Saturday, August 8, 2009

Photographs: Forest Park at the Turn of the 20th Century

Springfield's Forest Park is truly a precious gem in the New England crown of beauty that is Western Massachusetts. Lakes and lotus, ball fields and brooks: Forest Park is a lush, alive, green-carpeted public playground with endless virtual trail heads ready to explore scattered throughout, all leading one into the magical pop-up book pages of recreation imagination. This is the place to see dinosaur tracks trapped in Holyoke shale tens of millions of years ago or to experience the sights and smells of a Victorian rose garden masterfully crafted in 19th century style. The spot for a train ride or a visit to the zoo. It is the setting for movable feasts in picnic groves alive with the voices of past and present. 'Tis a place to be proposed to, and a place to marry. Forest Park is indeed a jewel of many facets, each a joy to discover.

The following images were scanned from the 1905 book, Springfield Present and Prospective, which was written by several notable city residents, including Eugene C. Gardner, Edwin Dwight and Alfred M. Copeland, published by Springfield publishers, Pond & Campbell, and printed by the F. A. Bassette Company, which still does business in the city. Unfortunately, although the photographer is noted for each image in the book's list of illustrations, the date each photograph was shot is not. Circa 1905 or less than is what we'll have to go with for a blanket description. The captions in quotes below each photograph are from the book, the photographers in parentheses.

"Entering Forest Park." (Clifton Johnson)

Be it 1905 or 2005, a child's enthusiastic anticipation of an outing is timeless. Today, tomorrow, a mother will bring her children to Forest Park...and memories will be made.

"Drives and Promenades in Animal Section at Forest Park." (D. J. Bordeaux)

The Zoo at Forest Park has had a long and successful tradition of putting smiles on the faces of its visitors, young and old alike. According to the Park Commissioner's Report of 1894:

"Our Forest Park family has prospered abundantly throughout the year, and our zoological and ornithological departments have become one of the institutions of the park. As yet not a dollar has been expended in the purchase of birds or animals, but by the generous contributions of friends this department of the park has grown to pretentious proportions...[E]very donor may be assured that their thoughtfulness was thousands of children, who have been interested and instructed in these varied forms of animal life."

Presented by the Forest Park Zoological Society, the Zoo maintains that tradition to this day by offering informative and fun exotic and domestic animal exhibits lovingly sustained by volunteers, donors and a hard-working, dedicated zoo staff.

To learn more, visit the zoo's website at

"The Wading Pond at Forest Park." (Clifton Johnson)

Here's an interesting piece on the origin of Forest Park's old wading pond from the magazine American Gardening, Vol. XXIV, October 3, 1903:


Edited for American Gardening by G. A. PARKER, Hartford, Conn.

The First Wading Pool

Last Tuesday, September 29, was the twentieth anniversary of the organization of the Board of Commissioners of Springfield, Mass. Twenty years ago Forest Park was small as compared with its present size of nearly five hundred acres, and the beginnings were makings of that work which has since made it one of the noted parks of the United States.

Those days were the commencement of park making in the smaller cities, and money was not so liberally voted for park purposes as now. This commission found itself with a desire for a large park, but with the means for a small one. They obtained more acres by gift than they did by purchase, and adopted a unique method for further addition to their territory. Friends of the park bought and held in trust such lands as were needed and then let it be known, as an open secret, that these lands would be cut up into such sized lots as were wanted and sold at cost to those who desired to buy and give to the park. Each park report since includes a map showing by different colors and figures lands given by all the donors, making it, as it were, a monumental record to them.

Pioneers who would originate such a scheme as this could be depended upon to take advantage of the unusual and desirable in the development of their work, and so these men gave not only to Forest Park but to many another park the wading pool, which is the delight of many a youngster born since that time. It came about in this wise: In 1884, the year following the beginning of the work at Forest Park, a road was being built down through the valley, which required much filling material. To obtain this filling they carted off the top of a hill.

Now, away back in that time, when the glaciers were sliding down the Connecticut Valley, and later, when what is now Springfield was the bottom of a vast lake, whose waters flowed above the Holyoke dam, being held back by a ledge at Middletown, there was a small Niagara. In those far-back ages the ice and the water were making our beautiful Connecticut Valley, and among the things which they made then were pocket-holes, round and deep, and they made also clay hills and ridges in the valley, and on top of some of these hills they made pocket-holes, more or less deep, but the pocket-hole which they made on top of the hill in Forest Park was saucer-like in form, very broad and shallow and water-tight. This basin-like depression was afterward filled with sand and loam and acted like a great sponge.

