Park of the Month: Elmwood Park

Elmwood Park

Posted by Syracuse Parks Conservancy on Tuesday, January 23, 2018

We work with both public and private citizens to care for the parks and green spaces in Syracuse.

Elmwood Park

Elmwood Park has been called “Syracuse’s most bewitching and least developed city park.” The park was originally built and opened as a privately owned park in 1893. It is significant as an example of such parks from the Pleasure Ground Era. The site was purchased by the city of Syracuse in 1927. Subsequently, bridges, embankments, walls and stairs built of wood and stone were added, making the park also representative of the Reform Park Era. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Neighbors called this “The Gully” years ago. It was carved by an ancient brook at the time of the glaciers. Early settlers harnessed the water to power mills along the stream. The first mill, on the same lot as the present landmark, made cannonballs for the War of 1812. Later, this was a private amusement area – once called “Dreamland” – before Elmwood village came into the city and the land was bought for a park. That was in 1926, when the city bonded to buy “Dreamland” and Sunstruck Hill near Teall Avenue, now Sunnycrest Park. A newspaper writer toured the gully and pronounced it “Syracuse’s Yellowstone.”

Many people credit the beautiful stonework in the park to depression era WPA (Works Progress Administration) work. The walks, walls stairways and other stone features were created by Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) crews very early in the Great Depression. TERA was a NYS public relief agency created by then governor Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt was one of the first state governors to realize the magnitude of the depression and the need for public works projects to fight unemployment on a mass scale. TERA in 1931 was actually a prototype gor the WPA later in the mid 30’s after FDR became president. A pathway created by those same anonymous workers clings to the park’s northern side. Those old TERA workers made their park out of a raw stream that still resists taming.

More historical detail:

Elmwood Park has an unusually long and interesting history. The wealth of history associated with this site can be traced to 1796 when Elliot Herrin transferred title to Comfort Tyler. In 1806, a furnace was constructed on the site to cast shot and shells for the War of 1812. In 1880, the land was used for farmland, but by 1889 the property was transformed into William Pardee’s “First Class Temperance Pleasure Resort.” At that time, it covered about 17 acres and had two artificial lakes, picnic shelters, dance pavilions, a restaurant, concessions (such as a cigar stand and an ice cream parlor), amusements (such as Swan boats, rifle range, merry-go-round and the like), and the natural attractions of bluffs, stream and wildflowers. It was described as a “delightful spot, first rate, handsome, pretty and safe, an ideal place for a day’s outing…” In 1927, the natural beauty of Elmwood Park was clearly recognized and the park was developed with respect for the picturesque qualities of its rugged landform, forested slopes and natural water features. It was to be “a good example of the naturalistic park where beauty of the landscape is the predominating factor…a delightful unspoiled area of land surrounded by high-class residential property.” As such, the design of all the incidental structures – bridges, walls, weirs, stairs, curbs, etc. – were to be in a rough and ready vernacular of rustic stone, natural borders or unfinished, heavy timber. Today the park’s 65 acres continue to attract those delighting in picturesque scenery. Stonework Courtesy of TERA and WPA: Along the trail west is the first of two stone bridges that cross Furnace Brook to the left. (Originally, three stone bridges had been constructed across Furnace Brook, but the westernmost one no longer exists.) This bridge, as well as the bulk of the stonework in Elmwood Park, dates from the early 1930’s. Following the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which preceded the Great Depression, severe unemployment gripped New York, as it did elsewhere in the nation. New York State responded in 1931 by setting up the Temporary Emergency

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Welcome to the Syracuse Parks Conservancy website. We thank you for stopping by. The Syracuse Parks Conservancy is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We are made up of a group of volunteers some of whom also serve as Trustees. We work with both public and private citizens to care for the parks and green spaces in Syracuse. Please take some time to get to know us and we hope, get involved. Neither government officials nor private citizens alone can properly care for our parks but working together, we can. Please get involved. Help make Syracuse a greener, healthier and better place to live!

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Our Mission

The mission of the Syracuse Parks Conservancy is to ensure that all Syracuse parks, public lands and the habitats therein are sustainably protected, restored, enhanced and developed for the educational, recreational and wellness uses of our citizens and their guests; we will accomplish this by directing and managing these lands and facilities in a public-private partnership with the City of Syracuse.

Our History

  • The idea for the Syracuse Parks Conservancy (SPC) began in 2008 when members from various T-N-T groups and Park Associations throughout the city began discussing the need for a citizen-based organization to coordinate activities in the parks, raise funds for needed projects/repairs/improvements, recruit volunteers for events and act as a liaison with city government.
  • Throughout 2008-09, concerned citizens continued to meet both formally and informally to develop a “blueprint’ for the organization.
  • A committee was formed to draft a Constitution and begin formal dialogues with the City of Syracuse. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was drafted. Representatives and lawyers from the City and the SPC met to finalize details.
  • Members from the SPC and Pat Driscoll, Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs, testified before the Common Council as to the need for this organization and how it would work with and support City government.
  • The City of Syracuse Common Council passed a resolution and then Mayor Matthew J. Driscoll signed the MOU creating a formal relationship between the City of Syracuse and the SPC.
  • In September 2009, the first Annual Meeting was held. A slate of Trustees presented by the Nominating Committee (Pat Driscoll, Chris Wiles and Mike Behnke) was put forth. Trustees and officers, all of whom have an interest in Syracuse’s parks as volunteers or professionals were elected.
  • As of 2017, trustees are: Mike Behnke, Neil Falcone, Sally Curran, David Harding, Kathleen Joy,  Joe Masella,  Leo Crandall, Kevin McClelland, Paul Pflanz, Carl Sharak, Kathleen Joy, Christopher Wiles, and Tim Rudd.
  • Ex-officio trustee is:  Lazarus Sims.
  • Officers are President Chris Wiles, Secretary Carl Sharak, Treasurer Sally Curran.
  • The Board of Trustees meets at least six times a year, and our Committees meet as needed.
  • Established Committees: Environment & Ecology, Planning, Design & Preservation, Events & Tourism, Finance & Administration, Fundraising & Development, Volunteers, Historical, and Nominating.

You Can Help Make a Difference

There are several great opportunities for you to help the Conservancy improve and expand Syracuse parks and green spaces. Become a financial sponsor or get involved hands on by becoming a volunteer.