkholes, rolling hills, and underground streams.
Interestingly, not much has been changed in the park since its early years. The road system was laid out in 1890 and can still accommodate modern vehicle traffic today. A 1907 plan proposed expanding the park and creating a boulevard system. The expansion never happened, but today you can access the park along the scenic Grand Boulevard and Holly Hills Boulevard. Many of the sinkholes have remained undeveloped, although 9 sinkholes were combined in 1913 to create Horseshoe Lake.
All historic amenities in the park, namely the Lyle House, Boathouse, Music Pavilion, Old Stable, and Music Stand, were built prior to 1920. These historic features, along with walking paths, tennis courts, fishing, horseshoe pits, playgrounds, ball fields, and rec-center run by the YMCA, come together to create a unique public landscape with something for everyone to enjoy. Today, Carondelet Park is the recreational nexus of 5 St. Louis neighborhoods: Boulevard Heights, Carondelet, the Patch, Bevo Mill, and Holly Hills, and also draws visitors from all across the St. Louis region.
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