Esther Short Park in Vancouver, Washington was established in 1853, and is the oldest public park in the state of Washington. It has been called the "oldest public park in the West" by some, but was created after Lafayette Park in St. Louis, Missouri. It is located in the city's downtown between West Columbia and 8th Street. It was bequeathed to the city in 1862, and includes a children's playground, a rose garden, a large fountain system made of columnar basalt, a bell/clock tower, and the historic Slocum House. The park also houses the outdoor farmer's market each weekend. In the summer of 2007, the park hosted over 30 outdoor summer concerts, many free.
Esther Short herself was an early Vancouver resident, whose husband Amos and ten children "jumped a claim
" near present-day downtown Vancouver when the claimant left for California. She also gave permission for ferry
boats to land on her property, at the foot of present-day Washington Street, where she operated a restaurant and hotel called The Alta House. The park was part of this land, bequeathed as a public plaza by Esther after Amos died in a shipwreck at the mouth of the Columbia. Some of her other land is presently the Port of Vancouver.
Esther Short Park's statue "The Pioneer Mother" was dedicated July 22 1929; its sculptor Avard Fairbanks's other work includes the Dodge hood ornament, the Plymouth "winged mermaid" and various renditions of the Angel Moroni.
Before the last decade or so, the city of Vancouver's core downtown was in serious economic decline, and the park was mainly home to transients
. A 1996 Columbian
article named the park as the nucleus of the majority of emergency 911 calls in the city. As part of the push for revitalization by mayor Royce Pollard
and others, the park received $5.67 million in direct aid, and investment of $220 million of capital funded a slew of development in and surrounding the park. This movement to revamp the park is widely believed to have been jump started by a 1997 incident involving Pollard at a series of social events he designed to make the park a family-friendly gathering place. According to reports, a transient individual pushed Pollard in the back with a shopping cart, and made threatening comments warning him to leave. The man was arrested, and henceforth public interest and support in reclaiming the park surged. In the summer of 2007, the property received the "Development of Excellence" award from the Urban Land Institute
of Oregon and Southwest Washington.