Overview History of Devou Park
The City of Covington began seriously making plans for park facilities in 1906 with the creation of the Covington Park Board. City engineer W.E. Gunn commented, “ Other cities have parks and find it profitable to maintain them. Covington certainly needs breathing spaces on account of being so compactly built …” That year, the city turned over a block of Sixth Street between Johnson and Main for park purposes. The first board members were: F.F. Woodall, Reverend Ferdinand Brossart, Dr. Charles Pieck, Charles R. Houston, J.A. Johnston and Ulie J. Howard. The board immediately began improving the property with flowers and shrubs. In 1907, another block on Eleventh Street between Scott and Greenup was turned over to the board.
The establishment of Devou Park can be traced back to the year 1910 when William P. and Charles P. Devou donated 500 acres of property to the City of Covington for park purposes. The property was donated in memory of the brother’s parents, William P. and Sarah Ogden Devou. One condition of the gift was that the city would spend $100,000 improving the property within six years of receiving the land. Several city officials doubted that the voters would pass a bond issue to raise $100,000 for park improvements. Despite these doubts, the issue was placed on the November ballot. Covington voters passed the issue by an impressive margin. On November 28, 1910, the deed for the Devou Property was officially transferred to the Covington Park Board.
In 1911, the Covington Park Board hired engineer J.J. Weaver of Ludlow to create a topographical survey of the property. Weaver was also responsible for laying out the roads in the park. Weaver planned for two major roads. One connected Amsterdam Pike to Main Street in West Covington. Another road connected Western Avenue in Covington to Ludlow. These roads were completed in 1912. Covington’s Devou Park was fast becoming a recreational center for the residents of northern Kenton County.
Devou Park became a favorite place for recreation among Covington residents and residents from throughout Northern Kentucky. By 1913, use of the park had increased to such an extent that a police officer became necessary. George Brady was hired by the city to fill this position. He patrolled the park on horseback.
The City Commission of Covington passed a resolution to establish a quarry in the park in 1916. City prisoners did most of the work at the quarry. The plan provided crushed rock that was used to construct many streets in the city. Around 1920, the quarry was closed and a lake was formed on the site. The lake was christened “Prisoners Lake” by area residents. Since that time, Prisoners Lake was been a popular location for boating and fishing.
The Roaring Twenties
In 1922, Charles P. Devou died. Charles P. Devou was superintendent of the park from 1911 until shortly before his death. He worked diligently to improve the park and to ensure the beauty of the property was maintained. Devou’s survivors included: His wife, Helen; a son, William P. Devou; and two grandchildren, Sarah P. Devou and Charles P. Devou. Devou was laid to rest in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.
Charles P. Devou’s death placed the park in jeopardy. In his will, Devou claimed that the City of Covington was not fulfilling its financial obligations to the park. His will instructed the city to fulfill its obligations or return the property to his estate. City officials took immediate steps to achieve compliance with the will. This would be the first of many disputes between the city and the Devou estate.
City officials began discussing the creation of a municipal golf course in the park in 1922. The proposal was highly endorsed by the Kentucky Post. Several newspaper articles touted the benefits of the park, including: healthy recreation for the city’s residents, paid caddy positions for the boys of the west-end, and tee revenues that could be used to defray the operational costs of the park.
The city commission hired John Brophy, golf professional at Ft. Mitchell Country Club, to design a course for the park. In the fall of 1922, a committee was appointed by the city commission to raise the necessary funds to construct a nine-hole golf course and to set guidelines for its use. Members of the committee included some of Covington’s most well respected business and civic leaders. They included: E.S. Lee, Richard P. Ernst, J.R. Kelley, T.J. Hatfield, Frank Michaels, Frank Thorpe, Louis B. Wilson, Fred Hilker, J.S. Feltman, Ulie J. Howard and Herbert Jackson.
In 1923, area residents established the Covington Tennis Club. The goal of the 75- member club was to build five tennis courts in Devou Park. The club rented the old Montague House in the park and remodeled the building into a clubhouse. The original officers of the club were: William Macklin, president; Collins Lee, vice president; Barney Eilerman, secretary, and Tom O’Brien, treasurer.
Plans to construct a clubhouse near the golf course and tennis facility took shape in 1929. Architect Leslie S. Deglow designed the colonial style structure. Plans called for mens’ and womens’ locker rooms, shower facilities, bowling alleys, a billiards room, and a small lunch counter. The building was destroyed by a fire in 1933.
The Covington Rotary Club began an effort to improve the beauty of the park in 1932. The Rotarians began planting trees in memory of their deceased members. This area became known as Rotary Grove and was dedicated on June 7, 1932. Additional trees were planted over the next decades. By 1963, fifty trees had been planted in the grove.
Devou Park benefited greatly from the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. In 1938, the WPA presented a $97,251 grant for park improvements. The three major projects planned for Devou Park were the construction of a shelter house, two swimming pools and a large band shell. The shelter house was constructed of native fieldstone and contained a large fireplace. This building was ready for use by the spring of 1939.
The band shell was completed in the summer of 1939. In August of that year, a crowd of 40,000 experienced a concert at the new band shell. This was the largest crowd ever to view a performance in the park. These concerts and entertainments were sponsored by Northern Kentucky businesses. Mr. John R. Walsh typically lined up the acts. Entertainers included Sophie Tucker and Jimmy Durante. Each program usually ended with a community sing-a-long. Gas rationing during World War II brought the summer concerts to a temporary end. Since 1945, the band shell has been used for both concerts and dramatic performances.
