Bequeathed to the city as its first public park in 1871, the park’s original 100 acres consisted of gently rolling wooded terrain, open plains, and a small stream. Some of the park’s earliest additions include a small menagerie and a statue of Roger Williams, founder of Providence. In 1878 H.W.S. Cleveland completed a master plan which was implemented by 1896. The naturalistic plan included curvilinear paths and scenic drives, three artificial lakes built on former swampland, and swaths of evergreen trees planted along the edge of the park as a buffer from the surrounding neighborhood. Many of the park’s main buildings were also constructed at this time, including a museum building and boathouse designed by Frank Martin and George Hall, and a casino designed by Edwin T. Banning, all still in use today.
In 1904 Olmsted Brothers was commissioned to make improvements to the park. In 1915 a Greek Revival Bandstand was added, followed in 1924 by the Benedict Monument to Music, now the Temple of Music. Between 1935 and 1940, Works Progress Administration funds were used for further improvements, most notably a Japanese Garden. The 435-acre park also includes a Rose Garden, Planetarium, Botanical Center, seven lakes (which occupy 100 acres), and playing fields. The zoo, one of the oldest in the nation, was historically spread out across the park but was consolidated into one 40-acre parcel in 1980. The park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.