Sunday, March 4, 2007

'Springfield Present and Prospective (1905), The Visible Charm, As It Was, Is, and May Be,' Excerpt III

Here is another installment of EWM's book transcription series. Continuing the 1905 book 'Springfield Present and Prospective' (Pond & Campbell), this segment is from chapter one 'The Visible Charm: As It Was, Is, and May Be.' Here is section two of the chapter, 'Plan of the Ground Floor,' by Eugene C. Gardner.

Continued from 'I. Looking Backward, 2. From Center to Circumference.'

II. Plan of the Ground Floor

1. The Inner Circle

Thus far the heritage and natural endowment of Springfield and the general conditions of its earlier and unstudied growth have been briefly sketched. A more detailed study of what has been done that is of lasting value and worthy to remain as an essential part of the great and beautiful city that is to be, is also interesting and impressive. A fairly comprehensive showing in the way of park and boulevard achievement is given in the accompanying maps of the parks, large and small, that already exist, with the streets, actual and possible, that join them.

Starting from Court square (in one of the perfected electric automobiles that make no noise, never kill people or frighten horses, and leave no unpleasant reminder of their progress, but are not yet on the market because the demand is so much greater than the supply), it is necessary, in the absence of the river-bank improvement, to proceed northward through what is now the most important business portion of Main street, as far as Bridge, where we may turn to the right for a moment in order to get a glimpse of St. Gauden's tortoises, beside the globe instead of under the elephants that held it in place until Columbus discovered America. Nothing could be finer than the spirit of this sometimes unappreciated public square. Maintaining itself in the business heart of the city merely as an open breathing space, it is something to be devoutly thankful for. It also affords the most obvious opportunity, even superior to Court square, for the harmonious combination of beauty and business; an opportunity that can not long remain unimproved.

Back upon Main street, and going northward, we soon arrive at the arch, a utilitarian work of great dignity and beauty, the latter not always recognized because of its simplicity. If it were in an old city of France or Italy, Baedeker would give it double stars and American tourists would love to talk of it to their friends at home. A few blocks beyond the arch we find the southern entrance to Hampden park by way of Clinton street. When we reflect that more than one-third of the population in Springfield, not to mention Chicopee and the greater part of West Springfield, lives north of the Boston and Albany railroad, the exceeding value of Hampden park as a public playground is apparent. In its way no greater calamity to the entire city could happen than for the whole of this tract of land to be given up to railroad or other business purposes. Comparing its actual with its ideal condition, it is still in what may be called a chrysalid state. Everything in and about it is crude, coarse and rough, but its form and location are such that there is hardly a limit to its capacity for furnishing rest and recreation for the thousands of people who already live within easy walking distance of it, and the tens of thousands who find it easily accessible. Tracks for races, rings for circuses, grounds for baseball and tennis, room for Fourth of July celebrations, Sunday-school picnics, wheel tournaments, river-bank promenades, lovers' walks and fireworks; canoe wharfs, yacht landings and bath-houses - for all these and more there is room on Hampden park; and the importance to the city of this plot of ground, or a considerable portion of it, for these and kindred purposes, increases every year more rapidly than the city's growth.

Directly at the north of the park and on the bank of the river is a triangular piece of land, happily belonging to the city, of which much may be expected in the future. At present it is not even in the chrysalid state, but wholly chaotic - just a bare dumping ground. Even this is by no means unsatisfactory. The conversion of a worthless piece of land, by gradual means and without cost to the city, into a beauty spot is far more to be commended than the strenuous creation of a gorgeous garden by extravagant and hurried methods.

Here, looking westward, we see the sweet fields of West Springfield beyond the swelling floods that roll under the North-end bridge. But that is a side line, and in following the inner line of the chain, of which but few links are missing, we must turn eastward by Wason avenue where, after crossing Main street, we face the wooded bluffs of Rockrimmon. This large tract belonging to the Atwater estate has been virtually an open natural park for nearly half a century. It is wholly unadorned, some portions of it primeval, in fact, and thereby all the more delightful. There is no other spot within many miles of the city where, to judge from the natural conditions, the wild fox would be more likely to dig his hole unscared, where the deep forest song birds find themselves so much at home and where, not the real copper-colored flesh-and-blood aborigines, but their pathetic ghosts, would be more likely to revisit the glimpses of the moon.

