History of the Department of Parks and Recreation
The early stages of park development, for the city of Atlanta, date back to the antebellum era with the 1858 debut of the city’s first public park. This park, a small path of land located in a public square bordered by Pryor, Decatur and Lloyd (now Central) Streets and a passenger depot was overseen by city government (Please note: the state retained the title of the land) for several years until destroyed during the war. Many years later, the park was sold by the state in 1870. Not to be deterred by the war’s aftermath, the city continued its quest in developing a parks system with the creation of Oglethorpe Park. Regarded as the city’s only park, it was sold in 1881 after the success of the annual International Cotton Exposition to a cotton manufacturer. Receiving $15,000 on the sale, the city was determined to use the money to reinvest in park land thus resuming its search for green space for its citizens.
In 1882, the city was able to temporarily cease its search of park land after receiving a donation of 100 acres from Colonel L.P. Grant. Aptly named Grant Park, the site was acknowledged as the city’s first modern park. This new era of park development also included forming the Atlanta Parks Department and appointing J.L. Moesteler, a former policeman, to lead it. That same year, the first Parks Commission was formed by then Mayor Jas W. English consisting of three members of the Park Committee on Council and three citizens.
By the turn of the century, the city continued to acquire park land with the purchase of 185 acre Piedmont Park from the Cotton States and International Exposition Company in 1904. In addition, facilities within the department began incorporating two types of recreation; passive such as music and fine arts and active such as baseball and tennis.
Although support for the park system remained constant, there were no planned recreation activities in the parks for children until 1907. During this time, interest in playgrounds came to the forefront with the city appropriating $500, operating only in the summer months and managed by the city’s Associated Charities. The first playgrounds opened through the department in 1909 at Mims and Joyner Parks. In 1910, control of directing play facilities was consolidated when the department created the Playground Director’s position.
At this stage, the department included Grant and Piedmont Parks as well as Springvale, Mims and Joyner neighborhood parks. Throughout the years, the department has continued to evolve. This included:
Departmental Name Changes & Additions
- Atlanta Parks Department (1882)
- Atlanta Playground Department (1910)
- Atlanta Park & Cemetery Department (1940’s)
- Department of Parks, Recreation & Cemetery (1951)
- Department of Parks & Recreation (1965)
- Department of Parks, Libraries & Cultural Affairs (1974)
- Department of Parks, Recreation, Cultural & International Affairs (briefly in the mid 1970’s)
- Department of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs (1983 - Present)
Additional Departmental Facilities
- Grant Park Zoo (1883 – 1986)
- The Atlanta Cyclorama (1921)
- Chastain Park Amphitheatre (1950’s)
- Oakland Cemetery (1880’s – acquired by the city in 1850)
- The Atlanta Civic Center (1968)
- Gilbert House (1971)
- City Hall Tower
- City Hall Annex
- Piedmont & Ellis Street site
- Garnett Street Station Building
- Harris Towers (Peachtree Center)
- In 1876, the city developed a park around the grounds of city hall. The park hosted concerts and other forms of entertainment. By 1880, it was determined that the park could no longer meet the needs of the residents. The park was overused and the crowds damaged the grass and trees. The neighbors also complained about the noise. As a result, the park closed and the city sold it to the state as the site of the new state capital.
- In 1882, the first Parks Commission was established to oversee the direction of the city parks and playgrounds. Appointed by the mayor, the commission consisted of three members of the Park Commission on Council and three citizens.
- Advocacy for a park system was continuous throughout the 1900’s. Many of the mayors endorsed park development. Specifically, Mayor Livingston Mims (elected in 1901), not only endorsed many civic improvements (such as allocating more money to parks), he encouraged the development of smaller neighborhood parks.
- By 1917 the department had a total 492 acres of park land.
- By 1956 the department had a total of 938 acres of park land
- By 1965 the department had a total of 999.39 acres
- By 1968 the department had 2,201 acres devoted to park use (note the 1968 park plan recommended immediate acquisition of 846 acres to bring total park acreage to 3,164, acres).
- In 1974, Mayor Maynard Jackson created the Bureau of Cultural Affairs (a division of the Department of Parks, Library and Cultural Affairs) to solidify the role that arts and other cultural resources play in defining and enhancing the social fabric and quality of life of Atlanta citizens and visitors.
- In 1974, Mayor Maynard Jackson appointed Hope T. Moore as the 1st Female Commissioner of the Dept. of Parks, Library and Cultural Affairs.
- In 1979, the departmental logo was created by a Adamsville Recreation Center facility manager.
- By 1980 the department had approximately 2,940 acres of park land.
- In 2004, the department oversees and maintains over 3,364 acres of park land.
Today the DPRCA, located in City Hall East, operates and maintains 248 parks and owns over 3,364 acres. The department offers a variety of programs, activities, facilities and amenities that include:
- 33 recreation centers
- 22 swimming pools (5 of which are natatoriums)
- 85 ball fields
- 182 tennis courts
- 5 tennis centers
- 1 softball complex
- 108 playgrounds
- 1 resident camp (Lake Allatoona)
- 6 golf courses
- 3 Neighborhood Centers
- The Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center (Opened in 1968)
- The Atlanta Cyclorama
- Oakland Cemetery
- Afterschool programs (including athletics)
- Summer programs & camps
- Seniors programs
- Arts programs & activities
- Cultural activities & events (including the annual Atlanta Jazz Festival)
PRESENT MEETS PAST
Like its predecessors, the Department of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs has a strong desire to have accessible parks, recreational programs and cultural experiences for the citizens and visitors of Atlanta. The sentiment “What was once old, is new again” definitely holds true in the obstacles facing the department today. The actions of past General Manager, Dan Carey, of the Atlanta Parks Department best describe the current plight of the department. In 1908, Carey submitted several articles to the Atlanta Constitution admonishing the city and citizens for not caring enough about Parks. He emphasized how the city, spent less money, per acre, and had fewer men on its parks crew than most cities involved in park development. Carey strongly believed that the future of the city depended heavily upon park development. Ninety-six years later, the department continues to be confronted with these very same issues. Specifically, the city of Atlanta ranks last, spending less than ½ of what “best in class” cities spend on parks maintenance per resident and has just 1/3 the number of parks employees (per acre of parks) compared to other leading cities. Thus, the department continues to operate under the challenging cycle of effectively utilizing limited resources while continuing to serve the city of Atlanta community.
The future direction of the department includes:
- Providing a safe, well-maintained, abundant park space.
- Having “Best in Class” facilities, recreational programs & cultural experiences.
- Creating a responsive, well-managed, well-planned system with skilled and trained staff engaged with the communities served.
- Infusing the city with diverse cultural experiences such as festivals and public art.
It is the department’s mission to provide all citizens and visitors with the highest quality parks, facilities, recreation programs and cultural experiences while enhancing the quality of life for all.