Holyoke has shown the way along many lines, but in none more successfully and effectively than in the development of a system of municipal playgrounds. The appreciation of the importance of such provision for her children came to Holyoke before other cities had been awakeed. It was the voice of Nathan P. Avery, then mayor, that inspired this playgrounds interest. Towards the middle of his remarkably efficient and upbuilding administration, he set to work to tell the people of Holyoke that life would be worth more to them and to their children it they made their city consciously beautiful.
Two Views of the West Street Playgrounds
Holyoke was thus ready for the playground movement when the Massachusetts Legislature enacted the present state law providing for public playgrounds. That law had a referendum attached, by which each city and ton had to vote on the matter. The law was passed on May 12, 1908. Within a few weeks the Holyoke Civic Improvement Association was organized, with Martin P. Conway its president, for the definite purpose of creating public favor for playgrounds and to promote the movement for a more beautiful city. The moving spirits in these first meetings, included, besides Mr. Conway, Mayor Avery, Frank O'Connell, Miss M.E. Lawley, Mrs. W.G. Dwight, W.J. Howes, and J.J. Lynch.
Organization was perfected and an educational plan created, that resulted in Holyoke's acceptance of the new public playgrounds law by the largest pro rata vote given by any city in the state. The next year the Holyoke Women's Civic League was established, with Mrs. Timothy Fowler and Mrs. James A. Allen leaders. Its purpose was to further the playground movement and work toward a city plan.
The public now felt that the parks on the edges of the city did not meet the requirements for playgrounds. Children could not go to them. The playgrounds must be brought to the children.
In August, 1909, Mayor Avery attained one of the great ends of his administration hen the city purchased three large tracts of land in the most congested districts of the city, to be developed as playgrounds. They were located on West street, Hampden street, and Maple street. The purchase price was $25,000. Early in 1910 the City Government passed an ordinance that defined the playground management in Holyoke. The control of the playgrounds was placed with a commission of nine, three of them to be women. The playground commission was in a way experimental, for it was the first of its kind created in the state, and there were no precedent to follow. Later the State Legislature passed a law governing playground administration, but so far Holyoke has not changed its method of playground control, which gives the administration work to the playground commission, and places all financial responsibility with the Board of Public Works.
Before the playground commission was a fact, Frank O'Connell, inspector of public buildings, had established a small playground in connection with the Elm street school building where swings and sand boxes kept the small children of the neighborhood happy and busy. Then followed the development of skating rinks by both the park commission and the playground workers.
The summer of 1910 saw the playground movement in full swing, with organized play on four play centers.
Because the appropriation in hand was limited the workers on the grounds were paid only a nominal sum, yet they most effectively carried out the spirit of the movement that is thus expressed in the first report of the commission:
"It is the aim of our commission to conduct he work assigned to use in such a manner that the child shall be lead from joyous play into an equal joyful sense of the dignity of labor. We aspire to turn the aimless energy of the child into the definitive purpose of healthful play and interesting work. We long to give to the children, within sight and call of their parents, clean, sunny spaces instead of alleys and sunless tenement courts. We desire to develop all the sweetness and goodness of the childish spirit, so that the storekeeper, property owners, public servants--all shall be proud of the little citizens of Holyoke."
More than 60,000 children were on the playgrounds that first season of organized play. Band concerts were also given.
Closing Fete of Playground, Season 1911.
In the summer of 1911, with trained teachers, there was a total of 61,250 children during the seven weeks of play season. There were five play centers, in 1911 and there have been five play centers this year. Wading pools in two of the centers and the shower baths of the William Whiting School in connection with the Chestnut street playground have been most popular, and although this year there were several drownings of children of playground age before the wading pools were opened, there have been none during the seasons of organized play for three years.
But the summer work in the playgrounds is not limited to the children's supervised play. from the earliest spring until mid-winter, games of various sorts are played on the grounds. In 1911, the Maple street playground was used for game by adults or large boys, every Saturday afternoon from early April until the very last Saturday of December.
Organized baseball by amateur teams has been played on the grounds for three years.
In the winter season the wading pools are turned into skating rinks, and empty lots are requisitioned to meet the demands for more rinks. It is nothing to have 1,800 children out skating on a pleasant winter afternoon, after school hours.
The popularity of the playgrounds may be shown by other figures. On Thanksgiving Day of 1911 there were 7,500 boys and men out to watch the several football games. On Sunday afternoons when the employed young men play baseball an attendance of 6,000 on the grounds is not unusual. Young people are thus kept from the streets and entertained in a clean, healthy way.
When Work is Play and Play is Work.
It must be said that in the development of the Holyoke playgrounds there has been a steady holding to the ideal. For this too great credit can hardly be given to the superintendent, Frank O'Connell, who understands play, and who loves children and their pleasure in play. Because he understands the practical side of affairs, too, he has been able to make a comparatively small amount of money go a great ways.
Each year has seen a different supervisor of the grounds for the season of active supervised play. Miss Legarde of Providence came in 1910 to show they way for handling large numbers of children in pay and in such pleasant work as basket making, raffia weaving, and chair caning. Miss Theresa McKenna, also of Providence, took the work forward in 1911, and this past year P.H. Kelly of Holyoke has been the efficient supervisor.
The original playground commission was: William J. Howes, chairman; Mrs. James A. Allen, secretary; Louis A. LaFrance, Frank B. Towne, Mrs. William G. Dwight, Edward T. McHugh, Archibald Brooks, Mary E. Hussey, and Moritz Ruther. Ex-Mayor N.P. Avery and Martin P. Conway have taken the places of Moritz Ruther and Mr. McHugh, and Mr. Avery is now chairman.
The playground commission would very much like to extend the scope of its work, believing that in such a way Holyoke could hold to her place as a leader in making herself a good city for men and women to live in, and for their children to grow up in.
The opening of the school halls for the use of the people during the winter evenings, and the extension of the playgrounds, both in number and in equipment are desirable ends towards which the playground leaders hope to work.
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