This entire tract, keeping close to the Chicopee line, is full of picturesque revelations in the immediate surroundings and in the frequent views across and up and down the valley where the broad river gleams and glistens. When the roads passing through this tract are definitely located and perfected, as they are sure to be in the future, there will be no more charming suburban drive than through this part of the encircling boulevard.

After leaving the constantly varying bluffs and deep ravines of the Rockrimmon region and turning toward the south, we pass through and across the source of the city's first great public waterworks - great at the time they were undertaken - the Van Horn reservoir, as safely as Moses and his tribe passed through the Red Sea, and in far less time, unless we stop to admire the western view across the water or to walk around the borders of the upper portions. This is , in truth, one of the rare products which seem to have been fore-ordained for other purposes than those which ostensibly called them into existence. Primarily constructed as ponds to hold water to keep the people of the city from dying of thirst - than which no purpose could commend itself more highly to the most prosaic and utilitarian citizen - if the sole object had been to find a spot for a charming park of grass and trees and shimmering water, this could not have been surpassed. What the contour of the original ponds may have been I do not know, but as soon as the water was called upon to fulfill a high and holy mission - giving drink to those who were athirst - it immediately assumed all the airs and graces of a miniature Lake Winnepesaukee. Even the islands are not wanting, and a road winding around its bank - a thoroughly good road, such as are only found in really civilized countries - would be a thing of beauty and joy forever. But this road, like the next war, is not yet "fit." The drive along Armory street passes at the corner of Carew and Armory a five-acre park with its brook, trees and deep dingle, which has been wisely acquired by the park commission for the future use of the city. Half a mile farther we traverse the viaduct across the railroad and approach the ancient and beautiful thoroughfare of State street.

Fifty years ago Springfield people were fond of telling their friends of the enthusiastic praise bestowed by Thackeray on the view from the arsenal tower and this portion of the Connecticut valley. The view is the same; the arsenal grounds are undoubtedly more beautiful and impressive now than then, and if another distinguished foreign prophet, whom we should delight to honor, could be enticed to the top of the tower, he would surely revive our forgotten local pride. These broad and well-cared-for grounds belonging to the Federal government have always been a potent factor in establishing the claims of Springfield to a special external attractiveness. As the years go by, the worth of this national park will relatively increase, and more and more will State street become famous among the beautiful avenues of large cities.

Proceeding still farther southward, we reach the Watershops pond, another link in the circumscribing boulevard, although its complete exploration involves a wide diversion from the direct line to Forest park.

The residential portions of the Forest park region and the park itself remind us of the traditional ocean views, where sea and sky blend so imperceptibly that we can scarcely tell where the one begins and the other ends. There is a similar illusion here. The greater portion of this entire suburb has a park-like appearance in its private grounds, and we constantly find parklets and "terraces" at the junctions and in the center of the wider avenues. The park itself, extending more than a mile from east to west, is every year adding to Nature's legacy of beauty, and from the real bear's den at one end to the counterfeit presentment of McKinley at the other, music itself is not more redundant of charms for all moods and fancies.

Doubtless the home run from Forest park to Court square ought to be along the river bank; but the railroad at present has the right of way and we must take the inside track until the South-end boulevard, so well begun, is completed.

This general scheme, as shown by the first of these two maps, or something closely resembling it, is almost an accomplished fact. It has been the dream of the men who have done the most for local improvement, and can only fail of complete fulfillment through a fatal attack of sinister politics on the part of the city officials, or of grievous parsimony and Philistinism on the part of the citizens. It involves no large or sudden outlay, only the gradual working toward a definite goal, and each succeeding step in the progress, if wisely taken, would unquestionably pay for itself from the purely financial point of view in the enhanced value of the real estate along the route.
Next week: 'Section II, Plan of the Ground Floor, 2. Broader Outlooks.'

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