It was on top of this saucer-topped clay hill, filled with an earth sponge, that the contractor began to take the sand for the filling of the valley road. He dug down below the rim of the saucer and the water from the remainder of the earth's sponge settled into the shallow hole and refused to soak away. Now, from pre-historic times children have delighted to paddle in pools, and the Springfield children were not slow in using the pool caused by the digging—a delight to them but a nuisance to the contractor, who would have drained out the water and destroyed the pool but for the sagacity of the Park Commissioners, who recognized the pleasure of the children in wading and playing in shallow water, and had the courage to give that simple childish act an official standing, and thus the wading pool was created, a gift not only to Forest Park, but to all parks throughout the world. How many wading pools have been made since I do not know. I have a record of about twenty, the last being at Watertown, N. Y. Their number is steadily increasing. Had the Park Commissioners of Springfield, nineteen years ago, said: "Drain off the water and make a lawn, as we have already planned," it is probable there would not be a wading pool in any park today.

"Baseball at Forest Park." (Clifton Johnson)

Besides boasting the country's first wading pool, Forest Park is also noted for hosting the first public boccie courts in the nation. Some of the other athletic activities available at the park are: basketball, tennis (including clay courts), shuffleboard, lawn bowling, an outdoor work-out area, an indoor ice-skating rink and, of course, baseball. There is also hiking, cycling and, when the snow flies, sledding and cross-country skiing.

This photograph - taken when Old Glory flapping overhead had just 45 stars - is amazing in so many different ways. Everyone wearing a hat, the parasols and fashion, the bicycles strewn around, the ballplayers. But what is most amazing is that the scene is not much different from what can be observed during a baseball game at the park in 2009. Change the outfits and lose the umbrellas and America's past-time enters the 21st century without missing a pitch. Indeed, many of the White Pine trees in the background of the photograph still stand as border and shade to the playing fields, planted by park benefactor and enthusiast Everett H. Barney himself over one-hundred years ago.

"Lakes in Forest Park." (D. J. Marsh)

Fed by Pecousic Brook, Forest Park contains more than thirty acres of lakes and ponds, including Fountain Lake (5.8 acres), Duck and Barney Ponds (around 2 acres each), the diminutive three-quarter of an acre Swan Pond, and the largest, man-made Porter Lake, itself nearly 24 acres.

Many times names are given to buildings and bridges, waterways and widgets, but memories fade with the turning of days and the footprints of those passed shadows cast fill with dust and lives are forgotten. Porter Lake is so-called in honor of Sherman D. Porter, a man whose life, though long and illustrious, ended tragically.

Porter was born August 4, 1833. At the age of twenty, in 1853, he began working for the Kibbe, Crane & Co., as a teamster delivering product for the Springfield, Mass., candy wholesaler. By 1864, Mr. Porter had become a partner in the firm - renamed Kibbe Brothers & Company - along with Edwin McElwain and George A. Kibbe. The Kibbe family's involvement in the concern ended in 1887 with the death of Horace Kibbe. Porter became company president in 1890, the same year the company moved from Main Street to its new five-story location on Harrison Avenue. Porter was also active in city affairs, serving as an alderman in 1888.

On the afternoon of August 26, 1913, Mr. Porter (now 80) and his wife, Elizabeth (73), were returning to Springfield after a trip to Greenfield, passengers in a Knox limousine piloted by chauffeur Fred W. Bennett. They would get as far as South Deerfield's Bryant's Crossing, the same distance that the White Mountain Express passenger train rumbling south on the Boston & Maine railroad tracks would travel that day before slamming at sixty miles-per-hour into the Porter's limousine, carrying the couple 250 to 275 feet before depositing their lifeless bodies next to each other track side. It was their 52nd wedding anniversary.

Sherman D. Porter was generous in his will, leaving significant sums to Springfield Hospital, the Mason-Wright Foundation and the town of East Longmeadow, among others. The $10,000 he bequeathed the city of Springfield "[T]o be expended...on public parks" was used to construct Porter Lake on land donated to the city in 1918 by James Burbank.

