Owego’s Front Street Parks

Owego’s Front Street ParksThe photo was taken Aug. 9, 1927 at Ahwaga Park. Pictured, is JDR with pilot Clarence D. Chamberlain (left), Arthur Stiles (center), and an aide to JDR is pictured in the back. Provided photo.

In 1925, the village decided to plan for a celebration for the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence coming up the following year. The president of the village, Mr. Charles D. Marvin, suggested razing four shabby, old buildings on the southwest side of the Court Street Bridge to make room for a brand-new park and also to formally dedicate the small, grassy space across from the Elks Club, which the village owned.

One section of the proposed park was once the site of a creamery known as the Standard Butter Co., organized in 1888 and closed in 1921. For several years it was the largest creamery in the United States. The building was 40 feet wide and 100 feet long, with an icehouse in back 20 x 40 feet. After the building was demolished, Mr. A. P. Storrs, who lived directly across the street, purchased the lot and cleaned it up. It gave him a nice clear view of the river. 

In September 1925, after he heard of Mr. Marvin’s proposal, he offered to deed his lot to the village provided that the taxpayers approved the proposition. The deed included the following restrictions: 1) The property shall be properly maintained by the village of Owego as open lawn or gardens for the use of the public. 2) The village shall never use the land as a parking place for vehicles or animals. 3) No structure or building shall ever be placed upon such lands. 4) Title of said lands to remain in the village of Owego in perpetuity. In the event of violation of any of the restrictions, title to the property shall pass to the tenants in fee of the land. (In other words, it would revert back to the Storrs family.) By December 1925, work began with the razing of the buildings.

In 1926, a contest was held by the Tioga County Historical Society to name the two new parks and that the names should have an historical meaning. Mr. Marvin offered two prizes – $5 for the smaller park and $10 for the larger one. The winners were Halsey Fuller, son of Mr. and Mrs. Lum D. Fuller for the name, “Ahwaga,” that meant “where the valley widens,” and Mrs. Charles K. Eastwood, for the name “Draper,” after Amos Draper, friend of the Indians and the first white settler in the village.

Mr. Marvin had a boulder brought up from Tunkhannock, Pa. and placed in Draper Park. A tablet was later placed on it in honor of Amos Draper. Another was brought to Owego from the Ray Sabin farm in Spencer and placed in Ahwaga Park. A bronze tablet made by the Gorham Mfg. Company, in New York City was placed on that boulder commemorating the Sullivan campaign of 1779. Before they could put the boulder in Ahwaga Park, permission had to be granted from the Owego Lodge of Elks, because the Elks donated $1,000 toward the purchase price of the land. A proviso was included that stated, “Nothing should be erected on the park to obstruct the view.” The two parks were completed in 1926.

1927 was the village centennial and the boulders were dedicated during the “Old Home Week” celebration on Aug. 9 at 3 p.m. The Ahwaga boulder was dedicated first. It was covered with the American flag and unveiled by two young ladies who were lineal descendants of James McMaster, who owned half the township of Owego, including the village that he obtained from the Indians with the aid of Amos Draper. One of the girls was Miss Dorothy Goodrich, age 15 (whom we all grew to admire and respect over the years) and Miss Constance Winfield, age 12. 

Mr. Marvin presided over the ceremonies, with Senator James S. Truman of Owego and Hon. James T. Rogers of Binghamton delivering the addresses. The ceremony for the Draper boulder followed immediately, with Senator Truman delivering the address about Amos Draper. It was just the beginning of an exciting week of events and to record it all, movies were taken by Owego photographer, Leslie R. Fancher. Two special visitors that week were John D. Rockefeller and Major Clarence D. Chamberlain, a noted aviator who successfully flew from the United States to Germany. He and two accompanying planes landed on the airstrip in the town of Tioga. The week concluded with fireworks at Recreation Park (now Marvin Park).

In 1929, the village celebrated the sesqui-centennial (150th) anniversary of the Sullivan-Clinton campaign of 1779. New York State erected a large rough stone monument in Draper Park to commemorate the occasion. The stone was six and a half feet high, three feet wide, and over a foot thick. A bronze tablet on one side noted the route of the campaign and featured the heads of the two generals. On the reverse side, another bronze tablet honored Amos Draper. One of the notable speakers for the afternoon was New York State Historian, Dr. Alexander C. Flick.

In 1957, a beautiful iron fountain brought there from Evergreen Cemetery was placed on the west side of Draper Park and a narrow macadam walk was laid. The Sunset Garden Club set shrubbery and flowers along the walk and around the fountain. (Several years later the fountain was removed due to vandalism.) The next significant event that took place in Draper Park was in the early 1970s. Miss Emily Thompson, who owned the house next door to the park on the west side, deeded a section of her property to the village, thus making Draper Park even larger and a boulder with a tablet designating the area as Thompson Park was put in place.

Today, the two parks are still there, welcoming visitors to stop awhile and relax. In fact, after the present bridge was built, the village agreed to put several large stone blocks in Draper Park that were first part of the proposed Chenango Canal in the 1870s and then were recycled as a retaining wall for the 1893 and 1933 bridges. 

The crowning touch was added when the lovely Owego Riverwalk was opened in the spring of 2010 connecting these two parks. It is a lower level promenade, stretching approximately 1,200 feet, meandering beneath the Court Street Bridge and behind the historic buildings known as Riverow.

2 Comments on "Owego’s Front Street Parks"

  1. Anne Schaeffer | April 18, 2019 at 9:39 am | Reply

    Thanks for the history!

  2. Terry Goodrich | April 18, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Reply

    Thanks, Emma.
    We are all lucky to have you and your writings.
    Terry Goodrich

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