West Side Neighborhood Association of Binghamton, NY, Inc.
At the center of Binghamton's West Side neighborhood lies Recreation Park, a gift to the City from shoe manufacturing magnate George F. Johnson. Bounded by Seminary Avenue on the South, Schubert Street on the North, Beethoven Street on the West, and Laurel Avenue on the East, Recreation Park is both a peaceful oasis and a focal point for major community events. Evolved over the years, today the park contains both quiet areas suitable for walks or a picnic and areas for athletic activities. Major features include
History of the Park
Prior to being a park, the property was primarily farmland, owned by Abel Bennett, the former first mayor of Binghamton, along with three smaller parcels owned by others. In a stunning act of generosity and foresight, these parcels, totaling eighteen acres in all, were purchased by George F. Johnson, the founder of Endicott-Johnson Shoe Corp., and then gifted to the City of Binghamton in October 1921. At a time when a working person made perhaps $2,000 per year, Johnson wrote in a letter to the current mayor of Binghamton that he paid $100,000 for the property, "a price which seemed to me reasonable." Remarkably, he also pledged an additional donation of $25,000, "to be expended as soon as possible for improvements." The only condition of this gift of property was "that it shall remain forever a public park, and that it shall be properly improved and maintained by the city as such. If at any time this property shall be used for any other purpose, it shall revert to the giver, his heirs or assigns." Also included was a list of "suggestions" he requested to be carried out, if considered "fair and reasonable, and so far as practical."
The improvements came in short order. The crown jewel, the Herschell carousel, added in 1925, has delighted children for generations now (including the world-renowned playwright, Rod Serling, who lived his boyhood years on the West Side). The bathhouse, which once had a red tile roof, still serves its patrons. The bandstand, now restored, hosts concerts in the summertime. The reflecting pool and its sculpture, Boy with Fish, were restored in 2004 (the latter by the Binghamton University art department through a grant from the Rose-Ross University and Community Projects Fund). In the early days of the park, a giant wooden toboggan slide was situated at the Laurel Avenue side but ultimately burned. These structures formed the basic amusements of the park, as we know it today. The oak grove, which has matured into the green canopy we see today, offers shade to those seeking relief from the sun. All of these have survived the last eighty years, yet they were nearly lost to neglect until recently.
By the 1980's, the park was in serious disrepair; the legend of its creation had faded. In the 1986 Heritage Committee Special Report, written by a task force that reviewed the park and made recommendations, members lamented that the park "has primarily changed only in the form of falling into such a state of disrepair that renovation is no longer cost efficient." Residents, realizing that a great treasure was about to be lost, pressed for restoration of these structures. From then, until the present, much time, effort, and money have been spent to restore the park structures to a functional and pristine condition.
Today, in addition to serving the needs of the residents in the surrounding
neighborhood, the Park hosts nationally known and local events such as
Thater Memorial Races, the USTA
Challenger Tournament, the Lee E.
Barta Remembrance Run, and the Recreation
Park Music Festival.