The parks are increasingly indebted to new volunteers. Sarah Gleason, a Providence resident for 44 years, is hunting in various archives for information about the history of both Blackstone parks. This month, Sarah, who enjoys researching and writing about local history, shares discoveries gleaned from the Swan Point Cemetery archive.
In their 1887 report, the directors of Swan Point Cemetery proposed closing the Swan Point Road in order to obtain “the seclusion which is so desirable for grounds dedicated to the last resting-place of the dead.” Swan Point Road was then the main road between Providence and Pawtucket. The directors suggested replacing it with another public thoroughfare to the west that would cut through the Perry farm.
Wooing the city for a parkway, the directors predicted that the people of Providence would one day be able to point “with pardonable pride” to “our fine boulevard, with its shaded drives, its cable road, and its winding paths” that “can be forever enjoyed by all classes of our citizens.” One could say they were just pitching an idea, but they were prescient. Today many thousands of people from all over the city and nearby come to the Boulevard to walk or run, or to enjoy the summer concerts.
After some disputes about how much the project would cost—the City claimed it would require four times as much as the Swan Point Corporation estimated–it was approved by the city council and work began in 1893 with provision for electric streetcars in mind.
Much remains to be learned about the design of the park completed by the noted landscape architect H.W. S. Cleveland in 1898, but we do know that he anticipated that the topography of the northern part would be the “most attractive portion of the avenue.” Biographers Nadenicek, Tishler, and Neckar claim that Cleveland believed that landscape architects should respect the landscape in which they worked. “He advocated a starkly simple “and natural style of design” and disdained “superfluous decoration.”
You’ll be hearing more of Sarah’s discoveries in future issues. Next month we’ll feature a Providence native who recalls, “Blackstone Park in the 1950’s was a perfect getaway for a ten-year-old with a bicycle….”
Blackstone Park Conservation District
Working with the Appalachian Mountain Club and other volunteer groups, the Conservancy has strived for more than a decade to slow the water that runs in torrents off the heavily used center section during a storm. But we’ve barely been able to keep up, especially in recent months, when more ferocious storms lashed the Park. During one downpour this summer, nearly three inches fell in one hour.
Now, thanks to a BPC board member, engineer Jon Ford, and a recent graduate of URI’s landscape architecture program, Patrick Kelly, reinforcements are in sight. Under Jon’s guidance, Patrick is analyzing the sloping trails and assembling a battery of state-of-the-art methods to help slow and reduce the runoff. The goal is to enable rain to penetrate the soil close to where it falls instead of running into the Seekonk River, as much of it now does, and taking soil with it.
BPC Comings and Goings
Rick Richards, a recent retiree from the RIDOE with experience working with small children, was unanimously elected to the BPC Board in September. He chairs the new Education Committee, which is already thriving under his leadership. An active rower out of the Narragansett Boat Club, Rick is a champion of the river as well as the parks. He is brimming with ideas for engaging children and young people in the parks and waterfront through environmental education.
BPC President Emeritus Anna Browder withdrew from the Board and the Park committee this spring after many years of tireless service to the Blackstone Parks. She was particularly active in restoring York Pond and in steering the Conservancy toward a focus on invasive plant species. Anna says she wants to concentrate on two important new sites of native plants. One sits at the corner of River Road and Irving Avenue. The other, on Angell Street near Parkside, is a significant experiment in forest restoration sponsored by the Rhode Island Natural History Society. Both plantings will help guide our search for ways to combat invasive plant species and bring native plants back to the parks.
The Boulevard was buzzing last weekend with a report of a wild animal attack near the trolley shelter. It turns out to have been a joke that leaped to rumor faster than you can say “fisher cat”. We are happy to report that no fishers have been spotted lurking near the trolley shelter, or anywhere on the Boulevard for that matter. If you do ever see one, please let us know. And never approach a fisher cat, they’re very dangerous!
Now for the sad reality. Recently our dedicated volunteers picking up trash along the Boulevard have found empty large envelopes addressed to nearby homes. Following up, we learned that the envelopes came from deliveries that never reached the recipients. Instead, someone had stolen the package after delivery to the front door, taken the contents, and dropped the envelopes on the Boulevard. It seems that we all need to take precautions with deliveries, such as asking that they be made to a back door, or installing a locked mailbox.
