Monday, August 5, 2013

A Look Back at Brandywine Park

A man stands at the entrance to Brandywine Park around the turn of the century. The park's entrance was located across from the intersection of Albany Street and Elm Street in Schenectady. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

In the days before automobiles, public transit companies offered their patrons more than simply transportation from point A to point B. They also provided opportunities for entertainment and recreation. The Schenectady Railway Company, which ran the city's trolley lines, offered moonlight pleasure tours in open trolley cars, taking passengers on one-and-one-half-hour tours from downtown Schenectady, up through Latham, and back again. The Schenectady Railway Company also invested funds to establish parks along its trolley lines as an attraction. One of those parks was Brandywine Park. The trolley company opened the park in 1896. It was located south of State Street on what was then the city's western edge, with an entrance opposite the intersection of Albany Street and Elm Street.

Image from 1905 Schenectady city atlas showing the location of Brandywine Park. 

The one-acre park was to serve as "a family pleasure resort and picnic ground;" it was host to a variety of activities, including clambakes, shooting exhibitions, dog shows, picnics, music, dancing, moonlight cakewalks, political rallies, carnivals, bingo parties, garden parties, daredevil motorcyclist exhibitions, hot-air balloon launchings, and track meets. The Schenectady Elks put on an annual Independence Day celebration there for several years.

A 1910 issue of the Amsterdam Evening Recorder featured this advertisement for an Independence Day celebration at Brandywine Park. The Schenectady Elks Lodge put together 4th of July celebrations for several years at the park. Image obtained via

The park also served as a place for ethnic communities and ethnic organizations to gather for celebrations. Members of Schenectady's African-American community used the park grounds in celebration of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1912 and for John Brown's Day in 1913. German immigrants held their German Day there in 1905.  The Italian-American organization Società Unione Fratellanza held an annual picnic there. Political groups held open-air meetings, rallies, and speeches in the park. In 1906, labor activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn gave her first public speech in Brandywine Park.

The dance pavilion in Brandywine park, soon after it was built in 1896. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

As the years progressed and the city's growth intensified through the remainder of the 1890s and the early 1900s, the park was no longer on the outskirts of the city, but within it. As early as 1903, the Schenectady Railway Company expressed interest in selling the grounds, and eventually did sell the property to St. Luke's Church in the early 1920s. The church continued to operate the grounds as a park until it began to develop the property and build a school and other buildings there in 1928.

Portion of an advertisement for a boxing exhibition featuring Jack Dempsey at Brandywine Park in 1923, after it became the property of St. Luke's Church. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

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