Beverly S. Sheffield Northwest District Park: Austin’s Place to Play, Swim and Relax

Live in Austin for any length of time and chances are good that you will be invited to a birthday party at Beverly S. Sheffield Northwest District Park. Nobody calls it that, of course. To old and young alike, this 30-acre park along Shoal Creek in the heart of the established residential neighborhood known as Allandale will always be plain ol’ Northwest Park.

Who Was Beverly S. Sheffield, Anyway?

There’s a good reason that so many significant park-related projects are named for Sheffield. Beverly S. Sheffield was Director of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department for more than 30 years. He is the person responsible for manyattractions that we enjoy today, like the Zilker Garden Center, Austin Natural Science Center, hike and bike trails, the Zilker Christmas Tree and the Hillside Theatre at Zilker Park.

“I don’t believe we can get too much open space,” Sheffield once said. After retirement Sheffield became a tireless champion of Barton Creek and the “magic” of the springs. Urgingits permanent protection, he stated, “It belongs to the people and it should not be destroyed under any circumstance.”

Turtles, Ducks, and Birthday Party Heaven!

Boasting a selection of 47 tables, Northwest Park is one of the premier parks in Austin for birthday parties and picnics. Lots of large trees provide shaded protection, and those low limbs are great mounts for piñatas! At the same time, Northwest Park is known for more than tables and eight barbecue pits: it’s a full-fledged recreation area.

With fields for baseball or kite-flying, and courts for tennis, basketball and volleyball, Northwest Park is a mecca for area sports enthusiasts. For the younger set, two playscapes tantalize and thrill, and one is just for toddlers. As you might expect, the large pool is one of the top neighborhood destinations during Austin’s hot summers. A brief .7-mile trail winds around the park perimeter and pool. (It is more of a stroll than an actual hike, however.)

One of the park’s most endearing features is its enchanting pond with a fishing pier. Turtles swim and clamber on rocks to sun themselves and delight onlookers, while grebes and other ducks frequent the pond as well. The ducks are always entertaining, hungry and ready for bread crumbs.

Northwest Park’s Important Contributions to Austin History

Northwest Park has contributed far more to Austin than its current use would suggest. Visitors quickly notice the large limestone boulders in the park, beloved by children for nimble scrambles, hiding places and vantage points. To really appreciate the boulders’ significance, we must look back at Austin’s history as the capital of Texas. A simple marker at the entrance to the park notes the story.

This land once belonged to George W. Davis, whose family cemetery lies nearby. When the city was founded in 1839, it was intended to be the permanent seat of state government. Times were rough during the 1840s, however, with Mexican army advances and dog-eat-dog political battles. Certain calm descended in 1850 when a statewide election conferred capital status on Austin — at least for the next 20 years. Lawmakers and citizens alike wanted to appear less wild and woolly, and more civilized. To help achieve this image transformation, a new solid and substantial stone Capitol building was proposed to replace the existing lackluster wooden structure.

Limestone from the Park is an Enduring Reminder of Austin’s History and the Foundation for its Future

Here the limestone on George Davis’ property enters the story. When construction for the new Capitol began in 1852, limestone was the building material, and it was quarried at Northwest Park, then called the George Davis quarry. Blocks were hauled to Capitol Hill on ox-drawn wagons. Remnants of these blocks are strewn across Northwest Park and along the creek bed of Shoal Creek.

An 1881, fire rendered the Capitol building unsalvageable, but the limestone was salvaged and used in other projects. As a result, bits of Northwest Park contribute to many parts of Austin. And here, at the original quarry site, reminders of history stand, creating new memories for the children who play, lovers who dream and all of those who take time to relax and reflect in what some consider to be Austin’s best neighborhood park.