Coastal Bend History


Corpus Christi's first and most historic park

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Posted at 1:09 PM, Mar 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-01 14:09:15-05

One of my favorite Doc McGregor photos of old Corpus Christi is the one below, taken in the 1930's in Artesian Park. Groups of men gathered around park tables to play dominoes in the city's most popular and most historic park.

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It was also the FIRST city park.

In 1854, the town's founder, Henry Kinney, deeded one acre of land to the newly incorporated city (1852) for the establishment of the park.

It wasn't just any random spot.

It was the site of an artesian well dug by the soldiers of Gen. Zachary Taylor's U. S. army encampment of 1845-46.

Three future Presidents in that army drank from that well: Gen. Taylor (President from 1849-50), Franklin Pierce (1853-57), and Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77)..... not to mention 27 future Civil War Generals!

A single, lonely, granite marker, placed by the DAR in 1948, is the only thing to mark this historic part of the city.

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Located in what would become the heart of downtown Corpus Christi, Artesian Park (also known as "City Park" in the early days) quickly became the most popular meeting spot for social gatherings, political rallies, band concerts, and recreation.

A beautiful bandstand was added to the park in 1900 (see photo) and was one of the few structures downtown still standing after the great hurricane of 1919. Sunday band concerts were popular in the park through the 1940's.

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By 1900, sidewalks and benches were built and the park was covered with towering trees and magnificent landscaping (see postcard photo).

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In 1908, the Woman's Monday Club donated two lots to enlarge the park. In 1931, that same club donated what is called the "zero milestone" marking the spot from which all distances away from Corpus Christi are calculated. When you see a highway sign that says "Corpus Christi 58 Miles", it means that you are 58 miles away from that stone marker in Artesian Park.

In 1935, restrooms and a covered band platform were added. Shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pits, and tables for checkers and dominoes were installed in the park. In 1938, W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel brought his campaign for Governor...and his famed Hillbilly Boys band.... to Artesian Park, drawing a crowd of thousands.

The park had a large number of daily visitors and was packed on weekends.

In the late 1940's, Caller-Times associate editor, Bob McCracken, initiated a fund drive to build a shelter for the domino players. The Caller-Times building was across the street from the park, and Bob had watched many a game over the years.

In 1949, the Jack Brown Pavilion was built in the park, named in honor of a longtime domino player who had recently died.

But, the dynamics of the park were already changing.

In many of the early photos of the park one notices that the park was surrounded by houses.

As time went on, the houses began to disappear, replaced by businesses and commercial buildings.

Daily attendance at the park began to decline.

In 1953, the old artesian well that had attracted people for over 100 years was capped and covered with concrete. In 1964, Mayor James L. Barnard recalled that his grandfather made daily trips to the well to collect a bottle of the well's "miracle water" that helped settle his stomach. (The mayor tried it as a boy and declared it "awful").

By the 50's, the weekly band concerts were gone and the old bandstand was also torn down. The concrete shuffleboards were still visible, but never used. By the early 1960's, articles in the newspaper began to report that the park was gaining a reputation as a "wino hangout".

In 1964, the City Council voted to turn the park over to the AARP for use as a headquarters.

Heated protests by the domino players reversed that idea. But, the park continued its decline.

In 1971, the old Jack Brown Pavilion became "Cubby Innards".....a coffee house and hangout for teens....which didn't last very long.

The domino players were gone and the pavilion was eventually boarded up, then demolished in the 1980's.

The last photo that I have of it was one that I took in 1981.

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In the 1990's, new improvements came...a gazebo and arbors were built (see photo from 1992), and a maintenance program established.

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In 2013, Artesian Park was designated as a "Lone Star Legacy Park", one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a park in the state.

When I went to the park to take some photos several weeks ago, it was just me and a handful of the so-called "winos" present.

But, with the increasing numbers of downtown residents, I believe that Artesian Park has a good chance to make a comeback.

Break out the dominoes and horseshoes!

Robert Parks is a special contributor to KRIS 6 News. Parks was a history teacher at Carroll High School for 19 years and is now retired. His knowledge of Corpus Christi history makes him a unique expert in the subject.