Sunday, April 22, 2007

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

Hello everyone, and welcome to another installation of EWM's historical book transcription series.

Following is the the conclusion of chapter one, 'The Visible Charm, As It Was, Is, and May Be,' of the 1905 book 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' written collectively by prominent citizens of the city as a sort of literary snapshot of where the city had been, was currently, and where it was heading at the first light of the 20th century. Section four, 'Looking Forward,' winds the chapter up with part three, 'Other Goals to Be Gained.' An afterword by the author, Eugene C. Gardner, follows.


Continued from: 'IV. Looking Forward, Part 2. What the River Asks and Gives.'

IV. Looking Forward

Part 3. Other Goals to Be Gained

Giving the river the first place in considering the future, there is much to be done in the way of perfecting the minor parks and increasing their number. In this department the first step, as in making a rabbit pie, is capturing the principal ingredient - first get the land. It would be a wild undertaking for the city to attempt to build at once river walls from Pecowsic to Chicopee, construct big wharves, complete the glories of Court square, build a new bridge, and fill up the waste and vacant places throughout the city with fountains and flowers, trees and statues; it would be the wisdom of Solomon himself to secure land that will sometime be available for both business and pleasure, while it is of little actual value.

It can hardly be hoped that the whole of Hampden park will be acquired for the sole use and occupancy of the public; it is not unreasonable to expect that a river-bank margin of suitable width may become part of our park system. The land north of Hampden park has been mentioned; a similar piece across West street, north of the bridge on the river bank, if skillfully treated in connection with the causeway leading up to the bridge, would make a dignified approach to this connecting link with West Springfield, and would be no more than a "retort courteous" to the charming approach from the other side. Beyond this the river bank further north might be secured while it is still unoccupied.

Leaving the river, there is much unimproved land in the Atwater estate, some of which is apparently impossible of utilization except for parks or pasturage, either at present or in the future, and this should not be omitted in plans for future development.

The land surrounding the Van Horn reservoir has been suggested as easily convertible into a pleasant pleasure ground. Whether these ponds are permanently retained as a part of our water supply or not, there would be great advantage in making them a part of our park system. And, again, the shores of the Watershops pond; it is not conceivable that any other practicable treatment of the land along this lovely body of water could add more to its commercial value than the reservation by the city for park purposes of a belt including the road , giving to building lots fronting the lake an outlook across the intervening park and water toward the east. In fact, the number and extent of the suburban parks and drives that may easily be established in the future round about Springfield is limited only by the taste and enterprise of the citizens.

Passing from these more or less ornamental features to just plain streets, one of the obvious improvements, easy enough now but growing more difficult every year, is the widening of certain portions of some of the narrower thoroughfares. Most of the buildings on minor streets, and many of those on the principal avenues, have, at most, but a few years to live, and should not be allowed to cause a permanent defect in the city. The best time to make the crooked straight is before petrifaction or ossification takes place; the next best is any time before the cost of straightening becomes prohibitive. Still more foolish is the sparing of an old tree. We have the best authority for hewing down the trees that cumber the ground, which is exactly what every tree does that stands in the way of something better.

Of still greater importance in the scientific evolution of the city's ground plan, is the extension of certain avenues which came to untimely ends before they had finished their course. We may not expect a Baron Haussman or "Boss" Shepard to drive their civic battering rams through palaces and warehouses, slums and railway stations, for the greater glory of the city, but we indulge a reasonable hope that some time a strenuous city government backed by an enlightened public sentiment will accomplish the same ends more economically though more slowly.

Fulton and Water streets, in their present divorced condition, can never fulfill their appointed mission; Dwight, that should be a broad avenue at least a mile and a half long, is incontinently barricaded by the misplaced union station; the convenience and business value of Chestnut street are seriously impaired by its steep descent into State; and for all of Ward one lying east of the Boston and Maine railroad, northward to the Chicopee line, there is no public highway to the North-end bridge above the Memorial church.

