With sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, large open fields, picnic facilities and a tree-shaded hike and bike trail, the 42-acre Pease District Park is a popular destination for people from all over central Austin. Many park-goers, however, don’t know the park’s fascinating history that begins back in 1875, when Austin was still a young city.
When Austin was first settled and developed, Shoal Creek, which runs through what is now Pease Park, served as the city’s western boundary. In 1875, much of what is now considered Old West Austin was owned by former state governor Elisha Pease, who donated a large stretch of land along Shoal Creek to the city for use as a public park.
A Rough Start and Kiwanis to the Rescue
Despite the original deed’s call for “continued improvement by the City,” Pease Park quickly fell into disrepair with many farmers in the area using the park as a dumping ground for dead livestock and other refuse. Despite complaints by the Pease estate, the little park on the outskirts of town remained unusable by locals for about 50 years.
However, in 1926, the Austin Kiwanis Club took up the challenge of beautifying the park. They cleared the land of refuse and added several new features, including memorial entrance gates, a wading pool, low water dam and public restrooms. The restroom structure was designed by (or at least attributed to) Hugo Kuehne, popularly known as the architect who designed the Tavern restaurant at the corner of 12th and Lamar Boulevard. Kuehne, who organized UT’s School of Architecture in 1910, was named Austin’s Most Worthy Citizen in 1954.
Let’s Get the Party Started
After the beautification project, Pease Park was an immediate hit and a popular destination for parties, concerts, Easter egg hunts and all kinds of events. In 1954, philanthropist Janet Long Fish persuaded the Austin City Council to approve the construction of a hike-and-bike trail along Shoal Creek and used her own time and money to complete it. The trail, which has been maintained and patrolled by the city since 1961, provides an easy and scenic pathway through Pease Park.
Since the mid-1960s, the park has hosted an annual spring festival called Eeyore’s Birthday Party, which usually takes place on the last Saturday in April. Attended by thousands, especially people who still identify with Austin’s once thriving hippie subculture, the event has long been a popular event on Austin’s still growing list of festivals.
Today, Austinites enjoy playing beach volleyball, jogging the trail (sometimes with their dogs), watching their children cool off on the splash pad, picnicking with friends and family, and just basking in the sun. Until 2011, Pease Park contained a popular disc golf course that has since been shut down due to environmental impact concerns. Despite the closure, Frisbee is still popular on the large grassy area at the heart of the park.