The Nashville Park Commission acquired the initial land for the park in 1909, purchasing 151 acres (0.61 km2) that had been previously used for an amusement park. Shelby Park officially opened on July 4, 1912. Today the park includes over 361 acres (1.46 km2) of land.
In 2011 Nashville purchased the adjoining historic Cornelia Fort Airpark (named for Cornelia Fort) which had been the destination for singer Patsy Cline when she was killed in a plane crash on March 5, 1963. The combined Shelby Park/Shelby Bottoms/Cornelia Fort Airpark has more than 1,000 acres of greenspace.
On Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, Shelby Park's 100th Birthday was celebrated with a Birthday Bash hosted by the Friends of Shelby Park & Bottoms.