This week kicks off more summer activities encouraging the community to get outdoors together to explore the world around us. For the last few years, the City of Davenport has been hosting “Party in the Park” in neighborhood parks to showcase City and community resources and services as well as get individuals and families into their local parks. We visited Lafayette Park this week to start the festivities!
The history of this park began in 1839 when it was dedicated for “park purposes” by Antoine Le Claire. Lafayette Square, as it was dedicated, was one of three squares of green or natural spaces for the original town of Davenport. The other squares were named Washington and Bolivar according to a plat map of Davenport drawn on May 14, 1836, by Major William Gordon. Although in 1839, only Lafayette and Washington Squares officially became the first two parks in Davenport.
Lafayette Square is situated between Fourth and Fifth Streets and Brown and Gaines Streets. It is roughly a 2-acre urban park located at 700 West 4th Street.
Around the time of developing the city, a renewed interest in Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, better known by “Lafayette” as a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles, including the Siege of Yorktown. After the Revolution, he returned in 1824 for a triumphal tour of the United States according to the article, “Early Davenport Honored Lafayette by Naming Square” published on June 30, 1956, in The Daily Times.
The City’s parks system appears to be on pause until 1885-1890 when additional parks began to be added and the establishment of the Board of Park Commissioners with A. W. Vander Veer, F. H. Griggs, and Christian Toerring as its first commissioners. The city’s citizens were advocating for “a glimpse of verdure and [to] enjoy a breath of fresh air” in one of the articles featured below entitled, “A City Park” published on August 3, 1867, in The Morning Democrat.
In The Daily Times, the newspaper reports that the City has “37 acres devoted to parks” including Lafayette and Central Park (now Vander Veer) purchased in 1885.
Lafayette Square received an update of a cast iron drinking fountain to hydrate its frequent visitors. This addition happened on June 8, 1899, according to The Daily Times.
As the city entered the early 20th century, the use of its parks featured some of its youngest residents. They used the new playgrounds established in a few of Davenport’s parks to enjoy nature in the city.
In the 1920s, this trend of playgrounds at city parks continued. The City and its various associations used the playground model at four of its parks. In 1921, Davenport Playgrounds Association/Commission voted to turn playgrounds over to the city for operations. According to an article published on June 29, 1923, “all attendance records shattered at city playgrounds.”
In the 1940s, Lafayette Park and Playground saw the addition of a wading pool. In the picture below, one can see a group of children and a few mothers enjoying the water on a sunny day.
At the end of the decade, the City inventoried its parks. Lafayette featured a backstop for softball, a jungle gym, a concrete wading pool, a concrete sandbox, and a large swing set of 6. Unfortunately, the wading pool was converted into a spray park and eventually removed in 1950.
From the 1950s to the present day, Lafayette Park was used to house a number of summertime playground activities including Junior Theater Show Wagon, fun contests, and little league baseball. The softball field and basketball court were used by the community. There were also design plans to update sections of the park and flora, including a bid for new trees.
In 1970, the Board of Park Commissioners celebrated its 80th Anniversary. They reminisced about the beginnings of the commission back in 1890 which only had 3 parks they had to manage.
In 2010, the Parks and Recreation Department added a historically compatible sign and a new ADA-compatible playground.
The Davenport Public Library’s OWL and Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center celebrated the second oldest park in Davenport & its location in a Historic District by attending “Party in the Park!” We hope you all get to enjoy nature in Davenport and the rest of the Quad Cities this summer!
(posted by Kathryn)
“All Attendance Records Smashed at Playground.” The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jun. 29, 1923.
“Children Present Fine Program at Lafayette Square.” The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Aug. 26, 1922, page 7.
“A City Park.” The Morning Democrat (Davenport, Iowa), Aug. 3, 1867, page 4.
The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Mar. 1, 1888, page 2.
The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jun. 8, 1899, page 5.
“Davenport’s Junior Citizens find much to Amuse them at Lafayette Square Playground.” The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jul. 16, 1919.
“Early Davenport Honored Lafayette by Naming Square.” The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Jun. 30, 1956, page 9.
“Lafayette to be finest of playgrounds.” The Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa), July 11, 1918, page 10.
“Park Board 80th Anniversary.” Times-Democrat (Davenport, Iowa), Mar. 30, 1970, page 14.
“Playgrounds in Square.” The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), July 11, 1918, page 7.