Elm Park

Worcester's oldest park and one of the United States' first parks. 

 

Address: Park Ave, Highland Street, Elm Street, and Russell Street

Parking: Street parking along Russell Street, Plesant Street, and additional parking available in the Doherty parking lot. 

Restrooms: Facilities are located near the playground and open during the week when Parks Department staff is on site and open during special events. 

Notable Features: Wrought iron bridge, monuments, pond, playground, flagpole

A City Park Since: 1854

Lesser Known Fact: Newton Hill, the wooded hill across Park ave is part of Elm Park. It was added to Elm Park proper in 1888. 

Elm Park Resources and Attractions


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Playground

Elm Park's playground is one of the most popular playgrounds in the city.

It features a play apparatus with slides, stairs, and climbing surfaces, swings, and a jungle gym. The playground area has a rubber floor matting. The playground is surrounded by benches and picnic tables and is located immediately next to the restroom facility. 

This is one of Worcester's newer playgrounds, as it was revitalized and reopened in 2013, as part of 'phase 1' of an improvement plan for Elm Park proper. 

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Bridges

Elm Park is known for its beautiful and historic bridges.

The wrought iron bridge, or the 'iron' bridge is located near the playground and traverses the pond between the North and Elm meres. This bridge has a very steep grade and is not universally accessible. With its heart shaped ironwork, this bridge is a frequent stop of wedding parties. 

The Myra Hiatt Kraft Memorial Footbridge traverses the pond between the South and Elm meres. The bridge was redesigned and refurbised, reopening in 2015 following donations from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft of $100,000 to both Worcester Technical High School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who collaborated to design and construct the new bridge. 

 

The Rotary Club of Worcester also donated $50,000 to the bridge project. The late Myra Kraft was a philanthropist and native of Worcester. The new bridge is universally accessible.

The Kraft Memorial Footbridge is currently under construction, as work is being done to stabilize the ground on either side of the bridge and maintain a flat and easily accessible surface. 

The Edward Winslow Lincoln Memorial Gate

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Constructed and dedicated in 1905 in memory of Worcester's first parks commissioner and advocate largely responsible for the city's acquisition of both Elm Park and Newton Hill. 

The gate is built of stone and is of a rustic design. It was originally the main entrance to the park because its location used to be considered on the outskirts of the city and most park users accessed the park from the direction of downtown Worcester. 

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The Fisher Boy (the Chamberlain Fountain)

A bronze sculpture by Andrew O'Connor Sr. Installed in Washington Square in 1915 and moved to Elm Park in 1956. The stone base of the sculpture was a water trough for horses and the sculpture used to feature a fishing pole. 

 

Newton Hill 

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Newton Hill is a 41-acre, wooded section of Elm Park. It features a network of six hiking trails, an 18-hold disc golf course, a 12-station fitness circuit, the Hon. Paul V. Mullaney memorial flagpole, the Rogers-Kennedy Memorial (Founders Monument), the Newton Square WWII Memorial, tennis courts, and a basketball court.

Newton Hill is maintained and programmed by the Friends of Newton Hill at Elm Park (FNH), a neighborhood volunteer group and member organization of Park Spirit. FNH hosts the Newton Square Summer Concert series on Tuesday nights July - August. 

The Newton Square Memorial

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The Newton Square memorial was designed, honoring those from Worcester who lost their lives in World War II. It is one of a number of sites in Worcester that pays tribute to veterans of WWII. 

The memorial is designed with four bronze plaques set in a quarry stone and granite. Both the granite structure and plaque were completely restored and rededicated in 2013. 

The Rogers-Kennedy Memorial (Founders Monument)

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Dedicated on December 6th, 1929 following a $75,000 bequest from the estate of Ellen Rogers-Kennedy as a tribute to the early settlers of Massachusetts. 

It was sculpted by Maurice Sterne of New York and features a centralize bronze sculpture of farmers atop a stone base. 

The memorial was restored and rededicated in 2006, concluding a restoration effort that began during the 1980s that was interruped, resulting in the encasing of the base within a plywood shed and the storage of the bronze statue in a hanger at the Worcester Regional Airport. 

Hon. Paul V. Mullaney Memorial Flagpole

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A 30' flagpole retrofit over the Hill's remnant and ionic steel pole, it was installed in the spring of 2017 with the assistance of Serrato Signs. 6 granite benches, made possible by generous donations in memory of loved ones, were installed around the pole. On Flag Day, June 14th, 2018, the flagpole was dedicated to the Hon. Paul V. Mullaney who was born in Worcester, served our country with the Marine Corps in Korea, earning three Purple Hearts, went on to serve as city councilor, mayor, and district court judge. He raised his family at the foot of Newton Hill and his family has shown an enourmous commitment to the revitalization effort at the park.  

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The Edward Winslow Lincoln Memorial Grove

15 fruit trees encircle the summit of Newton Hill and serve as a living memorial to Edward Winslow Lincoln. The trees were planted with assistance of Doherty Memorial High School students and the Worcester Tree Initiative. 

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18-hole Disc Golf Course

Free and open to the public, this frisbee golf course offers a unique recreational experience as it winds through the hill's urban forest.

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12-Station Fitness Circuit

The first of its kind in Worcester county, this park amenity features paracourse style fitness stations that are adaptable to different exercises and accessible by people of all skill levels and fitness abilities. Funding and installation was coordinated by the Friends of Newton Hill at Elm Park and made possible by the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation, Spencer Bank (now Cornerstone Bank), Serrato Signs, and Park Spirit. 

the Friends of Newton Hill at Elm Park

The Friends of Newton Hill at Elm Park (FNH) are a group of community volunteers linked by a love of Newton Hill and a commitment to the restoration, maintenance, and recreational use of the Newton Hill section of Elm Park. 