For some Lewis Hines' photographs documenting child labor at the Kibbe candy factory in 1910 Springfield, check out the past EWM post: Commerce & Industry: The Kibbe Candy Kids (1910).

"Forest Park Lily Ponds." (D. J. Bordeaux)

Although it was the generosity of Orick H. Greenleaf who inspired the creation of Forest Park with his original 65-acre land donation to the city of Springfield in 1884, Everett Hosmer Barney is the man most associated with the park today, and rightly so: Barney's interest in horticulture blessed the park grounds with an array of trees, shrubs and flowers unsurpassed in the nation and perhaps at one time, the world. Importing plants from all over the globe, Barney brought to Springfield beauty to be shared with all, including several varieties of lotus and a rainbow of water lilies presented for public pleasure in well-placed ponds and blooming with color all summer long. Still.

"A Shad Tree at Forest Park." (E. J. Lazelle)

Indigenous to the park, this Shad tree and thirty-eight other local tree species shared growing space throughout the 425 acres the park comprised in 1894 with one-hundred and eight other non-native species introduced by Everett H. Barney. Types of trees growing naturally included white birch, sugar maple, weeping willow and wild black cherry. Transplants, hailing from several different countries, made up a plethora of flora. Chinese white magnolia, European ash, Japanese cypress and English elm all could be found within the borders of the now 735-acre park courtesy of the work and funding of Mr. Barney.

For more on the plants of Forest Park, a list of animals in the zoo and wild birds that frequented the park at the turn of the twentieth century, the 1894 Park Commissioner's Report published online at Google books is a handy tool. Here's the link:

"The Winding Pecowsic." (E. J. Lazelle)

Spring-fed Pecousic Brook wanders and winds its way into Forest Park via a twisted, turning run through parts of East Longmeadow and Longmeadow, finally draining into the Connecticut River to join her waters on the journey south to Long Island Sound.

"Forest Park Sheep On Their Way to Pasture." (D. J. Bordeaux)

It's highly unlikely that a modern visitor to Forest Park will ever see a flock of sheep grazing in its fields. Indeed, when this photograph was taken over a hundred years ago, there was still an active bear den within the borders of the park.

Some of the quadrupedal animals that one might encounter on Forest Park trails are squirrels (red, grey, black and flying), fox, skunks, 'possums, raccoons, coyotes, chipmunks, porcupines, fishers and white-tailed deer. In the air, be on the lookout for cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, nuthatches, chickadees, goldfinch, woodpeckers, hawks, heron, turkey vultures, and even the occasional osprey or bald eagle. Oh, and ducks, lots of ducks: Bring bread. Speaking of water... The ponds and streams of the park are also teeming with life. Polliwogs, frogs, turtles, salamanders and several species of fish are all part of the soup. Even the triangle-floater mussel has found Forest Park favorable to call home.

So, while you might not see sheep or bears on your visit, you are bound to see an abundance of other furry, finned and feathered creatures as you traverse the park's hills and dales, fields and swales. But if you do see a bear, just remember this safety tip: It's not a good idea to try to outrun one. Outrunning the person you're with should be sufficient.

"Looking Across the Lily Ponds at Forest Park." (A. D. Copeland)

This photograph shows a sizable chunk of Everett Barney's estate laid out in all of its glory. Lily ponds, rolling hills, shrubs, flowers, trees and sweeping drives all served to complement Barney's home, Pecousic Villa. Barney continued to occupy and improve the 105-acre property for many years after donating the land to the city in 1890 and took great enjoyment in observing the pleasure of visitors to the park his beneficence and imagination helped build.