In the warm light of an early August evening, I see what I had hoped for: a night heron, perched on a dead branch hanging out over York Pond, motionless, staring at the water, waiting for fish. With its short legs and stocky body, it appears neckless as it perches, hunched over the water, utterly lacking the grace of its relatives, day herons and egrets.
As I watch, another flies in, then two more, all clustering together on the same fallen tree branch. They’re all juveniles, wearing the brown and white plumage for their first three years, still far from the elegant grey and black of their elders. When they mature, even their eyes will change color, from orange to a startling bright red.
Night herons are not an uncommon sight in New England near pond edges, marshes, and rivers, but it is thrilling to see them in our urban setting. These young herons hatched here at York Pond in Providence beside the Seekonk River in a rough, carelessly made nest, possibly in a tree nearby. Night herons fish from dusk to dawn, when they return to sleep in their rookery in the trees, while the other herons and egrets take up daytime fishing.
Over the next two weeks when I go to see the herons, they’re no longer there. Maybe they’ve moved to Hockey Pond in the southern section of the park where the water is cleaner. It hasn’t yet rained, and York Pond is shallow, murky, with an unpleasant smell. The need to clean the pond is painfully clear.
How can we keep our population of wading birds, ducks and swallows, the snapping turtles, dragonflies, and the myriad other forms of life that live in the pond unless we protect our wetlands? How can we afford to lose this rare opportunity to experience wildlife in its natural habitat, virtually at our doorstep?
Elena Riverstone, Park Committee member and coordinator of a relatively new group, Friends of Blackstone Woods, is an amateur photographer/artist and retired business owner. She aids the Conservancy in organizational matters, invasive plant species management, education, and design.
This summer, a number of new friends of parks stepped up to help the Blackstone Parks Conservancy (BPC) protect “the jewel of Providence”—Blackstone Boulevard Park—as well as the semi-wild Blackstone Park Conservation District overlooking the Seekonk River.
And a new group set up by the Providence Parks Department (http://providenceparks.org,) Partnerships for Parks, enables us to forge links with other parks in Providence for everyone’s mutual benefit.
Bearing considerable talent and experience, these volunteers arrive at just the right moment to help us accomplish several goals: to strengthen our educational outreach, to create alliances with environmental groups, and to get a deeper grip on our parks’ past.
You will be hearing more about several newcomers in the months to come. For now here are just two of the people enlivening these parks.
On our website, perhaps you’ve seen Elisa Vele-Tabaddor’s bird column. A child psychologist who juggles a job and the needs of a toddler with researching birds and liaison with the Providence Police, Elisa is a relative newcomer to the East side. She works on issues concerning the neighborhood of the Conservation District and River Road.
The ever-popular summer concerts drew nearly 400 people to the Trolley Shelter by season’s end.
The natural stone bench at the trolley shelter will be formally dedicated to Lillian and Sol Koffler in early October. We thank Sandy and Richard Bornstein for this beautiful addition to the historic trolley shelter site.
The BPC and the Parks Department are discussing removal of dead and dying trees on the Boulevard. We are jointly considering which trees might be candidates for sculpting and carving.
Two volunteer researchers are assembling a history of the Boulevard and the Conservation District. If you have any memories or references—such as letters or journals–please contact us.
We need your help. The BPC with the help of the Appalachian Mountain Club is renewing efforts to check the damage done by intensifying storms. Upcoming workday in the Blackstone Park Conservation District: October 27th, with rain date the following Sundays. See our website for more information.
Eastside Marketplace receipts make a difference—please keep them coming.
Chris Shafer and the Appalachian Mountain Club have been helping the Conservancy and its precursors “fix” trails for nearly ten years. Spring and Fall, using materials funded by the Department of Environmental Education, volunteers tackle projects requiring muscle and know-how: staking in logs to line trails in hopes of channeling foot traffic; digging water bars to slow runoff on steep slopes; and building split rail fences to keep people away from the crumbling sand bluffs.
Earlier this year, Chris was honored by the Environment Council of Rhode Island for his work all over the state. The Blackstone Park Conservation District is one of the beneficiaries of his dedication.