Founded in 2001, FNH has maintained the 41-acre Newton Hill section of Elm Park, hosted summer concerts in Newton Square (sine 2003) and various other free programs in the park, and fostered numerous improvements to the park.


Other notable events that take place at Elm Park

  • The Big Dipper Ice Cream Festival, hosted by Children's Friend - June Annually
  • The Walk for the Homeless, hosted by the Central Mass Housing Alliance, Inc. - May Annually
  • Day of Play family festival, hosted by Edward Street Child Services - June Annually

Elm Park History

Elm Park is one of the oldest parks in the United States. It's a common misconception that it IS the oldest park in the US and the misconception is perpetuated by the inscription on the Edward Winslow Lincoln Memorial Gate that reads

“This section of Elm Park containing 27 acres deeded to the city of Worcester March 17 and March 20 1854 by Levi Lincoln and John Hammond was the first purchase of land for a public park in the United States.”

The few parks that 'beat out' Elm Park for this title are as follows:

  • The Boston Public Garden (established 1837 and later sanctioned by Boston City Council in 1856)
  • Bowling Green Park of Manhattan, NY (built in 1733)
  • Central Park of New York City (planning begins 1850-1851)
  • Bushnell Park of Hartford, CT (approved for public expenditure in January 1854)

Elm Park and Worcester were undoubtedly one of the first examples of the 19th century's urban, city-park movement.

Elm Park's original 27 acres was conveyed by deed to the City of Worcester in 1854. It was called the New Common during its earliest years. 

Elm Park was the first fruition of a movement towards public space and ample public discussion and debate in the 1850s. In Rudy J. Favretti's a History of Elm Park Worcester:

There were rumblings for the establishment of a "new common" and a "public avenue" around the city with malls for promenading.

From Henry Howland's book Worcester 1850:

"It is, indeed, to be regretted, because Worcester needs now no 'training field,' and never needs any fortification, she should have no pubilc grounds or walks. And, perhaps, as a large central park is now impossible (the old common was badly 'cut up' for other uses), a fine mall surrounding the town, open to a liberal width, and shaded with trees, with buildings on the inner side arranged that the views should not be interrupted - may yet be accepted as an agreeable substitute."

The City of Worcester purchased Elm Park from Governor Levi Lincoln and John Hammad on March 15th, 1854 for $11,257.50 to be used as a public ground. 

"Along with New York, and Hartford, and the other communities that followed, Worcester pioneered in this new concept of public spaces for the pleasure of all people, a new and revolutionary idea. And that concept was to create additional parks and eventually a system so that every neighborhood would have a park. In this concept, Worcester was ahead of her sister communities in that by 1891, there were nine parks in addition to the old common." (a history of Elm Park)

The people of Worcester were not happy with the city's purchase, as many thought that the price was too high for "such a swampy piece of ground" and its location far removed from downtown and most of the population. 

Following the negative public opinion surrounding the park's initial purchase, improvements were not made to the space in its earliest years. 

Until 1873, little work is completed on the park. Trees were planted around its perimeter inside a new fence. in 1873, drainage work begins on the Park an Diamond Pool (now Elm Mere) is built. 

In 1874, a plan for the park is completed, additional pools are built, walks are constructed, bridges are built, trees and shrubs are planted, and flowerbeds installed and a nursery is opened. 

In 1888, Newton Hill is purchased - raising the park's acreage to 88. Work begins immediately on a road to the summit. 

In 1905, the Edward Winslow Lincoln Memorial Gate is constructed and dedicated. 

The Olmsted Brothers landscape architects begin consulting work on all of Worcester's parks in 1910 - specifically chartered to work on playground planning. Their work in Elm Park is to redesign the configuration of the South Mere and advise on shrub plantings. Their work was complete in 1912. They take on a second consulting job in 1939 to advise on new walks and plantings around the Founders Monument. 

In 1920, an amphitheater is constructed on the North East corner of Newton Hill for a pageant to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, as well as Worcester's 200th anniversary. 

In 1925, a new greenhouse is built on the South East concern of Newton Hill. 

In 1926, the Fire Alarm Station (now Cornerstone Bank) was built on the Park Ave side of Newton Hill.

In 1929, the Founder's monument is dedicated. 

During World War II (1941-1945) maintenance of the park suffers due to the labor shortage.

The Fisher Boy Fountain is moved to Elm Park from Washington Square in 1957.

During the 1960s - 20 acres of park land was taken away from Elm Park/Newton Hill and transferred to the school department for the construction of Doherty Memorial High School. The school openned in 1966. 

In 1970, Elm Park is designated a National Historic Landmark. 

As of 1973, large-scale renovation of the original section of Elm Park begins: the meres are dredged, curb stones around the meres reset, the lawn is regraded and seeded, new walkways are laid out, and new trees are planted. The iron bridge was also recreated. 

Maintenance of Newton Hill's interior starts to wane in the 1970s through the late 1990s, sprouting the urban forest that can still be experienced today. 

Many of Newton Hill's trails and vistas became overgrown and inaccessible. The Friends of Newton Hill formed in 2001 in an effort to reclaim the overgrown and return the section of Elm Park to its mass recreational use.

In 2013, major renovations returned to Elm Park following a $1.9 Million investment from the City and State for repairs to the playground, to install light poles, replace benches and picnic tables and to refurbish the pond walls. 

The Fire Alarm and Telegraph building, after years of use as a storage facility, was transferred to Spencer Bank.

Do You know more about Elm Park?

This page is meant to be a living document to record the history and use of Elm Park. Please let us know about any information of any special stories that add value to Elm Park's story or that we missed!

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