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Neil Hamill Park was one of the first professionally trained and licensed landscape architects to practice in Arkansas and was instrumental in the introduction of the discipline of landscape architecture to the state. In his long career, he shaped many significant landscapes, particularly in Little Rock (Pulaski County). His diverse career vividly reflected many of the significant economic and cultural shifts from the 1920s through the 1970s.
Neil Hamill Park was born in Lansing, Michigan, on May 12, 1904, to Agnes Hamill Park and Elijah Crane Park. In 1912, the family moved to Parkin (Cross County), where Agnes Hamill Park had been transferred to manage the Lansing Company; she subsequently became a noted community leader, spearheading efforts to bring electricity, public education, and the first cotton gin to the town. In the seventh grade, Neil Park was sent to Catholic school in Little Rock; he was valedictorian of his high school class. At Little Rock College, he earned a dual degree in chemistry and philosophy.
Park’s interests were broad. He was passionate about music and had considered a career in chemical engineering. He earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in 1928. While there, he met the influential residential architect Bryant Fleming. Fleming had founded the landscape architecture program at that institution and mentored several individuals who had gone on to win the Rome Prize for landscape architecture. This important national competition for artists, designers, and scholars is sponsored by the American Academy in Rome, Italy. The winners are awarded fellowships to pursue their respective disciplines on the academy’s grounds in Rome.
Park worked with Fleming’s firm on several significant projects, including landscapes for Detroit, Michigan, automobile barons, and Cheekwood, the Nashville, Tennessee, home of Leslie Cheek, an heir to the Maxwell House coffee fortune. The Cheekwood estate later opened as a botanical garden and museum in 1960.
After receiving an honorable mention in 1930, Park won the prestigious Prix de Rome for landscape architecture in 1931 for his design for a hypothetical memorial park. Upon his return from Rome, Italy, during the Great Depression, Park’s career shifted direction. Finding employment with the recently established Tennessee Valley Authority, Park worked on large-scale public works projects such as the Wilson Lock and Dam area at Muscle Shoals in Alabama. He practiced in Memphis, Tennessee, with a partner in the firm of Highberger and Park in the late 1930s before establishing an independent practice in the same city in 1939.
The onset of World War II altered the course of Park’s professional career again. Interviews with Park’s family members suggest he consulted on-the-site plans for the Rohwer and Jerome internment camps for Japanese Americans, established in Arkansas during the war years. In 1939, Park worked with a group of Little Rock architects as the landscape architect and planner on several federal housing projects. In the early 1940s, Park collaborated with Little Rock architects on additional government housing projects in Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi.
In 1943, the same year he married Lois Linebarier, a nurse, from Camden (Ouachita County), Park moved permanently to Little Rock, where he spent the remainder of his professional career and life. The couple raised three daughters and was actively involved in the city’s cultural life. Park was a founder and first president of the Chamber Music Society of Little Rock. He was a member of “The Book Club,” which included banker Booker Worthen, attorney Ike Scott, and physician Dr. Willy Cooper among its members. Park also held many positions in the American Society of Landscape Architects, at both regional and national levels.
After the close of World War II, Park’s practice broadened to include residential, religious, and institutional projects. Park’s residential work included projects for some of Arkansas’s most prominent citizens of the period, including Winthrop Rockefeller, Charles Murphy, and Booker Worthen. Other projects included the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), the original garden for the Little Rock Public Library, the Little Rock Air Force Base, and the Garden of Exploration at the Arkansas School for the Blind.
Park retired from professional practice in 1975. He has been recognized with an annual scholarship in his name given to landscape architecture students in the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). He died on February 4, 1986, in Little Rock.
For additional information:“Landscape Architect Dies at 81.” Arkansas Gazette, February 6, 1986, p. 12A.
“Neil Hamill Park, 81, Landscape Architect Dies.” Arkansas Democrat, February 6, 1986, p. 12A.
Neil Hamill Park Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Catherine WallackUniversity of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Last Updated 6/29/2012
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