Greenwood Park

Des Moines' First Park

The 81 acre lot to the west of Des Moines that would become Greenwood Park had begun to be developed as a private park by the original owner, T.E. Brown – believing that the location and the landscape was perfect for a park, he had cleared the undergrowth, built roads, and dammed up a creek to create a lake, all at his own expense. The city purchased this land after his death as part of a larger program to acquire land for parks as Des Moines expanded rapidly. Because this particular land had already been prepared and landscaped as a park, it was the first of these acquisitions to open to the public, in 1894.

The early work on the property had created the basics of an appealing public park, but the parks commission had many more improvements in mind. They drilled a 2500 foot deep artesian well in 1895, and then raised the level of the lake by three feet in 1897. In 1901, they adopted a landscaping plan submitted by Nelson’s of Chicago, a respected firm responsible for many other major parks around the country, such as Lincoln Park in Chicago. This plan included a pavilion, opened in 1909.

In the early 1900s, the park was also home to a herd of elk, as well as a small herd of bison – these were popular for photos and postcards of the time. Canoeing and fishing on the lake were popular activities, and the site was a favorite for picnics. Over the years, many more features were added: an adjoining lot was donated to the city in 1924 and named Ashworth Park. By 1926, the city built and opened Ashworth pool close to the edge of Greenwood Park, adding to the recreation options. In 1931, the Sylvan Theater opened, and the Rose Garden was added in 1933. The Des Moines Art Center was built in the park in 1948.

The park now includes public trails, a spray paint area, and kids play area as well as most of the original features – though not the elk and bison!