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Elm Park

Elm Park Location: Highland Street to Park Avenue -
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Size/Land Area: 60 Acres.

Playground? Yes.

Ball Field? No.

Pool? No.

 


 

Edward Winslow Lincoln, chairman of the City's first Parks Department was quite intimate with Elm Park; his father was one of the men that sold it to the city.

"People seek Commons and Public Grounds to be relaxed - not straight laced!"
- Edward Winslow Lincoln

Elm Park is positioned in the center of Park Avenue, Highland, Russell and Elm Streets. It includes Newton Hill which is located at the intersection of Highland and Pleasant Streets.

Elm Park is famous for its historic bridges reconstructed in 1985. Facilities include a playground, tennis courts, basketball, and winter skating. There are numerous picnic areas and hiking trails. Elm Park is the most sought after park in Worcester for exchanging wedding vows.

History

The memorial plaque claims that Elm Park was the first public park in the United States (1854). Unfortunately, this is not altogether accurate, both Hartford (Bushnell Park) and New York City bought land for parks earlier in the same year. Lincoln created the three ponds at Elm and stocked them with specimen water fowl. Peking ducks, Toulese geese, great blue herons, swans and other water birds were most commonly seen during this time.

From time to time boats were also available to paddle around the shallow mere. Peonies and azaleas were planted in abundance. Tulips, asters, coleus, geraniums, dahlias, fuchsias, phlox, and many other flowering plants were artfully arranged in season in formal beds with a Victorian flavor. A tree nursery was a prominent feature of the park, and trees were nurtured for use on the city streets. Specimens came from prominent horticulturists such as Professor Charles S. Sergeant of the newly founded Arnold Arboretum, as well as others. Lincoln propagated many plants and bulbs for the park in his own greenhouse.

Lincoln believed that ice skating was especially healthful exercise, and he installed jets of water to flush the ice in the winter. One bitter cold day-after-Christmas he went to shovel the ice for skating. The next morning he was rewarded to discover a broken weeping birch by the embankment. A few nights later, a Weir's cut leaf maple was mutilated, problems which made Lincoln furious. In another year he threatened to stop all ice skating if the carelessness and vandalism didn't end. It never did end, but Lincoln never did stop providing good ice for skating either. He once challenged the police department for the constant nuisance of dogs (police licensed dogs then). "Flowers and plants", he insisted, "are not planted for a target, nor that each stray can, in rapid succession, may apply a blistering lotion." He advocated a leash law and got one in 1889. The dogs, too, were a threat to the sheep employed as grass-cutters in the parks.

Elm Park was a favorite place for carnivals, circuses, and other traveling menageries, which Lincoln tolerated with thinly disguised derision. Once a P.T. Barnum caravan left a dead Anaconda behind. "It required two dollars and a pretty tough stomach to deodorize the neighborhood," he observed, duly noting the expenditure in his report.

Another annoyance was baseball, Lincoln wanted it played somewhere else, anywhere other than Elm Park; "...The game of baseball as now played is perilous at best, scarcely supplying the redeeming merit of a dreary amusement of the spectators. It is believed that the City might purchase an acre or two in different sections... for the express purpose..." It took a little time but Lincoln eventually got the playing fields he wanted.

For 18 years Lincoln relentlessly lobbied for the city to buy Newton Hill adjacent to Elm Park. Although a reservoir he proposed for the site was not destined to be, when the city bought the land in 1888, Lincoln began immediately to build a carriage drive to the top for genteel excursions. A flag was made for the staff at the summit by Mary E. Stoddard of the successful machine shop family. Since no regulations existed about how the stars on the flag should be arranged. Lincoln proposed that the 42 stars should be arranged in a star shape on the blue field. The homemade flag was flown on the 4th of July, 1890, after which it was locked away.

Interesting Facts

  • March 1854, Elm Park was purchased as a "new common," putting the city, together with Hartford and New York, at the forefront of the urban parks movement in the United States.
  • The "Commission of Public Grounds" that was appointed in 1863 did almost nothing for 7 years. Its most significant act was probably naming the "new common" Elm Park. Twice it pleaded for a $10,000 donation to properly drain the 28 acres of lowland. The commission raised money by selling hay and apples from the undeveloped park, renting it to the agricultural society, to circuses and caravans, and to farmers for pasture.
  • Upon becoming the head of the Parks Commission in 1870, Edward Winslow Lincoln found he had little to rule. At that time Worcester's parkland consisted of an "unsightly" eight-acre Common and a larger twenty acre tract known as Elm Park.
  • Elm Park primarily served as a dumping ground for the Highway Department... "[and] the casual job-wagon or wheelbarrow."
  • In 1875 Commissioner, Lincoln, had become seemingly annoyed with the negative impact of circuses on Elm park. He lobbied the commission to pass an ordinance banishing them permanently from the park.
  • In 1876, Lincoln petitioned for police patrol of the park, declaring, "this Commission will exact and enforce that decent behavior from all who frequent the Public Grounds, which is not only seemly in but is rightfully expected by the community."
  • In January 1884, 231 members of Worcester's west-side elite, petitioned the City Council to purchase Newton Hill, a sixty acre tract adjoining Elm Park. Their motivation, however, was not entirely aesthetic or recreational. They also saw Newton Hill as an ideal spot for a reservoir that would provide fire protection for their fashionable West Side homes. Pressure by a retaliatory east side "working class" group thwarted their effort, and caused their petition to be put on hold. A revenge tactic stemmed from the earlier defeat of their own efforts to secure parkland for their constituents.
  • A temporary resolution of the Newton Hill/ East-side aquisitions was found in a political compromise: The passage of a new Park Act in 1884, which provided funds and authority for acquiring parkland, and two years later the comprehensive plan for Worcester parks.
  • Newton Hill was purchased in 1888, with 60 acres aquired. The land was largely pasture and hayfields. Almost immediately the Park Commission began to plant evergreens and deciduous material. Very early the rule was made that the views from the summit and vistas along the paths would not be impaired by tree planting.
  • The tennis courts located at Newton Square were added to the park at the turn of the century.
  • In 1960, 20 acres were given to the Worcester School Department. Doherty Memorial High School was built and still resides on this land.
  • In 1965, another 8 acres were taken at various times for the widening of streets around the park.
  • Elm Park was re-dedicated April 30, 1971, after extensive renovations, plantings and the complete refurbishing of the two historical bridges.
  • If you walk the outer sidewalk of Elm Park you will be walking 3/4 of a mile.
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