HISTORY MYSTERY: Tri-Town Park
The first park in Clay was called Tri-Town Park. Its history begins a few years after World War II ended. In 1949, the construction boom in North Syracuse was in full swing as population growth moved north out of the city of Syracuse. These new small homes had yards and fences and neighbors, but no place for the children to play, in the winter of 1958-59, a concerned group calling themselves The Tri-Town Recreational Association was formed. The members were aroused citizens and representatives of the town governments of Clay, Cicero and Salina.
After surveying their entire areas, the only place they could find was the 23-acre “hole in the ground” at Buckley and Fay Roads. Called the “pit” by residents, it was formed when the gravel was used for fill when constructing Hancock Field during WWII. Being the only area available, the Tri-Town group nodded yes to this unsightly place when the Town of Clay offered it to them. The Development Committee formed under Richard Weaver included Mrs. June Guarante of Clay; Richard D. Ryan and Mrs. Ann Leadley of Salina; and William M. Mentgen and William Nechtal of Cicero. They consulted with professional architects, reviewed plans and hired Seymour Ribyat, consulting engineer, to draw up full development plans. More than 40,000 yards of earth was moved as preliminary grading that permitted limited wintertime use that first year, mainly for sledding.
In early 1960, the group held their first and only public appeal for funds for the three-year development plan. Included was an advance gifts campaign. It was entitled, “What is your share?” The appeal emphasized that Tri-Town Park was a three-community project to benefit children and adults. Everyone was asked to make a pledge to be paid in installments over a three-year period for betterment and future of their hometowns. It was very successful; full development was underway.
For land clearing, rough grading, sloping of banks and installation of lights and water, an estimate of $33,000 was given, but Tri-Town paid less than $6,000. Help in the form of equipment, time, muscle and talent poured in. Contractors, construction firms, builders, equipment concerns, oil companies, the military and several area industrial firms contributed to the cause. For example, $750,000 of earth moving equipment was on the job for the preliminary grading, including men at no cost with free oil from the oil companies to keep them rolling. The $13,000 project cost Tri-Town less than $3,000. Another example is the lighting installation. The full value of utility poles, outdoor floodlights, wire, miscellaneous controls and labor (700 man hours) was $6,150. Tri-Town’s cost was $1,000. On the basis of these figures, the committee figured they could proceed with their plan to develop a $150,000 park for $50,000, excluding the amphitheater and youth building.
First Year Plan – Baseball field, tot’s area, softball diamond, apparatus area, skiing, sledding, ice skating, hockey rink, lawn games, fishing pond, rest rooms, picnic area (start), drinking fountains, preliminary grading and landscaping.
Second Year Plan – Basketball court, touch football field, tennis court, children’s quiet area, picnic grounds (completed), older people’s activity area, roads, parking areas (start), bike parking facilities, landscaping and gardening.
Third Year Plan – Finish landscaping and Gardening, complete roads and parking areas, fencing for entire park perimeter, entrances, addition of three more tennis courts, another ballfield and utility room for youth building.
Completion of these three year plans would cost a total of a little over $50,000. All of those residents who were around at the time know what a success it was in 1962. In 1980, there was a complete renovation. The fishing and skating ponds were filled in and made into soccer fields; and, then there also were three softball fields. Improvements and additions continue to be made. Thanks to the managing by the Clay Parks and Recreation Department. In a recent interview with former Commissioner of Parks, Wayne Morris, he stated: “There are seven parks that are considered Clay Town Parks; however, there are at least 30 areas considered as neighborhood parks or recreation areas, even if only for taking a stroll to enjoy nature.” Add to this the Senior Center, devoted to senior activities.
Clay’s outstanding and note-worthy Park System began with a group of interested residents who constructed the first park on a worthless piece of property good only for sledding. With all its other uses it still is useful for that!
Dorothy Heller, Historian