Park History

The first public park within the city limits of Seattle was Denny Park - a gift to the city by David T. Denny in 1884. Three years later the Board of Park Commissioners was established to oversee development of the Seattle park system.

The Olmsted Plan

In 1903, on the recommendation of the Board of Park Commissioners, Council contracted with the Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts to conduct a thorough survey of Seattle's park possibilities, and to submit a comprehensive plan that could be used to guide future work. This move was largely brought on by the public interest generated through the purchase of two large tracts, Woodland and Washington Parks, in 1900; and by the desire to prepare Seattle for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

The Olmsted Brothers had inherited the nation's first landscape architecture firm from their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central Park and the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Although J. C. Olmsted's primary goal was to locate a park or a playground within one half mile of every home in Seattle, the dominant feature of the plan was a 20-mile landscaped boulevard linking most of the existing and planned parks and greenbelts within the city limits. For more information about the history of the Olmsted Brothers Plan, and other great resources, including a virtual tour, visit the Washington State History Link website. To get involved and help support the legacy of the Olmsted Plan, contact the Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks.

Sherwood History Files

Much of Seattle Park history was documented by Donald N. Sherwood (1916-1981). The Seattle Parks and Recreation's Sherwood History Files are the incredible legacy of Sherwood, who worked as an engineer for Parks for 22 years from 1955 to 1977. The Seattle Municipal Archives houses and maintains the Sherwood History Files and has extensive resources on researching the history of parks, city land, funding, and many other historical resources. Visit the Seattle Municipal Archives to interact with their excellent collection.

Art in the Parks Tour

Take an interactive tour of artwork in Seattle's Parks from your desktop or mobile device. Browse from the map or slides, or use the locate button to see what's near you.