Devou Park is a city park in Covington, Kentucky. With over 700 acres, it is the city’s largest public park. Located in the hills overlooking the city, its panoramic views of the Cincinnati skyline and the Ohio River valley below are stunning. The park contains nature trails, playgrounds, an 18-hole golf course and the Behringer-Crawford Museum, which holds some of the area’s oldest collections of artifacts and local artworks. The Drees Pavilion, a banquet hall, is also located in Devou Park.
The City of Covington began to make plans for park facilities in 1906 with the creation of the Covington Park Board. That year, a block of Sixth Street between Johnson and Main was converted into the city’s first park. A year later, another block on Eleventh Street between Scott and Greenup was also turned into a park.
Devou Park was established in 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 their parents, William P. and Sarah Ogden Devou. On November 28, 1910, the deed for the Devou Property was officially transferred to the Covington Park Board.
In 1916, the City Commission of Covington passed a resolution to establish a rock quarry in the park . City prisoners were used to work the quarry. The crushed rock hauled away would be used to construct many of the streets within 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 has been a popular location for boating and fishing.
City officials began discussing the creation of a municipal golf course in the park in 1922. They hired John Brophy, a golf professional at Ft. Mitchell Country Club, to design a nine-hole golf course in the park. A year later the course opened for play.
In 1923, area residents established the Covington Tennis Club. This club rented the old Montague House in the park and remodeled the building into a clubhouse.
During the Great Depression, Devou suffered financially and improvements to the park were halted. Covington residents took the initiative and began an effort to improve the landscape. The Covington Rotary Club began planting trees in memory of their deceased members in the 1930’s. The area now known as Rotary Grove was dedicated on June 7, 1932. Additional trees were planted over the next several decades.
In 1938, during the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration presented a $97,251 grant for park improvements. A shelter house, two swimming pools and a large band shell were all constructed using these funds. The shelter house and band shell are still in use today.
The shelter house, which was constructed of native field stone and contained a large fireplace, was available for use by the spring of 1939. The band shell was completed in the summer of that same year. In August 1939, a crowd of 40,000 attended a concert at the new band shell. This was the largest crowd ever to view a performance in the park.
The post World War II era witnessed the construction of the park’s Memorial Building, and the Northern Kentucky region’s premier museum for natural, cultural, and artistic heritage. Behringer-Crawford Museum opened in 1950, and has been preserving the history of Northern Kentucky ever since.
In 1956, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a bill that eliminated park boards in cities of the second-class and the Covington Park Board was disbanded and the park system was placed in the hands of the mayor and city commission.
The recession of the 1970s hit the city of Covington hard. With the city’s population in decline and fewer tax dollars available for park improvements, the necessary funds for the proper upkeep of the park were nonexistent. In May 1977, the Friends of Devou were established. This volunteer organization dedicated itself to maintaining the park and promoting its use and improvement.
By the 1980s, Covington city officials began discussing plans to raise funding. In order to carry out any such plans, the city had to first lift the restrictions placed on the park by the Devou family when they transferred it to the city back in 1910. The city wanted them struck from the agreement and went to court. In 1987, the Kenton County Circuit Court ruled that the deed restrictions were burdensome and were no longer enforceable.
The Devou heirs appealed. They claimed that the park property should have been returned to the family because the city was not following the requirements of the original gift. The Kentucky Court of Appeals then ruled that the original 23 restrictions placed on the deed were valid. The City of Covington would have to follow these restrictions unless it could prove that they were unreasonable. The court also ruled, however, that the Devou heirs were not entitled to reclaim the property.
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. Nearby residents protested. After a long court battle by residents to prevent it failed, the construction on the nine-hole course proceeded. The newly expanded course opened on May 1, 1995.
Located on the highest overlook in Devou, above Covington, Kentucky, is Drees Pavilion. Constructed in 2003 to commemorate the Drees Company‘s 75th anniversary, the Pavilion replaced the Devou Memorial Building which was originally built in 1958. It opened its doors to the public in January, 2004. The proceeds obtained by the Pavilion banquet hall are donated to the park maintenance fund.