Oldest Public Parks in the USA

8 Oldest Public Parks in the USA

Public parks can be a nature lover’s paradise, a quick lunch break getaway, or a major part of a thriving community. Whether stationed in the city or in the suburbs, public parks invite local residents to slow down, take a step back from their hectic lives, and enjoy some leisure time.

There are approximately 23,727 parks across 100 of the largest U.S. cities, so we can only imagine how many there are in total throughout the United States. Today, however, we’ll be focusing on the 8 oldest public parks in the country, all of which have seen their fair amount of history unfold over the years. Let’s get started!

8. Bowling Green

Date established: 1733
Location: New York City
Managed by: NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation
Known for: Famous “charging of the bull” statue

Bowling Greenphoto source: nycgovparks.org

Bowling Green is New York City’s oldest park, and is believed to have been the site of the sale of Manhattan to Peter Minuit in 1626. Before this, it served as council ground for the Native American tribes that lived on the island.

Established as a public park even before the establishment of the country (1733), a team of locals was charged with managing the grounds for the recreation of city inhabitants. The park would see much action as the years went on, from political protests to the development of surrounding residential communities.

Today, Bowling Green sits at the lower end of the Financial District. The park was home to the famous “charging of the bull” statue until 2019, when it was moved for “safety concerns” by New York City officials.

Did You Know?

When Manhattan was home to Native Americans prior to English settlement, the word “Manhattan” came from the Indian word “manahactanienk,” meaning “island of general intoxication.”

7. Main Plaza

Date established: 1731
Location: San Antonio, TX
Managed by: Main Plaza Conservancy
Known for: “Heart of the City”

Main Plazaphoto source: sanantonio.gov

The Main Plaza is San Antonio is one of the oldest public parks in the U.S.

The park dates back to 1731, when it was formed as the “heart of the city” as a gathering spot for locals. The cathedral overlooking the plaza mimicked many bustling and vibrant European town squares; San Antonio’s urban planners were hopeful that in creating a similar place in the New World where locals could gather, a close-knit community would form.

To this day, the Main Plaza continues to be a place where residents of the city gather for events and outings. It is also one of the most historically-rich sites of San Antonio.

Did You Know?

The design of the Main Plaza – along with its corresponding streets and neighborhood – forms a grid in the shape of a cross with the cathedral at the center.

6. San Pedro Springs Park

Date established: 1729
Location: San Antonio, TX
Managed by: San Antonio Parks & Recreation
Known for: Original site of the city of San Antonio

San Pedro Springs Parkphoto source: sanantonio.gov

Yes, that’s a pool you see pictured above. There are also tennis courts that remain lit throughout the night!

San Pedro Springs Park has been a park since 1729, and an actual thermal spring for a lot longer (hence the pools). In fact, the springs – and the area where the park now sits – were once a popular meeting spot for Native Americans. Excavations have also revealed that mastodons, giant tigers, and Colombian elephants used to frequent this area.

The springs’ elevation sits at 663’ through a fault at the base of a limestone bluff. The resulting park and pools are a San Antonio staple, rich in both history and a sense of modern community.

Did You Know?

Thermal springs are common around the western part of the U.S., but are less so in Texas and states that lie to the east. In this regard, the San Pedro Springs are somewhat rare for the geographical area.

5. Jackson Square

Date established: 1721
Location: New Orleans, LA
Managed by: City of New Orleans
Known for: National Historic Landmark status

photo source: nola.gov

Located in the city of “NAW-lins” (New Orleans), Jackson Square Park is home to 2.5 acres of history, with a national historic landmark nestled in the center. It is considered to be the heart of the city of New Orleans, and is the center of the famous French Quarter.

Jackson Square played an integral role in the early history of the United States; in fact, it was the site where Louisiana was made U.S. territory pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase. It achieved National Historic Landmark status in 1960.

Did You Know?

In 2012, the American Planning Association deemed Jackson Square to be one of its “Great Places in America” for beauty, accessibility, and being a “place where people want to be.”

4. Franklin Square

Date established: 1682
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Managed by: Historic Philadelphia
Known for: Carousel

photo source: ushistory.org

Nestled in the heart of the historical city of Philadelphia – or the “birthplace of the USA” – is Franklin Square. It is one of the oldest public parks in the country.

Established in 1682, Franklin Square sits in Center City, and was one of five original parks designed by William Penn when he planned the city’s layout in the late 17th century. Today, it boasts a beautiful carousel, a fountain in the warmer months, miniature golf, and even a Christmas Village during the holiday season!

Franklin Square is one of the four out of five original Philadelphia parks that are still thriving today since the founding of the city.

Did You Know?

Since the park’s initial founding, it has been used as a cattle pasture, a horse and cattle market, a burial ground, and a drill and parade ground for the War of 1812. Franklin Square became the park we know today in 1837, and has remained so ever since.

3. Washington Park

Date established: 1667
Location: Newark, NJ
Managed by: N/A
Known for: Newark’s first historically-designated neighborhood

photo source: washingtonparknewark.com

Located in Newark, New Jersey, Washington Park has been around since approximately 100 years before the United States was even a country!

This land was designated as a type of unofficial park by the English Puritans, and referred to as the “North Common” or “Upper Green” by early settlers. The space served as an early gathering place for the first Europeans who inhabited the area; however, it wasn’t until 1795 that Washington Park secured official “park” status.

Washington Park continues to be an important part of the city of Newark, which designated the space and its surrounding neighborhood as the Historic James St. Commons in 1978. It is now a part of the Register of Historical Places.

Did You Know?

Washington Park is home to several prominent and historic landmarks and statues, including Indian and the Puritan (1916), George Washington, Christopher Columbus (1927 – was removed in 2020), and Seth Boyden.

2. Military Park

Date established: 1667
Location: Newark, NJ
Managed by: The Military Park Partnership
Known for: Encampment during the Revolutionary War

photo source: jerseydigs.com

Also located in historic Newark, New Jersey, the Military Park was established in 1667. Its involvement in U.S. history – particularly during the Revolutionary War – makes it a historical site and local gem. It is also one of the earliest parks established in the fledgling city of Newark (est. 1666).

Along with serving as a training ground for the French and Indian War, the park also served as an encampment for Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War. It is a historical site that is replete with the richness of early U.S. history.

Today, Military Park hosts a number of events, including regular yoga classes, kids’ painting classes, and local author talks.

Did You Know?

Military Park was the site of the first ever municipal Christmas tree in 1913, and continues to be a central location for community events.

1. Boston Common

Date established: 1634
Location: Boston, MA
Managed by: City of Boston Parks & Recreation
Known for: Most visited outdoor public space in Boston

Boston Commonphoto source: nps.gov

Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States.

Established in 1634, Boston Common is located in the heart of downtown Boston, and remains one of the most visited places in the city to this day. Early in the city’s history, the park was a site for most public events, including everything from recreation to assembly to hangings and whippings.

Boston Common is a famous tourist site for those who visit Boston, and marks the beginning of historic Freedom Trail. It is a beloved municipal landmark that effortlessly showcases the early history of the U.S.

Did You Know?

Boston Common is big enough to accommodate many wonderful community features, including softball fields, tennis courts, botanical gardens, swan boat rides, and Boston’s opera series, to name just a few.



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