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On March 5, 1885, the city of Davenport purchased (for $13,000 back then, approximately $334,000 in 2014 dollars), a little over 33 acres of the old Scott County Fairgrounds for use as a city park. Olaf Benson, a Chicago landscape engineer, designed a naturalistic concept in the style of New York City’s famous Central Park greenspace, so Davenport’s newest recreational area was also named Central Park. By 1910, heated greenhouses were built to house flowers and plants year ‘round. A conservator with a Victorian Palm house was erected. A Grand Allée, graced with flower beds and trees extended to the Main Street entrance fountain. Waterfowl and animals including a baby monkey were introduced to the park, to the delight of visitors. A program of regular summer concerts drew large crowds.
In 1912, the Park was renamed Vander Veer Botanical Park in honor of A.W. Vander Veer, who was the first secretary of the Davenport Park Board of Commissioners, serving in the position from April of 1890 until his death in August of 1911.
By World War I, Vander Veer Park boasted a conservatory, a music pavilion, and decorative fountains. In winter, ice-skating was permitted when the lagoons froze over. When weather conditions allowed, Davenport Park Board sponsored a Silver Skates Tournament in January, a tradition that holds today.
Vander Veer Park continues to evolve and expand its delights to the public. The Botanical Conservatory offers floral displays throughout the year. The Municipal Rose Garden, which boasts almost 145 different varieties, is an All-America Rose Selections (AARS) garden, tended by the Tri-City Rose and Garden Club. The Hosta Glade, donated, installed and maintained by the Quad-City Hosta Society, was, in 2003, one of the first gardens registered as an American Hosta Society National Display Garden. And the All-America Selections Display Garden is one of only 180 public gardens in the US, Canada, and Japan that grow AAS winners for display.
1997 saw the installation of Majestic Hope, a statue of a crane carved from a tree stump by local artist Thom Gleich. The Children’s Sculpture Garden was established in 1999. Currently, the park is in the process of being restored to its original design. In 1991, a lagoon was restored. In September of 2001, during Vander Veer’s Fall Festival, the renovated Grand Allée was dedicated. Likewise, in 2003 work began on restoring the Music Pavilion. The Stone Fountain at one end of the Grand Allée, which was built during the 1930s as an Emergency Relief Project, had fallen into such disrepair it could not be used. A new fountain, its design based on the original, was dedicated in July of 2004.