Works Progress Administration grants were also used to improve the Devou Park Golf Course. In about 1936, the original course was redesigned and graded for better play. The total cost of the projected amounted to $21,000. At this time, fees to play on the Devou park course ranged from seventy cents to one dollar.
Post World War II Era
The post World War II era brought additional activity to the park. The 1950s witnessed the construction of the park’s Memorial Building. In October 1956 workers began demolishing the shelter house at the overlook on the eastern side of the park. This site offered spectacular views of both Covington and Cincinnati. The new building was designed by the firm of Pepinsky, Grau & Schrand and featured an auditorium and kitchen. Dedication ceremonies for the Memorial Building took place on August 10, 1958. Total cost for the project, including the construction of the building and parking lots, was $150,000. A large portion of the funds was provided by the Devou Family Trust.
In 1956, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a bill that eliminated park boards in cities of the second-class. At this time, the Covington Park Board disbanded and the park system was placed in the hands of the mayor and city commission.
A portion of the Devou estate was carved from the original tract in 1957. That year, officials from the University of Kentucky Northern Center requested that a 44 acre piece of property belonging to the park be turned over to the state for the construction of a new college campus. This tract of property was located on the south side of the Dixie Highway. The Northern Center had been established in 1948 as an extension campus of the University of Kentucky. From the beginning, the program was housed on the campus of Covington’s First District School on Scott Street. By the late 1950s, however, the
Northern Center needed more space and adequate parking facilities. In May 1957, Covington city officials turned over the deed to the property to the University of Kentucky. At this same time, a 19-acre piece of park property on the north side of Dixie Highway was presented to the state for use as a site for a vocational school.
The recession of the 1970s hit the City of Covington hard. The city’s population declined sharply and few tax dollars were available for park upkeep. In May 1977, the Friends of Devou were established. This group dedicated itself to maintaining the park and promoting its use and improvement. Despite these efforts, the necessary funds for the proper upkeep of the park remained elusive. In 1978, a proposal was made to share the responsibility for the park between the City of Covington and Kenton County. City officials, however, decided not relinquish any authority over the park to the county. Another proposal called for the park to be turned over to the Commonwealth of Kentucky for use as a state facility. This idea was also rejected.
By the 1980s, Covington city officials began discussing possible revenue enhancement plans for the park. In order to carry out any such plans, the city was required to have a number of restrictions placed on the park by the Devou family struck down. In 1987, the Kenton County Circuit Court ruled that the deed restrictions were burdensome and were no longer enforceable.
Not everyone was pleased with the court’s decision. The Devou heirs claimed that park property should return to the family because the city was not following the requirements of original gift. The family acquired the services of a local attorney and brought their case to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1991. The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that the original 23 restrictions placed on the deed were indeed valid. The City of Covington would have to follow these restrictions unless it could prove that they were unreasonable. However, the court also ruled that the Devou heirs were not entitled to reclaim the property.
In 1989 golf enthusiasts began discussing the expansion of the Devou Park Golf Course. Early plans, however, were not acceptable to city officials. In 1992, Covington hired the Gene Bates Gold Design Company of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida to prepare plans for a nine-hole expansion of the Devou Park course. The plans were to “…respect the integrity of the larger park as a general purpose municipal park. The plan shall minimize the amount of active recreation space which must be claimed from the general park for golf course purposes.”
Opposition to the proposed golf course expansion emerged quickly. Over 6,000 area residents signed a petition against any golf course expansion. Both the Devou Park Advisory Board, the Hillside Trust and many individual residents of nearby Park Hills formally opposed the plans. On July 2, 1993, these two groups filed suit against the City of Covington to halt any expansion activity. These groups, and others, argued that the expansion would destroy 100 acres of wooded land in the park. They also argued that the expansion was in violation of the original 1910 deed restrictions placed on the park by the Devou family. The city responded with a counter suit claiming financial damages.
The lawsuit to stop the expansion of the golf course eventually reached the Kentucky Court of Appeals. In December 1994, the court ruled that the expansion was legal. Construction on the nine-hole course proceeded rapidly. The newly expanded course opened on May 1, 1995.
Kentucky Post, August 27, 1910, p. 1, May 21, 1913, p. 2, March 7, 1916, p. 1, September 1, 1922, p. 1, September 12, 1922, p. 1, September 14, 1922, p. 1, July 21, 1923, June 7, 1932, p. 4, June 8, 1932, p. 1, August 18, 1939, p. 1, May 29, 1963, p. 4, April 7, 1939,April 20, 1991, p. 1k and October 19, 1991, p. 7k, August 2, 1993; Kentucky Post & Times-Star, October 17, 1956, p. 1, May 16, 1957, p. 1A, August 11, 1958, p. 1; News Enterprise, June 13, 1990, p. 1; City of Covington Department Reports, 1906, 1907 and 1910; The Board of Park Commissions 1902-1957 (KCPL Local History File: Parks – Devou); Outlook (Newsletter of the Hillside Trust) Spring 1993 and Winter 1995; Newsweek, September 8, 1941, p. 73-74.