West Hill Park. That was the name given to the first parcel of land the city of Akron bought for the sole purpose of using for a park. The land, surrounded by West Market, North, and Valley streets, was bought in the 1880s for $1200. The lot sat vacant for a few years with little more than a few flower beds. Then in the early 90s improvements began to be made. The city installed water lines, sewers, gardens, landscaping, and sidewalks. The community pitched in to help in other ways.
>This was a time when the wealthy industrialists had begun moving, from the east side of the city to the west, to avoid the pollution and noise of the factories they had built. Standing in front of the park and looking up and down Market you would have been able to see many fine homes. Also within eyesight were, what we would now call, the small mansions of: Paul Warner, owner of the world’s largest printing company, Michael O’Neal, president and major stockholder of O’Neal’s department stores, and Earnest Pflueger, president and manager of E.A. Pflueger, one of the largest and finest manufacturers of fishing equipment and lures in the country. But the businessman that lived in the mansion almost directly across the street is the one who played a major part in this story. Where the large colonial style office building is today, was the (very large, 20 room) home of J. Park Alexander. Alexander owned the Diamond Brick Co. and had developed and marketed a fire resistant brick. He also served on the city council, as a State Representative and State Senator. It was Alexander who donated a 15 foot tall water fountain that became the central focus of the park.
On June 16, 1893, the new beautiful little spot was christened Neptune Park and opened in an elaborate fashion befitting the times. According to the Akron Times Democrat there were several speeches, a band, and “…whizzing skyrockets, beautiful skyrockets, and spark throwing pinwheels…” (I would bet my next lunch that Paul Warner had something to do with that, as he had a great fondness for fireworks.) It was all illuminated by “red fire” (flares.) Hard to imagine in today’s rush and noise, but Neptune Park became a favorite place to sit and enjoy the solitude. A message on the back of a postcard of the park mailed Oct. 27, 1907 reads,
This is one of the prettiest parks in Akron. This place is within the heart of the city and makes a dandy place to spend summers evenings.
A little more than a year after this card was mailed, the Honorable J.P. Alexander died. The park was renamed in his memory and still carries that name today. Locals also call it “Fountain Park” and “Shady Park” and it is still sometimes referred to as Neptune Park.
During the next few decades the park fell into disrepair. At some point in the ‘20s, the fountain and fence were torn down. The once grand Alexander Park became more an eyesore than a place for friends to meet.
Things began to improve for the park in 1965 when Life magazine published before and after pictures of Alexander Park and reprimanded the city for letting it fall into such a state. But it wasn’t until the turn of this century that things really started to turn around for the park. Contributions from many individuals and the Akron Garden Club to the program “Keep Akron Beautiful” along with the help of the city of Akron the spot was returned to near its former glory. The only thing missing was the fountain. It came on July 25, 2002. On that day a new fountain, closely replicated from antique photos and postcards, was erected. The city again provided the foundation, sidewalks and benches. The gardens, shrubs, and trees have been the icing on the cake.
So today, or the next time you are hurrying down/up West Market, slow down and take a look at Alexander Park and its beautiful fountain and gardens. Better yet, take your “McBurger” and fries from across the street and enjoy them in the shade as you reminisce about the way things use to be.