Part 9 of 10: Summer Sports in Utica's Olmsted Parks
Utica's Olmsted System was built to promote healthy mind and bodies.
Frederick T. Proctor Park was the one park of the three in Utica's Olmsted system that was meant simply for people to commune with nature while taking strolls—it is what is known historically as the "pleasure garden" type of urban park. However, although the philosophy behind the creation of the system was to provide areas of beauty and fresh air that would "uplift" people, Proctor and people like him also believed that exercise would itself uplift working people and help ensure that they would grow up healthy, civic-minded Americans.
From its beginning, Thomas R. Proctor Park (which was opened to the public five years before F.T. Proctor Park) was intended to serve as what is known to historians as a "reform park," a park for organized sports; such parks were called reform parks because social reformers in the Progressive Era (1900-20) were preoccupied with the problematic reality that urban working-class children had few appropriate places to play games and build healthy bodies. It is for this reason that T.R. Proctor Park has always been filled with playing fields for various sports.
Thomas R. Proctor also dammed the Starch Factory Creek in T.R. Proctor Park in 1916 so that children would have a place to swim; the construction of the Buckley Pool by the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the 1930s eliminated the need for the pond Proctor built in 1916, which was apparently eliminated as part of the WPA's elaborate program to diminish flooding on the creek.
From its earliest days, Roscoe Conkling Park was intended to be a mixture of pleasure garden and reform park. It offered many beautiful trails and majestic views characteristic of Olmsted design, but Thomas R. Proctor wanted it also to offer ways for people to engage in sports.
In 1913, the first tennis courts were created, and Proctor proudly boasted that "there is hardly a day when they are not occupied from sunrise to sunset." In fact, their construction changed Utica's sports culture dramatically. As the Utica Sunday Tribune noted in 1916, "tennis had been the sport of the wealthy," as the only previous courts were private ones at country clubs and in a few wealthier neighborhoods. The current courts were built by the WPA in 1939.
As already noted, in 1916 Proctor supported a decision to transform the eastern end of Conkling Park into a municipal golf course—golf being another sport that only the wealthy could afford to play in the early twentieth century, when the only way to do so was to join an exclusive country club.
Who designed the course and when it was built have been the subject of some confusion. Pioneer American golfer Walter Travis visited Utica in September 1916 and submitted a design for a course at Conkling Park. However, it appears unlikely that the Travis design was ever used; the Parks Superintendent, Edward Swiggert, stalled on the creation of the course because he objected to the size of the one envisioned. Although the new course was supposed to have opened in May 1917, as of September 1917, it had still not been constructed. Local newspapers reported that the first game was played at a "new" 7-hole course in August 1925 and plans were laid to upgrade it to 9 holes in 1926. This course—whoever designed it—was expanded to 18 holes and upgraded by the WPA in the late 1930s using a design creaeted by renowned American golf course designer Robert Trent Jones.
Travis Golf Course Design (1916)
The famous American golfer and golf course designer, Walter Travis, submitted this design (published in the Utica Sunday Tribune in September 1916) to the Utica Parks Board. Uticans were very enthusiastic about Travis' visit to Utica and his design. Recent research suggests that Travis' design was never implemented and that it was nearly a decade more before the first municipal golf course was created in Conkling Park--an idea that Proctor had generally supported.
The original Parkway tennis courts at Roscoe Conkling Park (circa 1915)
These courts were replaced by ones built by the WPA in 1939.
Utica’s First Municipal Golf Course
Reports of Walter Travis’ visit to Utica in September 1916 in connection with discussions regarding the creation of Utica’s first municipal golf course caused great excitement. However, it now appears that Travis’ proposed design was never implemented.
Golfers at Roscoe Conkling Park (circa 1925-30).
A view of the original municipal golf course in Roscoe Conkling Park (later known as the Valley View golf course), before the upgrade by the WPA according to a design by Robert Trent Jones.
Conkling Park, overlooking the reservoirs and the later site of the Valley View golf course (circa 1910-15)
Conkling Park, overlooking the reservoirs and the later site of the Valley View golf course. This is likely the view one would have gotten from near “The Elms,” the section of the park that was incorporated into the golf course.
Utica Daily Press, June 21, 1938
Utica Daily Press, June 21, 1938. Note that caption saying that the Utica man in the picture, Thomas Diana, a construction worker who helped to build the pool under the supervision of the WPA, claimed to be the first person to swim in it—he jumped in, fully clothed, when they finished filling it with water!