Part 2 of 10: City Beautiful
The City Beautiful Movement was an important catalyst in the creation of Utica's park system.
As in the great city to its southeast, the population of Utica grew rapidly and became more densely housed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—and Uticans were living further and further from nature. In addition, more and more Uticans were poor industrial workers, mostly immigrants who worked 10-12 hours a day, very often 6 days a week.
Venturing out to the Adirondack Mountains wasn't an option for such Uticans. The best option many had, beginning in the late 1800s, was to expend much time and money taking a streetcar—or walking many miles— to a private park like Summit Park in Oriskany or Utica Park (later renamed Forest Park) in East Utica. For many, even this wasn't an option because they simply didn't have the time, energy, or (most of all) disposable income for such extravagances.
Many wealthy Uticans accepted the plight of Utica's mill workers as an unavoidable fact of life. However, some, like the Proctor family and elements of the Utica Chamber of Commerce, were increasingly concerned. Influenced by the City Beautiful Movement, they contended that Utica needed a modern public parks system—something like Manhattan's Central Park.
The City Beautiful Movement believed that, even in a small industrial city, working-class neighborhoods were becoming so crowded as to make living in them unhealthy. Fresh air wasn't abundant, and children didn't have appropriate places to play in such neighborhoods. Congestion, the lack of fresh air and beautiful trees, and the inability to engage with nature were considered underlying causes of not just ill health, but an unhealthy society characterized by social division, crime, and vice. Late nineteenth and early twentieth century America was a society undergoing dramatic socioeconomic and cultural change--industrialization and the ongoing influx of millions of immigrants--and Utica was representative of those changes and the challenges they posed.
City Beautiful believed that a beautiful city would have a civilizing impact on all of its citizens and that this would help to create more social stability and safeguard American democracy. The movement therefore called for public monuments, majestic public buildings, large urban parks, and tree-lined boulevards that would "uplift" the urban poor, many of whom were also immigrants that many Americans feared were not becoming integrated into American society.
In addition, worldly people like the Proctors, who traveled widely, wanted to be able to point proudly to their hometown as a model city--they wanted Utica to be a showcase of gracious, progressive urban living.
The entrance gate at Utica Park
Utica Park was one of the area's for-profit parks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; it closed in 1934, after Utica's Olmsted parks and the Great Depression had undermined its reason for existence. The Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company built a factory on the site of the park in the 1950s that is today occupied by DeIorio Foods.
Summit Park (circa 1900)
Summit Park in Oriskany (about 10 miles from Utica) was another local commercial park reachable by streetcar, the only means available to most people in those days. It closed in 1926, twelve years after the last of Utica's Olmsted Parks (F.T. Proctor Park) was opened to the the public, free of charge and within a 10-15 minute walk (or a cheap streetcar ride) of a large proportion of the local immigrant population.
Summit Park Trolley Station
Transportation to private parks like Summit Park added to the expense of getting relaxation before Utica's Olmsted parks were created. The trolley ride to Summit Park cost in the early 1900s was 30 cents, but that was the equivalent of about $8-9 in today's dollars. The Proctors were among those who were increasingly concerned about the burden that going on only a day trip to such parks put on average workers, who were making perhaps 20-25 cents an hour at jobs that required them to work 60 hours weekly.
Local Italian immigrants in East Utica (Utica Saturday Globe)
This gives some sense of the crowded living conditions the Proctors sought to address by building a park system for Utica.
The interior of a Utica textile mill (circa 1940)
The majority of working-class Uticans worked up to 60 hours a week for modest wages in such factories when the city's Olmsted park system was created in 1909-14, leaving them with little time or money to spend a day taking their families to commercial parks like Summit Park or Utica Park.