Utica Parks and Parkway System - The People Who Made It Happen!
During the late 1890s, Utica's citizens were clamoring for a city park system. But, city leaders were reluctant to expend the funds for land purchase for this purpose.
Utica has always been a generous community. Many of its leading citizens stepped forward to donate the land that ultimately became the Utica Parks.
Judge John J. Walsh described how Utica's parks came to be in a chapter of his book Vignettes of Old Utica, (Utica Public Library, 1982. pp. 356-358). He shared a series of delightful sketches about Utica's parks, from the city's earliest, smaller parks like Chancellor Park and Steuben Square, to the tracts of land that evolved into the Utica Parks and Parkway System.
How did the City acquire its parks, especially during a time when there was little municipal funding available for beautification? Thanks to a veritable "Who's Who" of private citizens, the City of Utica became an active participant in the "City Beautiful" movement of the early 20th-century:
- James Connor Greenman – Greenman's grandfather, who bore the same name, left young James an inheritance which included real property and stock. When Greenman died in 1894, his estate was placed in trust until the death of his wife, the former Anna L. Olmstead. His assets were used "…to purchase, lay out and maintain one or more plots of ground, within or near the City of Utica, to be used as a public park or playground, particularly for the children and youth of the city." (Vignettes of Old Utica, John J. Walsh, 1982, p. 356)
- Mr. & Mrs. John D. Kernan – In 1895, the Kernans conveyed a 1-acre parcel of land south of Rutger Street to the City of Utica.
- Mrs. Thomas R. Proctor and Mrs. Frederick T. Proctor – The former Williams sisters – now each married to a Proctor brother – donated approximately six and one-half acres of land to the City of Utica in memory of James Watson Williams in 1897. This park was bounded by Steuben Street, Elm Street, James Street and Elmwood Place. A fountain was erected and there was a pond used for skating in the winter.
- Thomas R. Proctor – In 1899, when the City of Utica extended Rutger Street to the east to accommodate the newly built Masonic Home, Proctor opened 60 acres of the old Bagg's Hotel farm (located west of the Masonic Homes grounds) to the public. He cleared 35 of the 60 acres and left the other 25 acres wooded.
In 1904, Proctor purchased land on what is now known as the Memorial Parkway. He purchased several farms until he held acreage totaling about 380 acres. He engaged Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects, to lay out walking paths, driving roads, and to plant trees. He had a 20-ton boulder placed on the site, along with a bronze plaque, and dedicated the site in honor of Roscoe Conkling. In 1909, both Roscoe Conkling Park and Thomas R. Proctor Park were formally dedicated for use by the City of Utica's citizens.
Also in 1904, the city added an additional stretch of land to the Parkway, from Genesee Street to Elm Street. In 1911, the Parkway was extended further to Mohawk Street. In 1919, the City Council authorized additional work to extend the Parkway from Mohawk Street to Welsh Bush Road.
There were also plans at one time to extend the Memorial Parkway west of Genesee Street, and T.R. Proctor donated land to the city for this purpose. Though the plans conceived by Olmsted and Proctor to continue the Parkway never materialized, Horatio Seymour Park was established on the corner of Sunset Avenue and Burrstone Road. This land eventually became the site of Murnane Field and field house, during the WPA period.
Mrs. T. R. Proctor – Mrs. Maria Proctor donated a parcel of land located near the corner of Eagle and Genesee Streets which became known as the "Christmas Tree" park. In 1932-33, after the demolition of Bagg's Hotel, Mrs. Proctor established the Bagg's Hotel Park and memorial building, located west of the Children's Museum on Main Street.
Mr. and Mrs. F.T. Proctor – T.R. Proctor's brother, Frederick, and his wife, Rachel, deeded land to the City of Utica which was the original site of St. Luke's Hospital on Columbia Street. This small park was named Truman K. Butler Park.
Mrs. Joseph Swan – As the Parkway was developed, statues began to appear. In 1910, Mrs. Joseph Swan donated the Swan Memorial Fountain, which was created by Joseph MacMonnies, considered one of the foremost sculptors in America at that time. The statue features the Greek god, Pan, considered the patron of flocks and shepherds, hunters and fishermen. The statue was named a landmark worth saving in 2004 by the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica and fund raising was begun to restore the sculpture. In 2005, thanks to contributors including the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, CONMED Corporation, members and friends of the William F. Locke family, and the City of Utica, the statue was restored and rededicated.
Other statues soon found a place on the Parkway, including the "Hiker", which was erected on its current site on the Parkway and Oneida Streets and placed atop a boulder brought to the Parkway from the town of Trenton in 1915. Sculpted by Allen G. Newman, the statue is dedicated to the memory of those who fought in the Spanish-American War.
A statue of Thomas R. Proctor was added to the Parkway in 1921 and presented as a gift from Utica's school children.
In time, other monuments appeared on the Memorial Parkway. There are now 14 monuments on Utica's grandest street, from Genesee Street to Culver Avenue, each with its own distinct, aesthetically designed flower and shrub beds.
The Central New York Conservancy began a campaign that asked local individuals, groups, and companies to "adopt" a monument and contribute to its continuing upkeep. To date, these monuments have been adopted:
- Vice-President Sherman (west side of Genesee St, between Memorial Parkway and Pleasant St.)
- General Pulaski (west side Oneida St., between Memorial Parkway and Pleasant St.)
- Vietnam Memorial (west side of Holland Avenue)
- World War Two/Korean Conflict (grass median strip between Memorial Parkway and Pleasant St.)
- Swan Fountain
- Christopher Columbus (west side Mohawk St., between Memorial Parkway and Pleasant St.)
- 9-11 Memorial (south side of Memorial Parkway, opposite MVCC entrance)