In regard to the future architecture of the city, we may be sure that its improvement will depend upon the cultivation of popular taste. Good architecture grows as slowly as fundamental Christianity, and, to continue the comparison, its shallow, obtrusive expression often attracts more attention, is more sure of admiration and imitation than the genuine article. Gradually examples of the best in architecture will find place in conspicuous portions of the city, and their quiet, persistent influence will lift us above the meretricious and commonplace. The significance of color, of harmony on a large scale, of proportion, which in architecture is like the lost chord in music, will be profoundly felt if never fully understood. The intersections of streets and the approaches to parks and bridges will be emphasized by monumental features; spires, towers and domes will exemplify the abounding resources and activity. As in the elder days of Rome, "to be a Roman was greater than to be a king," so the citizens of Springfield can be nobly proud of their lofty ambitions and worthy achievements.

--Eugene C. Gardner


It would be impossible to mention all the public-spirited citizens who, by their generosity and wise foresight, have helped to make Springfield a beautiful city. Among these in recent years, but who have passed away, Tilly Haynes occupies a conspicuous position, not only because of his large bequest, but because of the generous spirit which prompted him to leave it without restrictions that might impair its usefulness. The extension of Court square was always a cherished purpose of his, - it would not be fair to call it a dream, because it was too explicit, too obviously practicable. In the selection of the site for a new court house a generation ago, it was anticipated that sometime in the future the extension of the square would give this notable building a worthy setting. All of that Mr. Haynes foresaw, realizing full well that the inevitable future growth of the city would require an enlargement of the central public plaza. His bequest and the courageous spirit that prompted it has been like a beacon light, encouraging and leading others to join the ranks and keeping alive the thought and purpose of a beautiful city.

Grateful memory is also due to O. H. Greenleaf for his liberal gift of land in Forest park, land which might have been sold advantageously to the owner without direct benefit to the city, and which men of more selfish character or narrower vision would have been sure to hold for private profit. His interest in this, as in all matters of public welfare, was maintained and practically manifested as long as he lived.

Another who during his life did much, very much to increase the visible beauty of the city, was Justin Sackett. He had an innate love of natural beauty and rare skill, not in attempting to create, or rival what Nature alone can achieve, but in preserving the natural beauty that only needs loving care and appreciation to become more and more lovely with the passing years. Springfield abounds with evidences of his keen insight and unselfish and well-directed efforts to preserve and develop what a bountiful Providence has provided.

No one needs to be reminded of the long, disinterested and, happily, still active service of Daniel J. Marsh. It may almost be said that without his constant personal effort, we should have had no Forest park in its present shape; that what is growing every year to be reckoned one of our brightest civic jewels - in fact a whole case of jewelry - would not have existed, or would have been at least of little note, liable at any time to be sacrificed to private interest. Surely this is something compelling our gratitude, a direct refutation of the cynical words of the hypocritical Anthony, that the evil men do lives after them, while the good is oft interred with their bones. The reverse is true; such good deeds as these live on with increasing influence from generation to generation.

Neither can we hear of this great public pleasure ground and recreation field with its simple natural charms and the rare beauties of the southern portion without remembering how much we owe to E. H. Barney, whose untiring zeal and noble generosity have done so much to enhance and make permanent the rare charms of Forest park.

Not to complete the list even approximately, but to mention one of the younger citizens who has dome much in the way of laying broad foundations for the lasting beauty of this city, Nathan D. Bill should be remembered. With the liberal devotion of his own time and energy to public interests, with his broad conceptions and quick perception of practical values, we can not help looking to him for further achievement and leadership.

These men are not mentioned as being the only ones whose unselfish devotion has been manifested in the improvement of our city, or with the idea of giving even the smallest account of what each one has done - that would make a very long story; and the most valuable part of their work is not in the actual accomplishment, excellent as these have been - it is in the example and in the incentive which they have given and are still giving to their contemporaries and successors. They have not been merely thinking and talking, they have been doing, and by what has been done they have shown the still nobler possibilities of the future.

--E. C. G.

Next week: On to chapter two, 'Educational Institutions,' by William Orr.

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