For more than a century, Devou Park has played host to countless family picnics, golf outings, fishing tournaments, receptions and concerts. It has been a gathering place for Northern Kentuckians and a wonderful location to take out-of-town guests to view the region’s spectacular skyline. The park has a long and interesting history that can be traced back to 1833 when the Rev. William Montague and his wife Polly purchased 700 acres in what is today the park. In 1845, James Taylor Eubank purchased adjacent property and began construction on a brick Federal-style farmhouse. The Eubank family owned the property until the 1860s when it was purchased by William P. and Sarah Ogden Devou and in 1872 the Devou Family acquired the Montague property.

William and Sarah Devou’s sons, William and Charles, donated the 500 acres of the property to the city of Covington for park purposes in 1910. The gift, however, came with a few conditions, including a list of restrictions on how the property could be used and a requirement that the city would spend $100,000 on improvements within six years of receiving the land. The issue was placed on the ballot, which the residents of Covington passed by an impressive margin. On November 28, 1910, the deed for the Devou property was officially transferred to the Covington Park Board and Devou Park was born.

Few have any idea that the Cathedral Parish in Covington once had a cemetery in Devou Park. In 1850, St. Mary’s Parish acquired an approximately 10-acre plot about 200 yards from the Devou Homestead for cemetery purposes. The cemetery was poorly located, and it was difficult to transfer remains from Covington to the hilltop location. In 1870, the parish purchased 43 acres on the Dixie Highway (the current location) and the old cemetery was abandoned. Many families had their loved ones’ remains moved to the new cemetery. There are no markers or any indication that this cemetery once existed in the park.

A second cemetery was also located near the clubhouse. This was the family cemetery of the Montagues. The small plot included burials of several generations of the Montague family. In addition, the grounds also served as the final resting place of a number of the Montague family slaves. The cemetery still exists but is not able to be visited due to its remote and inaccessible location.

The Stone Quarry and Prisoners Lake
A stone quarry existed in Devou Park before the property was donated to the city. In 1916, the Covington City Commission proposed a work program for the city jail. A rock crusher was purchased, and inmates were put to work. The gravel that was produced was used for a number of years to repair city streets. Over the years, inmates escaped from the work detail causing concern in the surrounding neighborhoods. By 1924, the quarry had been transformed into a large lake appropriately called Prisoners Lake. Since that time, the lake has been used for boating and fishing. Legend continues to exist that the lake has no bottom—the prisoners from over a century ago could easily dispel that myth!

The Golf Course
A municipal nine-hole golf course was underway in 1922. The proposal was highly endorsed by the Kentucky Post. Several newspaper articles touted the benefits of a course, including healthy recreation for the city’s residents, paid caddy positions for the boys of the West End, and tee revenues that could be used to defray the operational costs of the park. John Brophy, golf professional at Ft. Mitchell Country Club, was hired to design the course. A committee was formed of some of the city’s most well-respected citizens to oversee the construction.

By 1989, Covington officials were discussing the expansion of the golf course from nine to 18 holes as a way to increase revenue. Opposition to the proposed golf course expansion emerged quickly. Over 6,000 area residents signed a petition against any golf course expansion fearing it would destroy more than 100 acres of the woods and open space in the park. On July 2, 1993, a suit was filed to stop the expansion. The suit eventually reached the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which in December 1994 ruled the expansion legal. Construction on the nine-hole course proceeded rapidly. The newly expanded course opened on May 1, 1995.

Tennis and the Clubhouse
A tennis club was established in 1923 with a membership of 75. The goal was to build five tennis courts near the old Montague house, which would become the clubhouse. Construction on a new clubhouse to serve both the golf and tennis courses began in 1929. Plans called for locker rooms for both genders, shower facilities, a bowling alley, a billiards room and a small lunch counter. The building did not last very long, being destroyed by fire in 1933. A new clubhouse was built in 1934 and remained in use until the current clubhouse and events center was constructed in 2017. The new center not only serves the golf course but can also be used for civic events and rented by residents for special occasions.

Rotary Grove and the WPA Improvements
The Covington Rotary Club began a program in 1932 to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington. They decided the beautification of Devou Park would be a fitting tribute. On June 7, 1932, the Rotarians and their guests gathered in the park to plant an elm tree in honor of Washington and seven additional trees in memory of their deceased members. The event concluded with a lunch at the clubhouse and an address from Cincinnati City Planner Ladislas Segoe on the “Possibilities of Devou Park.” To this day, each year the members gather at Rotary Grove for ceremonies in memory of their deceased members.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) established during the Great Depression had a major impact on the park. In 1938, the WPA presented a $97,251 grant to the city for park improvements. The result of this grant was a large rustic shelter house (which still stands today), two swimming pools—one for boys and one for girls, which was required by the Devou trust—and a large band shell.

The band shell was completed in the summer of 1939. In August of that year, a crowd of 40,000 experienced a concert at the new facility. A regular schedule of concerts and entertainments were planned at the band shell. These events were sponsored by Northern Kentucky businesses and were organized by John R. Walsh. Nationally known entertainers including Sophie Tucker and Jimmy Durante performed. Each program usually ended with a community sing-along. Today the band shell hosts the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra for summer concerts and other events.

Behringer-Crawford Museum
In 1949, the natural history collection of William Behringer was donated to Covington. City officials decided to establish a museum in the old Devou home to house the collection. The museum was officially named the William Behringer Memorial Museum and opened on July 4, 1950. On the next day, the old Greenline streetcar “Kentucky” was delivered to the grounds following its last run out the Dixie Highway. The first curator of the museum was Ellis Crawford who began collecting items documenting the history of the Northern Kentucky region. Since that time the name of the museum was changed to the Behringer-Crawford Museum. Many improvements have occurred over the years. Most recently, a large $2.6 million expansion was begun in 2001, which eventually doubled the size of the facility.

The Memorial Building and Drees Pavilion
Following World War II, the Memorial Building was built along a ridge overlooking the Cincinnati skyline. The building was designed by the firm of Pepinsky, Grau & Schrand and featured an auditorium and kitchen. The building was dedicated on August 10, 1958. Total cost for the project, including the construction of the building and parking lots, was $150,000. A large portion of the funds was provided by the Devou Family Trust.

By the early 2000s the need for a new building had become apparent. In 2003, Ralph Drees of the Drees Company announced the donation of $2 million to construct a new facility. The old Memorial Building was demolished and construction on the new 10,453-square-foot Drees Pavilion was begun. The new facility was officially dedicated on February 3, 2004. Since that time, the pavilion has hosted numerous events, meetings and weddings. Proceeds from the pavilion are used to make additional improvements to the park.

Devou Park continues to serve as a green oasis in the urban core of Northern Kentucky. The park has survived many challenges but has persevered and flourished. New initiatives, like the bicycle and walking trails, continue to draw new crowds and ensure the park will be enjoyed for generations to come. 

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