SALT LAKE CITY — Liberty Park wasn't always Liberty Park. It had at least three other names — Mill Farm, Forest Park and Locust Patch.
Originally, it was just a five-acre site, assigned to Mormon Pioneer Isaac Chase in 1847.
The site also boasted a spring of extra clear water.
Chase later purchased three adjacent tracts of land, planted locust trees in the area and operated his own mill.
By 1860, Brigham Young had purchased the land and other trees — cottonwood and mulberry — were also planted.
It wasn't until 1881 — 129 years ago — that Salt Lake City purchased the area and it became a recreational area, Liberty Park.
The approximately 80 acres were located between 500 and 700 East and 900 South and 1300 South.
Playgrounds were installed at the park by 1912. It remained Salt Lake City's largest park until Sugar House Park opened in the early 1950s.
The Deseret News has chronicled Liberty Park since its inception, the park being a kind of "Central Park" for Salt Lake City.
Liberty Park was also the focal point for the controversy over clean air back in the early 1900s. Some people believed that smelter smoke had damaged foliage in Liberty Park and the surrounding residential areas and in 1908, Salt Lake Mayor John Bransford identified smoke reduction as one of the city's most urgent needs. Shortly after, most of the smelters in the central Salt Lake Valley closed or relocated and the air became better.
Since 1938, Tracy Aviary has been located in the southwest corner of Liberty Park.
In fact, the historic Isaac Chase Mill, the oldest standing industrial building in Utah, is located at Tracy Aviary. It was originally built in 1847 and was renovated and stabilized in 2002.
Hogle Zoo also spent its first 19 years in Liberty Park. In 1911, it sported a cage of monkeys and some deer inside the park. That expanded with many more animals the next year. By 1916, the zoo had its first elephant, "Princess Alice." But by 1931, the zoo had outgrown quarters in the heart of the city and moved to its current location at the mouth of Emigration Canyon.
An amusing park sign in 1939 was highlighted in the Deseret News. It stated the park's hours of closure, 12:30 a.m.-7 a.m. and stated, "Night owls should go home to roost."
Another Deseret News photo from the early 1940s shows a powerboat skimming through the waters of the Liberty Park pond.
In the 1950s, a "River Queen" paddleboat operated on the park's pond and delighted visitors.
By 1978, a new playground apparatus, with tire swings, slides and climbing stations, was opened in the park.
A new carousel was installed at the park in June of 1984.
Today, there's no interior road (600 East), slicing through the middle of the park. There's only a one-way loop road that runs around the perimeter of the park boundaries.
There's ample shade, a large pond, concession stand, swimming pool, volleyball courts, rest rooms, jogging paths, horseshoe throw pits, basketball courts, tennis courts, picnic areas and even a greenhouse in the park today.
You can't drive by today without seeing someone jogging, walking or biking around the shady park.
"A spacious city park with walking/running paths, tennis courts, paddle boats, children's amusement park, playground, picnic facilities, and plenty of room for recreation or relaxation. The park hosts many community events." — That's how www.visitsaltlake.com describes Liberty Park today.
Indeed, on July 24th, the park is the apex for Pioneer Day events and fireworks.
Liberty Park's largest pavilion, Rice Terrace, can seat 200 people and has four grills.
The park is one of about 70 recreational properties that Salt Lake City maintains today.
Photo researcher Ron Fox has assembled many photos of Liberty Park from past issues of the newspaper, which can be seen in full online at www.deseretnews.com
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