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Jacksonville’s park system is a unique expansion of city, state and national parks. Our state and national parks are a result of preserving the rich history that has established Jacksonville. Fort Caroline National Memorial and Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park are examples of cultural migration and various battles in the Civil and World Wars have created the need to preserve our history. Ecologically, the need to protect the natural vegetation and wildlife that reside in the Timucuan National Preserve and Pumpkin Hill Preserve State Park, prompted the City to expand Jacksonville’s park system. The State Park and National Park websites will allow you to explore other parks located in Jacksonville.
The First City Parks:
Our oldest city park - Hemming Park, located in the heart of Downtown and just across the street from City Hall is 160 years old. It was first established as a public square by the City’s founder Isaiah D. Hart around 1857. Known then as City Park and then St. James Park, it was renamed Hemming Park in 1899 to honor Civil War veteran Charles C. Hemming, who donated the park’s Confederate monument (the City’s oldest and tallest) the previous year. Since then, Hemming Park has had many transformations, ultimately becoming a cultural and entertainment family hub with daily programming, food trucks, and special events every weekend.
Springfield Park was created between 1899 and 1901. In 1914 it became the home of Jacksonville’s first zoo. In later years, the city renamed the park to Klutho Park, for prominent resident of Springfield, Henry J. Klutho, the architect responsible for changing the Downtown Jacksonville skyline after the Great Fire of 1901.
Opening in 1907 in the Springfield neighborhood, Dignan Park was the city’s first supervised playground. The park later became home to the Confederate Veterans annual reunion and a monument honoring the Women of the Southland. This prompted the city to rename the park to Confederate Park.
Known as the “The Coney Island of the South,” Dixieland Park opened in Downtown’s Southbank in 1907. At the time, it was one of Florida’s biggest attractions featuring Alligator Joe Campbell, ostrich races, a roller coaster, a merry-go-round, bands and plenty of family fun. The 30-acre sprawling entertainment complex drew tourist from all over the world to Jacksonville. Dixieland & other ostrich parks faded around the time of World War I.
In 1918, the Jacksonville Rotary Club proposed a memorial to honor the World War I fallen heroes of Florida. Approximately six acres of riverfront land were dedicated to the project in the Riverside neighborhood. Local architect Benjamin Greeley, the Olmsted Brothers and sculptor Charles Adrian Pillars were commissioned to create the beautiful Memorial Park by the end of 1924.
Once a part of Dixieland Park, Treaty Oak Park was an initiative by local philanthropist Mrs. Jessie duPont and a local Times-Union reporter who worked together to save the majestic oak tree in this park from being cut down. Privately owned by the duPont Foundation in 1934, it was later donated to the city in 1964 and established as part of the park system.
Additional history about Jacksonville’s Park System can be found on the City’s park and recreations website. Jacksonville can thank the administration of 1999, headed by former Mayor John Delaney, for the COJ map clogged with markers representing fun-filled parks. With help from the dollars of local, state, federal and private sources, the goal became a small seed in the forest of land that was bought: 81 square miles. Jacksonville then became home to the largest urban park system in the nation with 114 total square miles (or 73,043 acres) of pristine and preserved land.