GLENS FALLS — As Glens Falls undertakes its Downtown Revitalization Initiative, City Park remains a vital respite and public gathering spot a century after it was set aside as perpetual open space amidst a development boom.
The Glens Falls Chamber of Commerce, Woman’s Club of Glens Falls and The Post-Star, in an election-style campaign in 1919, championed a plan to establish City Park as “a breathing spot” to be kept undeveloped in the center of downtown.
Coupled with a planned new library adjacent to the park area, the campus would be a “a hub for the new business district.”
It was an example of sound policy decades before terms such as “new urbanism” and “smart growth” became buzz words of contemporary community planning.
Fifty Chamber of Commerce members met Jan. 29, 1919 with city officials to pitch the plan, which Mayor Edward Reed and Common Council members quickly embraced.
“Big park project is advanced by 50 prominent men,” the headline in The Post-Star the next day announced.
The “50 prominent men” were joined later by a committee of 50 women who undertook grassroots advocacy in every ward of the city in support of a public referendum.
The Post-Star jumped on board with an editorial on Jan. 30, the first of 10 editorials over the next two months endorsing the project.
“There should be no opposition to the park project,” the first editorial proclaimed.
A park to keep the city grounded
The park would have a unique purpose, different from other city parks and playgrounds used for team sports and active play.
“It will be used as a civic center where people will gather for public meetings, band concerts, and where we can rest in the out of doors and enjoy the pure air and sunshine,” The Post-Star editorialized on March 12, 1919.
The Post-Star also published eight front-page endorsements from business leaders over the coming weeks.
“Glens Falls is a beautiful progressive city and it needs a city park,” said lawyer J. Edward Singleton. “Glens Falls is noted for its well-kept streets, its attractive homes and its public-spirited people. We should have the one thing necessary to crown all three — a beautiful city park.”
A comfortable park would make weekly open-air band concerts in the summer more enjoyable, said Cutler J. DeLong, treasurer of Glens Falls Red Cross.
“I have lived long enough in Glens Falls to know that a good-sized public park in the location decided upon will be the fulfillment of a much-needed necessity for the enjoyment of a big majority of the taxpayers,” he said.
“I think the opportunity is one the city should take advantage of and that the purchase ought to be made,” said Maurice Hoopes, president of Finch, Pruyn & Co.
“It is inconceivable that the people of Glens Falls will let this opportunity slip from their grasp,” said Elmer J. West, vice president of Adirondack Power Corp.
“If manufacturing industries are made the sole idea of promoting the interests of a city, the center soon loses many of the qualities that appeal,” said construction contractor Joseph J. Fredella.
Supporters argued that if not purchased for park land, the property likely would eventually be developed for commercial use, leaving virtually no open space in the downtown business district.
“Their (land parcels) purchase for park purposes will eliminate them from purchase for business purposes in the future and will create a demand for business locations in other directions, thereby benefiting others who have valuable properties in the business sector which they desire to dispose of,” said P.H. Moynihan, a local real estate investor.
Construction contractor Cornelius J. Reardon and 5th Ward Supervisor Philemon Haselton also endorsed the project.
Seizing the opportunity
In a March 18, 1919, public referendum, city voters approved purchasing two parcels of land between Glen and Maple streets for $59,000 — the equivalent of about $900,000 in 2018 dollars — from Byron Lapham and from the estate of J.M. Coolidge.
“Glens Falls has once more demonstrated that it intends to maintain its place in the vanguard of American cities, taking a second place to none in civic pride and civic appearance,” a March 19 Post-Star editorial celebrated.
The Post-Star had received only one letter to the editor opposing the project, submitted anonymously using the pseudonym “Taxpayer.” The writer contended the city already had enough park land and that the water fund surplus could be used for some other purpose that would reduce the tax levy.
The Post-Star responded to “Taxpayer” in an editorial the morning of the referendum.
“Taxpayers who believe in the future of their beautiful home city want Glens Falls to be abreast of the times and to have a beauty spot large enough to be a credit to the city,” the editorial proclaimed. “Why should this money be idle waiting for some possible public improvement in the future when the city has an opportunity to buy a park, an opportunity which it may never have again?”
Lapham had offered his property to the city for $30,000, about half its market value, on condition the city also purchase the Coolidge property, which also was offered at below market value, The Post-Star reported on Jan. 30.
Historic houses that once sat on the two properties had been moved some years earlier.
Lapham was president of First National Bank of Glens Falls and the late Coolidge had been president of Glens Falls Insurance Co.
Lapham and the Coolidge estate had offered to hold a mortgage at no interest for up to five years.
The city decided to bond for the project and pay off the debt over three years from surplus from the city water system.
One of the key selling points leading up to the referendum was that the purchase would not increase the city’s general fund property tax.
The Lapham and Coolidge properties were added to property off Bay Street the city had purchased in 1917 for $66,000 to set aside for a park, but had not yet demolished buildings on it because of World War I.
Crandall Trust purchased a sliver of Lapham and Coolidge property for $2,000 to add to Crandall Trust property for the new library.
First National Bank purchased another sliver of land for $2,000 to construct a marble wall on the back of the bank building to enhance the prestige of the new park.
Still a source of community pride
A century later, the business community still champions the park.
The Glens Falls Business Improvement District adopted, so to speak, the city-owned park in 2006 and completed a $500,000 multi-year park improvement and landscaping project in 2010.
The BID pays for maintenance and upkeep of the park.
And Lapham family history still has a connection with the park.
The Lapham carriage house, on the Lapham Place edge of the park, is the headquarters of Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council, which holds an annual arts festival in the park every June.