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TRAVEL: Tower Grove Park: Henry Shaw's priceless gift to St. Louis

TRAVEL: Tower Grove Park: Henry Shaw's priceless gift to St. Louis

Has more varieties of trees than any other U.S. urban park

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Webster defines travel as "to go from one place to another; to make a journey." But in order to travel, you do not have to go to another country, state or city.

There are many wonderful places to travel right here in the St. Louis area. On a Sunday in May, we set out for Tower Grove Park with a guidebook entitled "Walks & Rambles in and around St. Louis" by Robert Rubright. The park is located in south St. Louis.

Tower Grove Park holds a special place in my heart, as I grew up only a few blocks away. I enjoyed playing on the swings when my parents took me there as a child. My dad used to pull me on my sled in the park after it had snowed. I have a wonderful photo of my dad and me standing at the "ruins" by the pond when I was 4 years old. And in 2003 we planted a magnolia tree in the park in his memory.

This beautiful Victorian walking park was deeded in 1868 to the City of St. Louis by Henry Shaw, hardware merchant and philanthropist. Tower Grove Park has a greater variety of trees and shrubs than any other urban park in the country and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gatehouses of stone and wrought iron mark four entrances to the park: the West Gate Entrance on South Kingshighway Boulevard, the North Gate Entrance on Magnolia Avenue, the South Gate Entrance on Arsenal Street and the East Gate on South Grand Boulevard.

Among the most outstanding features of the park are the various pavilions built to provide shade for visitors and to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The Turkish Pavilion originally was intended as a dovecote and is painted in red and white. The Chinese Pavilion is complete with dragon images of sheet metal guarding the upper and lower corners of the roof.

The Carriage Pavilion at one time provided hitching posts and a well to water the horses. Cypress Pavilion is named from the nearby grove of cypress trees. Humboldt North Pavilion, with its latticed weather vane cupola, is painted gold and dark green. Humboldt South Pavilion sports a color scheme of gold, olive and pale yellow.

Lily Pond Pavilion is elaborately ornamented and painted gold, brown and green. Old Playground Pavilion is characterized by its blue bell-cast metal roof topped by a domed cupola.

Sons of Rest Pavilion is the park's largest and is a favorite with seniors for relaxing and reading. Stone Pavilion is a product of the 1920s. The richly colored Pool Pavilion is one of the park's most striking structures and was designed to resemble an ancient Roman bathing facility.

We visited the park on a hot day when there were many children happily wading in the shallow pool. This is where we saw Buddy, an iguana who is a certified therapy pet. His owner, Full Moon, was taking him for a walk in his wagon. He climbed out of the wagon to get a drink of water, which was flowing from the drinking fountain, and we were invited to pet him.

Because Shaw loved classical music, he built a Victorian bandstand for Sunday afternoon concerts. It is ringed by marble busts of the composers he most admired: Mozart, Wagner, Beethoven, Gounod, Verdi and Rossini. Elsewhere in the park are statues of William Shakespeare, Alexander von Humboldt, Christopher Columbus and Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.

My favorite site in the park is the mock classical ruins and sailboat pond. I remember as a child watching the children floating their boats in the pond. The ruins actually were built of stone blocks from the burned-down Lindell Hotel at Sixth Street and Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis. The cast-iron three-tiered pond fountain is built on a small island constructed from hotel rubble.

West of the ruins are the tropical lily ponds and the Piper Palm House, which opened in 1878 and is the oldest standing greenhouse west of the Mississippi River. Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., visitors may enjoy a brunch buffet inside amid graceful palms and beautiful statues or in warm weather outdoors on the Stupp Plaza. The Palm House is available for wedding receptions, graduations and parties.

How wonderfully generous it was for Shaw to have bestowed this great gift to the people of St. Louis and how proud he would be if he could see it today.

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