When the Oklahoma Railway Company’s University Line was built through this area the curved turn of the tracks on Highland Circle created this elongated triangular patch of land. Originally, it was little more than a scraggly weed patch neglected by the streetcar company. But J. E. O’Neil, who had moved to Oklahoma City a few years before, considered it an eyesore. He had come from Kansas City with its famous parks and gardens and he knew what needed to be done to this overlooked piece of land. O’Neil launched a one-man campaign to convince Anton Classen, who owned the Oklahoma Railway, to donate the land to the city for use as a park. Thanks to O’Neil’s perseverance Classen finally weakened and donated the land to the city.
The park was intended to be ornamental and there was a decorative arch with the name of the park at NW 13 and Shartel which led to gravel walking paths through the plants, shrubs, and flower beds that adorned the park. You can still see the arch tucked into the trees on the north side of the beds. In 1955 the Oklahoma Art League donated a sculpture called “Indian Boy with Rabbit” by Joe Taylor which was carved from stone taken from the ticket office of the Oklahoma Railway terminal downtown. The statue was the target of vandals many times and was finally removed in 1967. Today it resides in the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art in Shawnee.
John Emmit O’Neil was a member of the park board and the city planning commission for many years after this park was created. It was named in his honor just months after the land was donated in 1914.