Garfield Park

Description

The city of Cleveland bought about 180 acres of land in 1894 to create Newburgh Park. In 1897, the park was renamed Garfield Park after former President James A. Garfield. The park, well known in Cleveland for its natural beauty and its mineral springs, provided many recreational opportunities. The park soon housed facilities for boating, swimming, and playing tennis or baseball. During the winter, visitors often went sledding and ice skating.

But starting in the 1960s, the park began to have problems due to the city's financial inability to maintain it. The once famous spring water became contaminated; the park pool was closed and allowed to deteriorate; and grass and weeds took over the tennis court. Crime in the park increased, though Garfield Heights repeatedly asked for an increased police presence. But the neglect continued, despite community concerns.

This neglect was prolonged until the 1980s, as the city of Cleveland and Garfield Heights fought over and over for solutions to the financial burden that the park had become. Owned by the city of Cleveland since the beginning, the park was now located within Garfield Heights boundaries, which were established later. The city proposed many solutions to the hindrance. It tried to sell the park to Garfield Heights, but the suburb could afford neither the price set by the city nor the cost of taking care of the park. By this time few people used the park, and many considered it an eyesore. Garfield Park had come a long way: once a treasured natural gem, it had become a dangerous eyesore. But the community's desire to keep the park never faded. The issue of the park had become so important to the community that those running for public office in Garfield Heights in the 1970s and 1980s made sure to address its future in their campaigns. Despite the attention, the problem dragged on. And the question remained: what to do with Garfield Park?

There was talk of leasing the park to the Cleveland Metroparks for many years, but it was not until the 1980s that talk turned into action. The Metroparks leased the park from the city of Cleveland in 1986 and began to restore it to its former glory. A nature center was built in 1987, which bustles with activity to this day. The park restored the lake, the marsh, some of the recreational facilities, and the trails, making Garfield Park once more a treasured place for city dwellers and suburbanites to find refuge in nature.

Photos Show

Garfield Park Postcard, 1908

At turn of the 20th century there was a widespread movement to establish parks all over the United States. Garfield Park was one of many parks founded in Cleveland at that time. It was a refuge for city dwellers: a place to get away from the crowded city, out into nature and fresh air. It was also a place to pass the new leisure time many working-class people had with the dawn of the Industrial Age.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections.

Garfield Park Springs, 1912 Postcard

Garfield Park was famous for its mineral springs, which many believed could cure headaches, arthritis, and other ailments. People often filled jugs with water to take home. By 1977, the water was deemed unsafe, another blow to the community who had so treasured the park, which lay in ruins.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections.

Polish Celebration, 1933

Garfield Park in its early years served not only as a recreational area, but a gathering place. Festivals and concerts were held often in the summers, and sometimes even in winter. Ethnic gathering were held here as well, like this celebration of the Polish Festival of the Sea. The festival commemorated a Polish military victory, and it was estimated that 30,000 people went to Garfield Park to celebrate.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

Stone Footbridge, 1966

The Works Progress Administration did a great deal of work on parks during the Great Depression, and Garfield Park did not miss out on the improvements. The WPA constructed two dams and this bridge between 1936 and 1938. The stone was quarried from the park itself.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

Trash Begins, 1954

By the 1950s the city of Cleveland was already neglecting Garfield Park. Litter piled up continuously into the 1980s, despite public efforts to clean the park and protest of its abandonment. Eventually the famous mineral springs were contaminated, and the park became known by its foulness, a stark contrast from its original fame.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

"Travel At Your Own Risk" 1970

It seems roads in Garfield Park have almost always been a point of contention. At the turn of the century, residents in the area had to fight for a road into the park. In the 1970s and 1980s, residents fought for the road again, but this time for its repair. "Potholes the size of bomb craters," according to the Plain Dealer, peppered the road because of neglect, making it hazardous to drive on.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

The Boathouse: Neglected and Abused, 1980

The former boathouse, once an architecturally beautiful feature of Garfield Park, was in poor condition by the 1980s. The structures in the park had not only been sorely neglected, but vandalized as well. The description on the back of this photo sums up the building's main use by that time: "old boathouse-now the perfect place for beer parties."

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

Subjects

Cite this Page

Kelsey Smith, “Garfield Park,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 24, 2014, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​492.​
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