GARFIELD PARK RESERVATION, between Broadway and Turney avenues in present day GARFIELD HEIGHTS, was originaly one of a number of major municipal parks established in the 1890s by Cleveland's second Board of Park Commissioners. (see also: PARKS) After deciding in 1893 on the need for a new South Side recreation area, the Board had considered various locations before selecting a site just outside the city boundary in a densely wooded valley intersected by Mill and Wolf creeks. The property was selected for its exceptional scenery, which included a series of high promontories looking back on the city skyline. It was purchased from the farms of the Carter, Dunham, and Rittberger families in 1895, then opened to the public as Newburgh Park the following year. It was renamed Garfield Park in 1897.
Under an initial landscape plan drafted by Boston architect and designer Ernest W. Bowditch, city park officials set about cultivating the area as a romantic pleasure ground in the European style popularized throughout the United States by Frederick Law Olmsted. Park workers threaded Wolf Creek ravine with walking paths and cobblestone bridges, while developing its level uplands into more formal spaces for picnicking, sporting, and other outdoor social activities. A driveway encircling the park was completed in 1899, leading to dramatic entrances on both Broadway and Turney. One of the park's earliest attractions, a natural iron springs, was made more accessible by a gravel trail completed in 1905.
The park's popularity burgeoned with the extension of the Broadway Avenue streetcar line to its gates in 1915. By this time it housed two artificial lakes formed by damming Wolf Creek, which offered boating and fishing in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Other park attractions included tennis courts, a baseball diamond, football fields, and horseshoes. A new swimming pool and lake sand beach were opened in 1917, drawing in a reported 25,000 bathers the following year.
Extensive improvements to the park in the 1930s included WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION-funded construction of a colonnaded boathouse, footbridges, and retaining walls along the lower lake, all made from locally quarried stone. In 1931 a German howitzer was added to the park as a war memorial, although it was later melted down for scrap. For a short time in the 1950s the park was home to an armory and troop training area for the Army Reserves.
A steady deterioration of park facilities began in the postwar period, reflecting the worsening financial condition of the Parks Department and municipal agencies at large. Routine upkeep of the facilities ceased by the late 1960s and acts of vandalism like a 1966 fire in the boathouse went unrepaired. The swimming pool was closed permanently in 1970.
The declining property's location in Garfield Heights created jurisdictional disputes between the city of Cleveland and Garfield Heights City Council, with the latter attempting throughout the 1970s to have it either commercially developed or turned over to a governing body with a broader tax base. In 1978, the Garfield Heights council unsuccessfully petitioned Ohio Governor James Rhodes and the state legislature to intervene in a manner similar to the recent establishment of CLEVELAND LAKEFRONT STATE PARK. The council also approached CLEVELAND METROPARKS, which eventually agreed to assume management of the facilities as Garfield Park Reservation in 1986.
Metroparks authorities developed a restoration plan aimed at balancing the park's historical character with its drastically changed ecological conditions. Much of the original stonework was restored, while its two lakes and some former ball fields were allowed to revert to more natural conditions. A nature center was opened in the park in 1987.
In 2002 a privately-financed restoration project linked Garfield Park Reservation to the site of Cuyahoga County's largest waterfall, Mill Creek Falls, via a 1.2-mile recreational trail. Once used to power Northeast Ohio's first grist and sawmills, the falls had been obscured from public view for nearly a century after relocation of the adjacent to PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD in 1906. The project of reopening the falls as a local history center and building the connector trail was initiated in the early 1990s by the Broadway Housing Coalition (later incorporated as Slavic Village Development). Prohibited from funding the effort directly, the Metroparks agreed to manage the new public facilities as part of Garfield Park.
Garfield Park Nature Center was redesigned and expanded in 2003 to allow for more exhibits and classroom space. As of 2007 the property totaled 213 acres.