Ritter Park: Huntington, West Virginia
Ritter Park, created in 1913 by Rufus Switzer, a city council member who would go on to become mayor, is the oldest and most used park in Huntington, West Virginia. An award-winning rose garden and exhilarating playground are two of the many amenities that attract locals as well as tourists from the entire tri-state area to this tranquil piece of land set in the hills overlooking the city. Widely considered the "Crown Jewel of Huntington," the 100-acre-plus Ritter Park enjoys both summer and winter use thanks to seasonally covered tennis courts and a sledding hill for when it snows.
Park extends south of 13th Avenue to McCoy Road between 8th and 12th streets.
When the land was purchased in 1908 by the City of Huntington, original plans called for an incinerator to occupy the space, but the gracious donation of an additional 20 acres by Charles Ritter, a local lumber magnate, convinced the city to build a park instead.
Recent additions include the nationally acclaimed playground noted for its climbing boulders, zip line, bongo drums, and a new dog park that opened in June 2012. As a contributing property to the nationally listed Ritter Park Historic District, which includes the surrounding Craftsman, Colonial, Classical, and Tudor Revival homes, the park provides, according to one area resident, a "sense of place and the feel of home."
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Park officially opens September 11, 1913
- During 1920s, local landscape architect Gus Wofford hired by city to design and oversee construction of new park amenities, most of which still exist today
- Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers used to construct amphitheater in nook of a slope, rose garden with articulated stone retaining walls, ornate 8th Street entry gate
- Bridges that cross streams, tennis courts, greenhouse, picnic facilities all result of Wofford's hard work that continued into 1930s
- Ritter Park Historic District formed (1990)
- Huntington citizens rally in 2011 to win $100,000 award from PetSafe's "Bark for Your Park" Contest; dog park officially opens June 16, 2012, to much fanfare
- Nationally renowned Rose Garden built 1934; includes more than 3,500 rose plants; numerous weddings and events held in garden throughout year
- Garden comprises four levels; bordered by stone walls allowing for benches to be placed strategically throughout
- Retired assembly line worker Truman Watts hired as rosarian (1989), renewing garden's popularity; leads to nomination as an All-American Rose Selection Garden
- American Rose Society provides Watts with a selection of roses to test each year before the start of the growing season
- The Island Playground, built near 12th Street, sited on land once occupied by Lake Chaposcanwe; composed of features designed to mimic naturalistic objects, such as climbing boulders, dinosaur sand pit
- Fountain at 10th Street entrance serves as a welcoming landscape feature and a stunning backdrop for photographers
- Eleven tennis courts, four covered in winter; venue for numerous regional tennis events
- Daughters of the American Revolution log cabin rebuilt (1922); home to meetings of the DAR's Huntington Buford Chapter
- Fifteen hundred-seat amphitheater used for local concerts and plays during spring, summer, fall months
- Mile-long jogging track, 2.5-mile biking path
Historic District, Community Involvement
- Ritter Park intricately linked to surrounding architecture (1913-1940) of the National Register of Historic Places Ritter Park Historic District
- Historic district residences in many designs including Prairie Style, American Colonial, Foursquare, Italian Renaissance Revival, Georgian Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, and homes combining Craftsman and Bungalow styles
- Park maintained by Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District and supplemented by countless volunteers involved with special events, tree plantings, other activities
- Commitment to Smart Growth principles has reduced stormwater runoff and erosion
- Annual Ritter Park Easter Egg Hunt held since 1935
- Residents bring their dogs for pledge walk, Walk and Wag 5K, in May
- Graffiti in the Park Car Show in June showcases hundreds of antique automobiles
- Huntington Art and Music Festival held in August
- Numerous tennis tournaments including West Virginia Open Indoor event in December