Monday, February 13, 2017

On the Historical Trail: Lockport's Oldest Park

This new column will be a semi-regular look at some local history around the area. It will mainly focus on Niagara County, but may sometimes even include some Orleans County History. That Orleans history will likely only be from Medina and Lyndonville areas. Sometimes, this history column will be something from family history. I hope you all enjoy.

This particular article came about as a result of a debate with a friend as to the oldest park in the City of Lockport. There is a matter of nuance with this question that may make the answers different than what could be expected. Is it Ida Fritz Park? Is it Dudley Square? Do you count from the incorporation of the village or the incorporation of the city? It is my opinion that we should use the overall age of Lockport, since its incorporation as a village in 1829, in an effort to answer this question.

In 1828, a group of venture capitalists purchased almost all the land in Lower Town that was available from the Holland Land Company. One of the four men who purchased the land was Charles E. Dudley. In either 1829 or 1830, Dudley donated nearly two acres of land to the Village of Lockport. The deed was accepted by the Board of Trustees on March 17, 1834, as recorded in the Niagara County Clerk’s Office.

From the point that the land was accepted by the Village, it was used as a gathering area for use as a public space in the village limits. In 1875, the Common Council approved a measure to enclose the area and improve the public park. The 1830 map of the  Village of Lockport shows Dudley Square clearly denoted, as well as a Public Square at the present site of the County Courthouse.

When the City purchased the Gamewell Fire Alarm System, a tower and triangle was erected in Dudley Square as part of the system. Starting at about the same time, small circuses appeared in the park. Those circuses used the grounds until 1924. In 1917, Lockport High School used Dudley Square for “baseball, football, and other scholastic affairs.” During World War I, the Home Defense Reserves used the land for drills every Monday.

In 1875, a committee was appointed to develop another park in the City. The committee was tasked with obtaining the property in the triangle between West Avenue, Park Avenue, and Hawley Street. Due to a confusion over a title search on some of the properties, the idea was temporarily abandoned in September of that year. A second committee was formed in March , 1876, which led to the formation of the park.

By an Act of Legislature of the State of New York on May 12, 1876 -- an act “to provide for a public park in the City of Lockport,”-- the West Avenue Park was born. A tax was to be levied to raise the $1,800 required to improve and maintain the park. This was the first park to be created under the Charter of the City of Lockport.

At one time, there was a fountain located at the eastern end of the Big Bridge. Donated by Dr. Bristol, a dentist, it was referred to as the “Bristol Fountain.” At some point, the year is unclear, the fountain was moved to West Avenue Park. Because of the fountain in the park, the park was known as Bristol Park. For some reason, it was also known as “Llewellyn Park” for a very short time.

The fountain was in use until 1944. It was decorated for various civic holidays, even once being painted red, white, and blue in 1917. By the time 1944 rolled around, many local kids had been playing in it and it was considered to be a safety issue and a health issue. Afterwards, where water once flowed, flowers bloomed.

In 1991, the park was officially renamed “Ida Fritz Park” after the woman who spent so much time tenderly caring for the park. She was known by many residents of Lockport as the Flower Lady. In addition to tending the garden at West Avenue Park, she also took loving care of the gardens at Lincoln Park on Transit and the rose gardens at Outwater Park. She was inducted into the Lockport Walk of Fame in 1990 for her tireless community spirit.

These are the stories of the parks that vie for the title of “Oldest Park in the City of Lockport.” Each have their own reasons for owning that title. I guess it could be said that while Dudley Square is the oldest park in the City of Lockport, Ida Fritz Park is the oldest park created by the City of Lockport. At any rate, both parks are still great places for the people of Lockport to gather for baseball, car shows, or to take a simple moment away from the bustle of the city.

Craig Bacon is the Deputy Niagara County Historian. The Niagara County Historians Office is located at 139 Niagara Street in Lockport. The office is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday 8:30-4:30.