History of George Ward Park

George Ward Park is a 111-acre park located off Green Springs Highway, in Southside Birmingham’s Glen Iris neighborhood. In 1925, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and John Charles Olmsted, of the influential Massachusetts-based Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm, came to Birmingham to develop a plan for park implementation by the Parks and Recreation Department. The Olmsted Brothers produced many other large-scale park designs in the early half of the 20th century, including Central Park, Prospect Park, the U.S. Capitol, and the Biltmore Estate. They were among the first companies to integrate nature and natural elements into their design.

The Olmsted Brothers were called in by the Parks and Recreation Department to help transform Birmingham from an industrial hub into a pleasant place to live for its nearly 200,000 residents. They promoted parks as spaces for the enjoyment of the outdoors, informal neighborhood recreation, and organized outdoor activities, as well as being important to the improved health of mind and body (Birmingham Historical Society 2006). Originally, the park they were going to design on Green Springs was to be virtually “untouched.” To keep the park natural entailed keeping as many of the original trees, meadows, woods, and open fields as possible. The goals for Green Springs Park (later renamed George Ward Park) were to protect its indigenous beauty from encroachment by human development. The brothers wanted to take this section of Birmingham and turn it into an area where everyone in the neighborhood could enjoy it. Later plans, like the addition of a golf course and more playing fields, were also developed during the initial planning period. The Olmstead Brothers oversaw the planning, development, and creation of many parks throughout the Birmingham area but served on an advisory committee only for Green Springs Park.

The Olmstead Brothers’ overall goal was to add parks within walking distance of each residential neighborhood in Birmingham’s central downtown area, including those of the city’s minorities and immigrants. Green Springs Park was to be a center point, or a nucleus, as they called it, for the growing neighborhood of Southside. The brothers did not want to include sports fields, as they thought any rough action would decrease the beauty of the natural landscape, the enjoyment of which was their original intent for the park. However, they left a small section available for later development. This land was purchased by the Birmingham City Commission under the leadership of George Ward, the 13th mayor of Birmingham, and opened as a park the same year as Green Springs Park.

Written by Birmingham-Southern College students Megan Briggs, Wyn Smith, Brennan Ott, and Cierra Hardy UES 160 Environmental Earth Science Class 2013     Sources: Birmingham Historical Society 2006. The Olmsted Vision—Parks for Birmingham AND Birmingham Historical Society, 2006. Early Years and Today. Marjorie White and Heather McArn. Introduction by Charles Beveridge., 72 pp.

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