Oak Knoll Park
Oak Knoll Park is located at the North West corner of the intersection of Clayton Road and Big Bend Blvd. Established in 1958; it is Clayton's second largest park with 14.5 acres of tranquil beauty. The park is home to a native stand of 150 year old Post Oak trees for which it was named. The park has 2 picnic pads, one with seven tables near a large playground and the other with two tables next to a quiet pond. The pond has a lighted fountain and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Visitors enjoy watching the turtles that live in the pond sunning themselves on an old stump in the water. During the summer musical concerts are held near the pond monthly.
The park has a half mile walking path which meanders through its interior. The path takes visitors past a newly restored native plant area with a rain garden, a lovely sunken garden and a flowering island garden known as the Uchitelle Garden of Reflection. Two stone mansions built in the early 20th Century by prominent St Louisans, Alvin Goldman and Charles Rice still stand in the park. One is now home to the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation and the other, the Clayton Early Childhood Center. Park & Recreation operations and offices are located in the restored Carriage House.
Oak Knoll Park History
At the corner of Big Bend and Clayton is Oak Knoll Park, a large wooded area that offers visitors to this passive space 14.5 acres of rolling lawns, shade provided by mature canopy trees, and a small fountain lake. The second largest Clayton park, Oak Knoll has a rich variety of foliage and even richer history.
In the early 1800’s, around the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the area between St. Louis and Clayton was largely open land. The Kennedy farm occupied 300 acres on what is now bordered by Clayton and Hanley Roads and Wydown, and Big Bend Boulevards. Of the many structures built for the people, livestock, and vehicles that served the farm were a brick home and the largest barn in the county. The farm produced eggs, milk, fruit, and vegetables.
The farm was purchased in the 1850’s by St. Louis lawyer Benjamin F. Thomas, who lived there with his family until his children were grown, at which time he divided the land among them. The southeast corner, given to his son John Richard Thomas, ultimately became the park. The Great Divorce that separated St. Louis city from the county in 1876 did not have much influence on the property’s immediate surroundings; but when the St. Louis Country Club moved to a site on the west side of Hanley Road in 1895, prominent St. Louisans sought country homes away from the city, spurring a 30-year period of development that produced many exclusive Clayton neighborhoods that still exist today.
In 1905 Charles Rice, a wealthy St. Louis attorney, bought the property at Clayton Road and Pennsylvania Avenue (now Big Bend Boulevard) and built an imposing 22-room stone mansion there in 1914. Seven years later, Mrs. Rice’s brother Alvin Goldman began building a second home similar in scale and style that was completed in 1929. The Rice and Goldman families named their estate Oak Knoll where they resided at One and Two Oak Knoll Park respectively.
After Mr. Goldman’s death in 1958, the property was subdivided for development and put up for sale. The residents of Clayton voted in favor of a bond issue that allowed the City to buy the property for $350,000 and turn it into a park. In 1962, the two main buildings were used to house the Academy of Science, a valuable cultural asset that included a collection of mounted mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish donated by Charles Chauteau. Later renamed the Museum of Science and Natural History, the organization moved to what is now the St. Louis Science Center in 1985.
Shortly thereafter, the City leased the Rice Mansion to Clayton Child Center, a nonprofit child-care center founded in 1980 with financing from a variety of Clayton businesses, corporations, and banks. Recipient of the prestigious Cornerstone Award from the Clayton Chamber of Commerce for its dedication and devotion to the Clayton community, it boasts the state’s only infant/toddler program accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. The program for children ages six weeks to two years moved into the Rice Mansion in 1990 after completing a million-dollar renovation of the structure to meet the needs of children, families, and staff.
The Goldman Mansion is now home to the St. Louis Artists’ Guild, an established network of visual artists and patrons and a significant contributor to metropolitan culture. Founded in 1886, the non-profit group serves the Midwest arts community through exhibits, competitions, and programs. The Guild leased Two Oak Knoll Park from the City of Clayton in 1989 and took occupancy in 1995 following an extensive restoration of the home that now includes gallery and studio space, a library, and offices. In addition to an array of sculpture that greets visitors at the entrance to the building, on the west side of the Rice Mansion is a Sunken Garden, with islands of flowering plants. The Sunken Garden is available to rent through the St Louis Artist's Guild for wedding Ceremonies. To the north of the Goldman Mansion is a recent installation of flora, The Uchitelle Garden of Reflection dedicated in 2007 to former City of Clayton Mayor Ben Uchitelle.
In addition to the houses themselves, other elements of the estate remain, including the stone pillars that marked the Clayton entrance and wrought-iron gates on Big Bend. Other structures include a carriage house now used for Parks & Recreation offices and maintenance operations. The park has restrooms and parking, as well as several picnic areas, a playground, and a recently resurfaced walking trail. Foliage enthusiasts will appreciate the tree signage that denote their variety, and the small pond at the parks south end provides a great spot for watching turtles and ducks.
Each summer Oak Knoll Park is host to Musical Nights, a series of concerts sponsored by the Clayton Century Foundation. Bands play on the limestone stage next to the pond, and shows are held from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM on the fourth Sunday of each month from June through September. Events are free to the public, and guests are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets.