Friday, August 8, 2014

Schenectady's Riverside Park

Picture postcard of Riverside Park, ca. 1915. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Postcard Collection. 

Riverside Park, which lies along the Mohawk River north of Schenectady's Stockade neighborhood, was established during the administration of George Lunn, the city's first and only Socialist Mayor. Riverside Park was established in 1913, as were many of Schenectady's other parks, including Central Park, Pleasant Valley Park, and Hillhurst Park.

Winter fun in Riverfront Park, ca. 1920, as seen from the bridge that used to run between the foot of Washington Avenue and Scotia. Image from Grems-Doolittle library Photograph Collection. 

As Schenectady's new parks were created, city residents suggested a variety of names for the new parks. The Schenectady Gazette collected suggestions and published them during the spring of 1914. Suggested names for Riverside Park included Mohawk Park, Uncas, Handalaer Park, The Strand, Washington Park, The Esplanade, Iroquois Terrace, Governor's Garden, Western Gateway Park, Electric City Park, Edgewater Park, Erie Park, Beach Park, Bouwlandts, and Holland Park. The park was officially named Riverside Park in December 1914. Its official name was changed to Rotundo Park in 1949 to honor Dominick Rotundo, a member of the Schenectady County Board of Supervisors who died that year. While this name change was official, it didn't catch on with the public, and in 1999 the name of the park was changed again -- officially -- to Riverside Park.

Silhouettes of parkgoers can be seen in this view of Riverside Park in the 1920s. Image from Larry Hart Collection. 

In his 1919 report, Park Superintendent Daniel J. Sweeney lauded the establishment of a playground in Riverside Park, emphasizing that the municipal playground "not only stimulates interest and develops understanding and skill, but advances the physical and moral growth of the individual, brings the individuals participating closer together and facilitates unity of purposed and action. It also eliminates the unclean and unfair practice of the unguided and undeveloped youth." He also described his recommendations for the further development of Riverside Park, including the installation of a merry-go-round and swimming pool, and that the city should acquire land adjacent to the park to build a baseball diamond.

This undated view of the entrance to Riverside Park at the foot of Washington Avenue shows a much narrower footpath than the path that currently runs through the park. Image from Grems-Doolittle library Photograph Collection. 

The history of the cannon in Riverside Park is a mystery, and was a mystery even when the cannon was moved to the park in 1919 at the request of Stockade residents. Prior to its being in Riverside Park, the cannon was used as a hitching post for horse at the corner of State Street and Broadway. Local historian John J. Birch claimed that the cannon was dug up near the corner of State Street and Nott Terrace, while local historian Larry Hart claimed that the cannon was unearthed in the Stockade, near the corner of Front Street and Ferry Street. The cannon was thought to be of French make, and historians hypothesized that it may have been brought to Schenectady as a trophy of the French and Indian Wars. The cannon is said to have been fired in celebration at the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. Reverend Dr. B. W. R. Taylor, president of Schenectady's Park Board when the cannon was installed in Riverside Park, said of the cannon, "It has at last found congenial resting place in Riverside Park and directly under the flag which floats from the tall staff adjacent to it. It will never speak again! It is too modest to tell its own history."

This 1970 view of Riverside Park shows the park at a still and silent time. Image from Grems-Doolittle library Photograph Collection. 

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