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Riverview Park
Hannibal, Missouri

  • Designed by Ossian C. Simonds
  • Completed in 1929
  • 465 acre park
  • Prairie style of landscape design
[Photo]
Riverview Park
Photo courtesy of the Missouri State Historic Preservation office, photograph by Karen Baxter

Established in 1909 and completed in 1929, Riverview Park is a large wooded park on the northern edge of Hannibal (Marion County) Missouri. A leading landscape designer, Ossian C. Simonds, designed the park in the prairie style for passive enjoyment rather than for active recreation, which explains the deliberate omission of playgrounds, picnic shelters, and playing fields. Located on one of the numerous hilltops that characterize Hannibal’s topography, the 465 acre park extends across the tops of the bluffs that rise more than 100 feet above the railroad tracks paralleling the Mississippi River as it flows southeast toward Hannibal’s central Business district. Riverview Park looks much today as it was originally conceived and planned in 1909. The park owes its existence to the generosity of Wilson B. Pettibone, who began a philanthropic vision in 1908, creating and opening the park by 1909.

Pettibone sought to strictly respect the naturalness of the land and avoid any traces of artificiality. The park owes its creation to a late 19th and early 20th century conservation movement designed to preserve natural areas in the United States. As a mature arboretum, the park illustrates examples of forage that make it a significant contribution to the development of the prairie style of landscape design, which emphasized the natural appearance of the planned landscape. Pettibone created legal safeguards in the original 1909 Deed of Gift that ensured his vision for the park would be maintained. The original 1909 Deed of Gift outlined several conditions under which the park would remain under the control of a governing board composed of nine resident citizens of Hannibal, the basis for the Park Board that continues to operate today. Pettibone maintained his interest in the park throughout his life, even after it was formerly presented to the city in 1909. His initial donation included about 240 acres, but over the years he purchased additional land to add to his creation, approaching 465 acres before he was finished. By May 1909, Pettibone hired renowned landscape gardener O.C. Simonds of Chicago to lay out his park.

[Photo] Riverview Park
Photo courtesy of the Missouri State Historic Preservation office, photograph by Karen Baxter

When first developed, Riverview Park featured young trees and other greenery since much of the land had been acquired from farmers who had previously cultivated the land. The vision shared by Simonds and Pettibone has matured well, with its winding driving and foot paths that allow the visitor to experience what is now a mature arboretum. In a tree survey compiled seven years ago by park supervisor and forester, Doug S. Reinhert, it was noted that many of the same tree species found in Simond’s original order are still present and thriving. Although he admitted the list was not a complete inventory, Reinert found: black cherry, American elm, white ash, black walnut, at least two varieties of hackberry, black oak, sugar maple, snag, den tree, black maple, white oak, chinquapin oak, shag bark hickory, northern red oak, Kentucky coffee tree, paw paw and sassafras. In 1913, the State of Missouri paid for the $10,000 cost and erected a statue of famous native son and writer Mark twain at the highest point in the park, surrounded by a viewing platform. The statue was designed by Frederick Hibbard, the same sculptor who created the William Henry Hatch statue in Hannibal’s Central Park and later sculpted Mark Twain’s two famous literary creations Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn at the north end of downtown. Unlike other competitors, Hibbard’s design did not exaggerate Mark twain’s accoutrements (such as those proposals by other sculptors which included loose slippers, a large cigar, or Twain seated with rolled manuscripts); rather it was selected because it showed him as a plain man, standing erect with his head turned down to gaze on the Mississippi River that he loved.

[Photo]
Riverview Park
Photo courtesy of the Missouri State Historic Preservation office, photograph by Karen Baxter

Envisioned as a natural, scenic park, Riverview Park did not encourage many organized activities. The Lions Club was given permission to hold Easter egg hunts in the park, beginning with 1924. During World War II sunrise services were held in the Park at Easter. In more recent years, the activities have suited the natural environment, such as hiking and sightseeing. Riverview Park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 6, 2005.

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