I grew up in Erie County with farms surrounding my parents’ home. Since that time, I have lived on a spread-out college campus, the dense population of the New York City area, and the high plains desert of Colorado with a lot of nothing. Now I live in the City of Erie, and I am grateful for the many outdoor benefits of living here. I feel as though I am close to everything and enjoying the greenspaces in the city is no exception. In John Nolen’s consultation in 1913, he admonished the city for its lack of parks and playgrounds.
At the time of Nolen’s study, there were only 2 developed public parks in the city. Perry Square was part of the original plan of Erie in 1795 by Andrew Ellicott. This four-acre park (I had no idea it is that large!) was the same size as another park which was then called Cascade Park. Cascade Park’s name was changed to Gridley Park and is located in the area of West 6th and Liberty Streets. There were only 2 playgrounds at the time. One at East 6th Street and East Avenue, known as Wayne Park, which still exists today. Of course, the equipment looked a bit different back then.
The other playground is the athletic field which was built at West 23rd and Cranberry Streets. It was given the name Ainsworth Field in 1947, honoring James “Doc” Ainsworth who worked with city youth. Babe Ruth played at the ballfield in 1923, winning an exhibition game. The aging park was replaced for professional baseball by the building of the current UPMC park on 10th Street between French and Holland Streets.
Two undeveloped parks existed in 1913: Lakeside Park, which encompassed 65 acres along the bayfront from Mill Creek to the then city line on the west, and Glenwood Park which was 114 acres. Other recommended areas of recreational use which we may not think of today was the grounds of the Soldiers & Sailors Home, Erie Cemetery, Trinity Cemetery, Lakeside Cemetery, the 26th Street Reservoir, Water Works on the bayfront, and the Land Lighthouse which was unused at the time.
Nolen recommended that the city buy up as much undeveloped land as soon as possible before it was built upon. He stressed the need of parks throughout the city and cited the 1911 Pennsylvania School Act which stated that “no new school building shall hereafter be erected without a proper play-ground being provided therefor”.
The city actually did what was recommended! Erie currently has 56 parks maintained by the City Parks and Recreation Department. Forty-seven of those parks are available for “adoption” by individuals or groups. Adoption entails care and beautification that goes beyond the mowing, trash removal and maintenance of equipment which is managed by the city. Check out www.cityof.erie.pa.us/government/department-of-public-works for information on how to adopt a park or just find locations on each to pay a visit! Walking through natural spaces is therapeutic, no matter the season. Get outside for happiness!