David Baxter’s family first came to the Dundee area as weavers in 1728. John Baxter was the 1st of 5 generations in the flax and jute industry. David was the son of William Baxter and had 3 brothers, John, William and Edward. Unlike his brothers who became partners in their fathers’ mill, David managed (unsuccessfully) the Dundee Sugar Refinery.
He joined the family firm in 1830s and when his father passed away in 1854 he became the chairman. As the business grew he became the owner of the largest linen industries in the world employing around 5,000 local people.
Conditions of employment were rather poor as workers as young as 10 were working long hours in dusty, noisy mills. Housing conditions were not any better and as the health of his employees deteriorated David Baxter built tenement houses for low rent. The first ones were on Lyon Street and housed around 648 people.
In 1861, Sir David Baxter and his sisters, Eleanor and Mary Ann Baxter purchased 36 acres of “pleasure ground.” They commissioned Sir Joseph Paxton, who was considered to be one of the best designers of the Victorian era, to design the park.
In 1863 David Baxter received a knighthood and the same year Baxter Park was officially opened and handed over to the people of Dundee. The opening ceremony was on the 9th September and was a huge event featuring a parade and a speech by Lord Russell. It was attended by between 30,000 and 60,000 people and the day was set aside as a public holiday.
A statue of Sir David Baxter was placed inside the sandstone pavilion but had to be removed due to vandalism in 1894.