The Park's Inception In early 1917, the United States entered the First World War, and the War Department leased 7,600 acres of forested land on Buffalo Bayou about five miles west of what was then Houston to locate a training base named Camp Logan. More than 25,000 soldiers trained at the facility. In 1923, when the camp hospital closed and the camp was deserted, Catherine Mary Emmott wrote to the Houston Chronicle suggesting that “the city buy some of the land and turn it into a park in memory of the boys.” In late 1923 and early 1924, Will and Mike Hogg, with minority owner Henry Stude, bought two tracts of former Camp Logan land and sold the acreage to the city at cost. In May 1924, the City of Houston officially took title to the land and established Houston’s Memorial Park in memory of the soldiers who had trained there.
Soon after the city took possession of the land, nationally acclaimed landscape architects Hare & Hare of Kansas City, Missouri were hired to develop a plan for the park. Initial plans called for an 18-hole golf course, scenic drives, trails for hikers and “nature students,” bridle paths, and an amphitheater.
Early Development By the 1950s Memorial Park had become an extremely popular destination for Houstonians. It was seen as the last stronghold of nature in a fast-growing city. Robert A. Vines, then director of the Houston Museum of Natural History and a noted naturalist, proposed that an arboretum and botanical center be built. After fifteen years on the drawing board, in 1964, the city allocated funds for the project, and the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center became a reality.
“For Park Purposes Only”: Long before the Memorial Park Conservancy came into existence, the Park benefitted from the leadership and interest of passionate conservationists, beginning with Miss Ima Hogg, sister to the Park’s benefactors, Will and Mike Hogg. The original deed of sale to the city specified that the land remain “for park purposes only,” stipulating that should this not be respected, the land would return to Hogg family ownership or that of their heirs. For fifty years, Miss Ima served as guardian of the Park, saving it from numerous potential encroachments, including proposals for oil wells and construction of Houston’s once-famous Astrodome stadium. She faced down over a hundred such proposals, some with prominent local backers, enabling Memorial Park to remain a haven for Houstonians.
As she neared the end of her life, Miss Ima called together several stalwart conservationists to ensure stewardship of the Park continued. Terry Hershey, Sadie Gwin Blackburn, Dr. John D. Staub and Frank C. Smith, Jr. were charged with protecting Memorial Park from new intrusions. After Miss Ima’s death in 1975, this group became the Memorial Park Advisory Committee, and continued to dutifully protect the Park. In 2000, the Memorial Park Advisory Committee became the Memorial Park Conservancy, established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, bringing together numerous representative user groups and local “green” agencies.
Through the Memorial Park Conservancy, the dreams of a world-class park fostered by illustrious Houstonians of the past are being continued by some of Houston’s most dedicated environmentalists of the present. The Conservancy keeps our park free for everyone to use, while serving the recreational needs of Houstonians and conducting public education about green space preservation. Thanks to conservation programs during its 90 years of existence, the Park has retained much of its original character, while meeting the recreational needs of a growing city.