In 1866, the year after the end of the Civil War, 66-year-old retired St. Louis merchant Henry Shaw approached St. Louis mayor James S. Thomas with a proposition. Shaw, who had already established the "Missouri Botanical Garden" on part of the estate surrounding his country villa, wanted to donate a still larger tract to the city of St. Louis as a pleasure ground for the citizenry. According to a contemporary, Shaw believed that parks were important "not only as ornaments to a great city, but as conducive to the health and happiness of its inhabitants and to the advancement of refinement and culture."
Tower Grove Park was thus founded on October 20, 1868, as a gift from Shaw to the City of St. Louis. At that time, there were only 11 parks in the city. The only conditions Shaw imposed on his gift were 1) that it "shall be used as a park forever," and 2) that an "annual appropriation" be made by the city "for its maintenance." Today, as per Shaw’s estate, Tower Grove Park is the only public city park in the City of St. Louis to be managed by an independent Board of Commissioners and staff. Shaw’s particular interest in the classics and European travel are reflected today in the Victorian architecture of the Park’s historical treasures.