On a hilltop outside Covington lies Devou Park, a popular destination for hiking, fishing, and golfing.
“It’s a little difficult to get to, but once you get here, it’s worth the trip,” said Laurie Risch, executive director of Behringer-Crawford Museum. “You go through neighborhoods to even be able to get here to the top of the hill.”
In 1910, brothers Charles and William P. Devou donated over 500 acres of their family estate to the city of Covington for use as a park.
“There couldn’t have two more different individuals,” said Paul Tenkotte, Ph.D., professor of history at Northern Kentucky University. “William remained a bachelor. He never married. He was a recluse. He was a miser. His brother Charles was more of a family man, who married and had children and grandchildren.”
Charles lived in the family home after the land was donated, serving as park superintendent, said Risch. In their will, the brothers asked for their home to become a museum or library. As it happened, William Behringer of Covington had amassed a large natural history collection from his travels around the world. Ellis Crawford worked with the Behringer family to get the collection donated to the city for the museum.
Crawford was the first curator of the Behringer-Crawford Museum, and a prominent figure in the archaeological explorations of Northern Kentucky. To this day, the museum focuses on Northern Kentucky history, said Risch.
Pete Nerone, a member of the Devou Park Advisory Committee, said the park is unique in that it includes the museum as well as event space, a golf course, and a lake.
The lake was originally a stone quarry, said Tenkotte. “Later on, the quarry was no longer functional and it was slowly filled in and became the very deep Prisoners Lake,” named for the prisoners who had worked there crushing stones.
The park’s big transformation came during the Great Depression, when the band shell was built in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration, said Risch. Today, the band shell is home to the summer concert series by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and to Devougrass, a bluegrass music festival, in the fall.
Drees Pavilion was a gift of the Drees family. Built in 2003, proceeds from the use of this facility go back into a capital fund for the park.
“The Devous could very well have made millions off of their 500-plus acre estate. We could see it covered by houses,” said Tenkotte. “And the fact that we in history have, in cities, set aside valuable land speaks to the fact that there’s more to life than simply the bottom line. So Devou Park reminds us the American dream encompasses much more. It’s also the quality of our lives.”
Nerone said small communities around the park are better for it being there. “I look back at that generation that had the foresight to donate large tracts of land to create public parks and develop public parks, and I’m very grateful to that,” he said.
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2218, which originally aired on May 20, 2017. Watch the full episode.