This 123-acre park southeast of downtown Indianapolis was originally a horse-racing track. This venture failed and the property was sold to the City of Indianapolis in 1873 and became known as Southern Park. Upon President Garfield’s assassination in 1881, it was renamed Garfield Park. The oldest park in the city, it is one of the three large parks that landscape architect George Kessler included in his 1908 park and boulevard plan for Indianapolis. This plan, which identified 164 historic resources, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Garfield Park is best known for the conservatory and sunken gardens that were constructed in 1915. Although the original conservatory was replaced in 1954, the relationship of the 10,000 square foot conservatory to the sunken gardens in evident. The gardens include approximately three acres of formal gardens complete with benches, planters, light fixtures, and drinking fountains. The plantings are changed three times a year.
This naturalistic landscape includes more built features than any of the other Kessler-designed parks in town. In addition to the conservatory and sunken gardens there is a carriage/driving loop, curving paths, small interurban depot, an amphitheater/bandshell, the community center (1922-now the Garfield Art Center), a multi-level pagoda-shaped shelter with ornate ironwork, pool (filled in 1998, new one constructed), and six historic bridges.