"E. H. Barney's Residence at Pecowsic." (D. J. Bordeaux)

Everett Barney purchased Pecousic Hill in the southwest corner of Springfield and much of the land around it in 1882 and began to build his grand home atop it shortly thereafter. Upon his death on May 31, 1916, the mansion became the property of the city, administered under the authority of the Park Commission. In 1922, the mansion was opened to visitors of the park after some interior "improvements" were made to accommodate them. According to the Parks Commission Report in the 1922 Municipal Register of the City of Springfield:

"The Trustees of the Estate of Everett H. Barney, upon the request of this board, paid to the city treasurer the sum of ten thousand ($10,000) dollars to be placed to the credit of the Park Commissioners and to be designated as the Everett H. Barney Fund. This being the first money to be received from the estate of Mr. Barney, it seemed very fitting and proper that a portion of it at least should be used to make such changes in the house as would make it available for the use of the public. Elaborate plans calling for very radical changes in the house were carefully considered, but, on account of the cost and the time it would require to make these changes, it was decided to postpone them for the present and that some less expensive plan be adopted. The carpets and rugs on the main floor were replaced with linoleum, a long counter was built in the dining room, and other conveniences were added so as to equip this room for the sale of ice cream, soda, candy, cigars, etc. Some minor changes were made on the second floor, including cutting a door from the balcony into the large room known as the sun parlor, and making this room suitable for societies and small gatherings to hold meetings."

Pecousic Villa was razed in the late 1950s to make way for Interstate 91. The estate's 1883-built carriage house was spared, and thanks to a seven-year restoration project undertaken by skilled students at Putnam Vocational High School, is now available to host weddings and other social functions. For more information, visit the Carriage House at the Barney Estate web site at:

And here's a link to the 908 page long 1922 Municipal Register of the City of Springfield digitized at Google books:

"The Barney Mausoleum on Laurel Hill." (E. J. Lazelle)

Inside this mausoleum lie the remains of one of the men whose fate was most responsible for the configuration of Forest Park as it stands today. George Murray Barney was born on March 27, 1863, the only child of Everett Barney and his wife, the former Eliza Jane Knowles. George meant the world to Everett, as related in the article, The Story of a Park, in The National Magazine, Vol XVII, Nov. 1892 - Apr. 1893:

"He had an only son, George M. Barney, in whom all his future plans were centered. There was a rare bond of sympathy between father and son. To the filial relationship was added another element, as though they had been brothers, and still another, as though they had been the most intimate friends and confidants."

Everett Barney's original intention when he purchased the land at Pecousic was to create a Summer haven for wealthy Springfield residents. His plan included sculpting part of the land into magnificent gardens and introducing game birds for the sport of the folks who would (he hoped) be clamoring to buy land within this exclusive paradise and to build homes as magnificent as Pecousic Villa. With 19-year old George at his side and just as involved in the project as he was, Barney began pursuing his vision, buying up surrounding parcels and building the family manse, quite possibly entering the happiest time of his life and pleased with the legacy he would someday leave his son.

As Burns warned, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men...Gang aft agley," and the Barneys were no exception. On May 29, 1889, Barney's beloved son George died at the age of 26 in California, where he had gone in a last ditch effort to recover from a long illness. Everett Barney was crushed by the loss of his only son and lost interest in the project that had been theirs together. Shortly after George's death, Everett Barney decided to memorialize his son by merging his estate with the 5-year old, growing Forest Park, reserving the right to live on the property until his and wife Eliza's passing. He threw himself into improving his property and Forest Park in general and, in working through his grief, left the city of Springfield with one of the most magnificent public parks in the nation.

Today, Everett, Eliza and George rest in peace in Pecowsic. Home. Together.

"A Commanding View of the River from Pecowsic." (E. J. Lazelle)

There is always a horizon, be it near or far. A swathe of river, a line of mountains, the future of a city: All loom in the distance. Forest Park's past was dependent on giving, so 'tis today, and yet in the 'morrow.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

For some neat old postcards of Forest Park, take a look at the past EWM post, Postcards: Forest Park Springfield, Massachusetts.

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Mattenylou said...

This is really nice! I have great memories of Forest Park and you brought me right back there today.

Where was the wading pool? (I remember my brother falling into one of the duck ponds, and whew! being kinda stinky for the ride home, lol)

Take care..

Mark T. Alamed said...

Hello Mynetta!

I'm glad you liked the post!

To be quite honest, I'm not sure where the wading pool was located in the park. I'll try to find out.

(Any other readers happen to know?)

Take care,


AdamH said...

Great post!

I was always so distressed that Pecousic Villa was torn down. My family lived at the edge of the park and we spent hours and hours there. We are very fortunate to have it.

Beth Niquette said...

Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing all that history and those photos!

