Our neighborhood centers on Tyler Park, named in memory of Henry S. Tyler, mayor of Louisville from 1891 to 1896. It is one of the Olmsted parks that Louisville built at the beginning of the twentieth century as the city expanded into its new streetcar suburbs.
The stone bridge through the middle of the park came first, completed in 1904. It was a public works project to span a low valley where small streams converged on the way to the south fork of Beargrass Creek. The archway is where they met, one flowing from Quadrant Avenue and the other coming from Bardstown Road along the path of Tyler Parkway.
The park opened three years later, with the land acquired piecemeal. Twelve acres were acquired in 1906 and the corners of the upper park at Windsor and at Edenside in 1910. General Castleman later donated a parcel along Castlewood Avenue that became part of the lower park and a separate tract now called the Castlewood Open Space, a short distance away.
Having the park gave a focal point to the development of new suburbs between 1910 and 1930. The deeds for the original twelve acres called for construction of a road to border the park, which gave the sellers a way to subdivide their remaining property with lots facing the new public space. Edward Goddard built a subdivision between Tyler Park Drive and St. Louis Cemetery. C. M. Phillips subdivided the land along the eastern edge, from Tyler Parkway to Edenside Avenue. The subdivisions filled quickly as a rising middle class looked for homes near the electric streetcar lines that were letting people commute downtown on a daily basis.
That was the period when Tyler Park had its most intense use. A civic organization called the Tyler Park Club inaugurated Easter egg hunts, Christmas tree lightings, and Independence Day celebrations. The events were very well attended. In 1928 the Herald-Post reported 75,000 people came here for the Fourth of July.
Some of this pre-television entertainment seems extravagant now. One effort by the neighborhood’s schoolchildren featured whirling dervishes in full costume for “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” (1935). In 1923 and possibly more often, the Independence Day fireworks shows deployed actual field artillery in the park for a 48-gun salute. They were presumably firing blanks.
Concerts included patriotic songs during World War I, jazz, blues, and a 1932 concert by a Courier-Journal & Times newsboys band that drew an estimated 6,000 people. There were enough concerts, in fact, to justify building a bandstand that opened in late June of 1924. Made of stone, it stood next to the archway, where the Tot Lot is located now. Steps led up to a platform where four rows of performers could stand twenty abreast, and restrooms were underneath. It was torn down in 1960 after falling into disuse.
There is a rumor, unproven, that the steps at various points on the northern slopes of the park were designed for use by horses. General Castleman did in fact live just south of the park and did ride out in the mornings to inspect parks and parkways, but he might have taken other routes. There are also some fine photographs in a 1923 Courier-Journal article showing Louisville’s mounted police on parade drill in front of the larger set of tennis courts.
In quieter times you’ll find people picnicking, walking dogs, shooting baskets, playing tennis, using the big kids’ playground, or just enjoying the outdoors. Tyler Park is never empty.
© 2016 Ray Brundige
1904. The bridge was completed on Von Borries Avenue (now Baxter Avenue) to span the valley between the original highlands area and the road to Newburg.
1906. Twelve acres of land were deeded to the Board of Park Commissioners to form the main park.
1907. The playground was built and Olmsted Brothers plans for the park were approved by the Board of Park Commissioners.
1910. Sewer work through the park was completed, more land was acquired, and $2,000 was appropriated to beautify and equip the park.
1911. The first fireworks festival at Tyler Park was held.
1916. Land acquisition was completed for the main park and for the Castlewood Open Space.
1924. The bandstand was built and the Tyler Park Club started Easter Egg hunt and Christmas tree lighting ceremonies.
1930. The Tyler Park Club ended its sponsorship of Fourth of July celebrations.
1938. A paddle tennis court was constructed (paddle tennis was played on a half-sized tennis court using a tennis ball and a heavy paddle.
1945. The baseball diamond was relocated and a wading pool, a concrete sandbox, and new walkways were constructed.
1953. A quick drying surface was applied to the tennis courts.
1955. The current field house was built.
1960. The bandstand was torn down.
1994. Streetlights were installed on various walkways.
1998. The Tot Lot was built.
1999. The playground in the lower park was built.
2002. J. K. McKnight provided bands to accompany the Tyler Park Neighborhood Association picnic: his annual concert became the Forecastle Festival.
2008. Hurricane Ike destroyed many of the old trees in the park. MSD repaired a major leak in the sewer drain on the bridge.
2009. A major ice storm brought further damage to the park’s trees. Work started on developing a master plan for the park.
2010. Inaugural jazz concert held.
2012. A walkway was built along the northeastern border of the park from Baxter Avenue to Tyler Parkway, and new benches and trash receptacles installed in various locations.
2013. Our neighbors, the mayor, state and local legislators, and more than 200 fifth and sixth graders from local schools came here to plant 26 redbuds as a memorial to the Sandy Hook shooting victims.
2014. Stone walls were added beside the northeastern walkway to provide recessed seating areas for two memorial benches, and the benches installed. A broken water main at Eastern Parkway and Baxter Avenue created a flood that that flowed down and over the bridge. The Kentucky state Highway Department agreed to perform regular inspections and maintenance after removing trees that had grown on top of the bridge. The trees were replaced with others planted on sled hill. A matching number of trees were planted in Baxter Square to help combat urban heat there.
© 2016 Ray Brundige