Boston’s largest public park is rarely known by visitors, so allow me to let you in on the secret:
Franklin Park is a 527-acre green-space with activities galore!
It’s got a zoo, a golf course, monthly events, majestic ruins, photo-worthy spots, and fifteen miles of walking paths!
Frederick Law Olmsted designed Franklin Park in the 1880s.
Franklin Park is considered by experts to be the crown jewel of all of Olmsted’s works, surpassing even NYC’s Central Park (scandalous!), because it so perfectly embraces a visitor in nature.
Franklin Park is named after America’s founding father, Ben Franklin.
The green-space so big that it spans three of Boston’s neighborhoods: Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester. Despite its historical importance, the park was neglected for decades, but is now experiencing a resurgence thanks to efforts of the Franklin Park Coalition, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, and a sizable new grant.
The magical ruins in Franklin Park:
Indeed, part of Franklin Park’s charm lies in its layers of history. Throughout the park, mystical-looking ruins abound. If you’re into artistic photo shoots, these spots are ideal. If only I’d been wearing a flowing skirt, I would have climbed atop an arch and let that skirt billow in the wind while a camera snapped!
It’s funny to me that my previous article is about ancient Greek and Roman ruins in Ephesus, Turkey, but here are some Boston-based ruins (albeit much more recently “ruined”) just down the street from my house!
For many families, Franklin Park Zoo is the biggest draw.
This zoo has been a favorite since its creation in 1912. I hadn’t been to Franklin Park Zoo in decades, so to research this article, I took my son and friends last week. What a heavenly day we had! I don’t know who was more excited about the giraffes, lions, and tigers… my toddler or me!
To save money on admission, you can (if you’re local) check a pass out of the library or buy a family membership, or (if you’re visiting and/or sightseeing) look into discount bulk admission packages, which cut prices by bundling multiple attractions.
I didn’t get any actual photos of the animals because I was so excited to just stare at them — WOW, are zebras ever pretty! My son loved the tigers best, although the inanimate animal statues on the carousel also caught his fancy.
Me, I was in awe of the giraffes. How is it possible for necks to be that long?!
Speaking of staring, my absolute favorite part of Franklin Park was gaping at the autumn leaves, which near their apex by mid October. My favorite New England fall moments are when I can see an entire rainbow in one gaze: red, orange, yellow, green, AND blue! Check it out in the photo below.
What about accessibility at Franklin Park?
Don’t worry — there are plenty of paved paths (for strollers, bikes, and wheelchairs) but there are also an abundance of meandering unpaved paths if that’s more your scene. See? Something for everyone.
Why is Franklin Park considered Olmsted’s masterpiece?
A brilliant detail about Olmsted’s design style is evident in the photo above: Olmsted wanted his park-goers to feel like they were in the middle of nature, even though the city lurked just beyond the trees. Therefore, he believed paths should never have a straight line of vision.
Instead, he designed all his parks’ walking routes to curve alluringly so that the wanderer would be curious about what lay around the bend, and thus keep walking! Sort of the “playing hard to get” game of green-space design. And it works! (Interestingly, Bend, Oregon was designed by different people, but has a similar feel at Drake Park and the Deschutes River.)
Franklin Park’s connection with the arts and African American history:
Franklin Park is so big that its features go on and on. Above, you can see the ruins of Overlook Shelter where, in the 1960s, a concert venue called the Elma Lewis Playhouse thrived, with luminaries like Duke Ellington performing outdoor concerts for as many as 100,000 people!
The history of Ms. Elma Lewis’s contributions to Boston’s arts and African-American community are deeply inspiring. Events are still held in the playhouse, and in many other parts of the park, too. Scope out the full Franklin Park events schedule here on the FPC website. There’s even Turkey Trot near Thanksgiving.
The abandoned Bear Dens in Franklin Park…
I cannot let this article end without exclaiming: there are crazy abandoned Bear Dens in a forested section of the park called Long Crouch Woods! When we stumbled across the dens, a photographer was setting up for a model’s photo shoot. What better place to show off dramatic clothes than inside the cages where giant bears used to prowl?
Did you know Franklin Park has America’s second oldest golf course?
Other notable elements in the park (find them on this map) include:
- Schoolmaster Hill where Ralph Waldo Emerson lived. Great views!
- Flights of stairs through the park, including the 99 Steps which highlight Olmsted’s prowess in integrating human-made elements into the natural environment.
- Sports arenas such as White Stadium, where many local sports games are played, plus basketball courts, baseball fields, tennis courts, and open areas for general roughhousing.
- Enough playgrounds and picnic areas to keep busloads of families happy.
Yaaaay for Franklin Park, and for the people who help it be great!
So what do YOU think? If you’ve been to Franklin Park, what would you add from your experience? If you haven’t been there yet, what thoughts or questions do you have? Do share!
See my full collection of Emerald Necklace stories here.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!