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Return to Milestones Vol. 4, No. 4


NEW BRIGHTON'S: Townsend Park

From the 1938 Centennial History of New Brighton.

Milestones Vol. 4. No. 4-Autumn 1978

When David Townsend laid out his original plan of lots in 1815, he generously donated three of the bestlocated ones on the principal thoroughfare, then called Bridge Street, for public use. He could have easily disposed of them at the average selling price of the other lots, thirty-three dollars each, but he was thinking of later days when the residents of the town he foresaw spread over his woodland terraces, would need a place for rest and fresh air. Thus was created the present Park on upper Third Avenue.

For over sixty years however, neither the worthy burghers who assembled regularly in the council chambers, nor the other residents appreciated the philanthropy of the generous Quaker, for up to about 1879-80 the square was an eyesore. Any reference to it as a Park would have been treated as a jest. Contemptuously sneered as the diamond it was a place where more-or-less rubbish was permitted to collect. Bare of trees, it was avoided even by the cattle when allowed to run at large, for the best of reasons -not a blade of grass grew upon it to attract them. James Fornbell, a teamster, who lived near by parked his wagons there. Circuses, at that time one ring affairs, used it as their exhibition ground, and the upturned soil around the saw dust ring remained so until tramped down, or was used by another outfit the next season.

Individuals often expressed themselves to the effect that the diamond was a disgrace to the town, but it remained for Joseph Wilson, when he became a member of Council, about 1879, to take the first steps towards making the square what it was intended to be by its donor. He brought the matter up in council several times, spoke to business men, and finally stirred up sufficient sentiment to induce the councilmanic body to take action.

Orders were given to clean up the place, rubbish and ashes were removed; and further debris forbidden to be dumped thereon. Trees were bought and planted, the same now shading the plot. Mr. Wilson in a manner supervised all the work. He personally did much of the setting out of the trees himself in the evenings, though several of the other councilmen gave some assistance. Gravel walks were laid out diagonally across the square at this time, now replaced with concrete. The cleanup was regarded more or less with indifference by the town folk in general, for the Park, as it then began to be called, was in the wrong end of the borough for Main Street people and for those of the South Ward to take much interest in it. This part of town comprised the fashionable residential portion of the borough, in which most of the influential business men of the town had their homes, while Joseph Wilson lived in the other end of town. However, in time, after the place began to show the effects of the work done upon it and the trees grew large enough for their leaves to furnish appreciable shade, public indifference passed, and the exertions of Mr. Wilson and those who helped him were commended by all the residents of the municipality.

When the members of Company "B" Tenth regiment, N.G.P., New Brighton's contribution to the Spanish War, returned from the Phillipines in the autumn of 1899, they found erected to their honor in the center of the Park a tall slender steel tower rising out of a bandstand at its base that had been erected by the citizens at a cost of one thousand dollars, and dedicated on September fifth of the previous year. Being about 90 feet high, it was surmounted by a flagpole of 40 feet. A few years ago it became dangerous and was taken down. One fatality was due to its presence. About 1925 an intoxicated man climbed up about half way and, refusing admonitions to descend, fell to his death.

Government funds supplied through the Works' Progress Administration along with borough aid have been the means of recently enclosing the park area with a handsome stone wall, and of the erection of a monument for record tablets on the site of the former steel tower. The New Brighton Garden Club, with the help of members of Council, caused the area to be laid out in formal gardens and to be adorned with shrubs and perennial plants in 1937. The trees planted by Mr. Wilson have grown to be quite large. The unsightly old buildings opposite have been removed; and as the town's only park, it is intended hereafter that it be properly maintained as such under suitable care and supervision.

David the Quaker, was again unselfish when he laid out his second plan of lots adjoining the former plot, for he made the part of Third Avenue, long known as Broadway, reach from Eighth to Thirteenth Street of extraordinary width. He did this for the purpose of permitting the operation of a public market in the middle thereof, which would have been of no particular benefit to himself, had one ever been established, but might have been a convenience for later residents.