Linda Battaglia said...

hi Mark, a friend who lives in Ma, recently posted pictures of Forest Park in facebook and he posted one of an old building there but doesnt know any history of it...the building appears to be made of brick and has three doors in the front of it and serated type roof line like a castle..and sits by a pond or you know anything about this building, when it was built and what it was used for...for some reason, the building draws my interest....

Mark T. Alamed said...


That is the old skatehouse at Forest Park, where folks would change into their skates or go inside to warm up. It is a beautiful building! Not sure the year it was built, but I would assume it was during the time-frame that Everett Barney (clamp-on ice skate magnate) was developing/creating his estate.


D Sammataro said...

It seems strange that about the time that atrocious decision to put interstate 91( originally on west side of river, but politicians bought land on Springfield side then pushed through the interstate being on east side earning these crooks a hefty profit) and tear down the Barney mansion, one can see the start of the decline of Springfield to what a deplorable city (12th most violent) it has become.. I call it the curse of Barney

Bob Hadd said...

There seems to be a conflict of stories on the death of George Barney's demise.
This article states that he died in California after a long illness. Others say that he died while falling through thin ice and drowning in the Connecticut River. The irony being that Everett Barney made his fortune from his clip on ice skates.
I remember going through the mansion when growing up in Springfield seeing the giant ice skate in the museum.

Virginia L said...

The wading pool was replaced with the swimming pools. Same spot. I remember the "new" pools being built. Spent my summers at the pool. Before the pools there was the wading pond and it was fun. It had a fountain in the middle to splash us.

3 AM Art said...

Thank you so much for this lovely post! We love Forest Park & it's one of the main reasons we are hoping to return to Springfield to live really soon. Such a gorgeous park, we are all so very lucky to have it! Recently visited on my Birthday & I realized it is very sad not being close to it anymore. Hoping to find a home that is within walking distance. I used to spend the all day there when my sons were tiny.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Great photos, and facts.
I have been looking for pictures, and information about the pine trees that were planted around 1946 in the form of a "V" for victory, across porter lake. I have heard stories, but wish I had more information…I have tried to find tell tale signs of the "monument" or the flag post that was said to be located at the point of the "V", but no luck.
I so hope someone knows about this and can post something! I wish, and hope there are pictures!!

reflections said...

I am blown away by this blog and I believe I'll be digging a lot deeper looking to use this as a resource. My grandmother grew up in Chicopee and I've been reading her 80 year old diaries with her and blogging about it, with her permission, on I went looking for some of the places she writes about in the 30s. Forest Park is one of them, and a haunt I frequented much in my youth! I would like permission to reference your blog on mine. I will cite and provide a link back! ~Angie Marotte

Liz Balise said...

This blog is a wonderful historic treasure as it is a record of Forest Park, a place that meant so much to the people in Western Massachusetts.

To anonymous above: There was a "V" for victory of pine trees planted above Porter Lake. My father used to drive us through the Park on Sundays. Having served in WW2 he was especially proud of the V and always slowed down to point it out to us. It has probably grown into the surrounding forest today, but I won't forget it or the spectacular lotus ponds or stopping to feed the ducks. Skating the ponds and Porter Lake was a real joy. The Park became somewhat run down in the 1960s, but still we all but lived there. I remember catching pollywogs in the "Paddle Pond", and there was a fountain in the middle. The swimming pools later were no match for the beauty of the Paddle Pond.

I had been inside the Barney mansion before it was torn down while it was still serving as a museum. Huge loss to the people of the area! Route 91's location should never have caused the sacrifice of that piece of history-- an ugly road with an ugly history-- the politics of money over the truest riches.

The Park is largely restored today, thankfully. Does anyone remember the half-penny stairs? Is there any trace of them left??

Also of great interest to me is the name of the brook running through the Park. Pecowsic/ Pecousic (sp) Brook. Apparently, it is the same brook that runs all the way through "The Dingle" near East Longmeadow. There is evidence of construction and man-made ponds, tree plantings and other landscaping here as well. Having read this article, I'm thinking that this was some of the property added to Barneys gift to build an extension to the park proper--also well-used by the local kids. Supposedly, "The Dingle" was once called "Valentine Park." Does the name Valentine spark any memories or history with anyone?

July 21 2018