PARK GATES ONCE FRAMED EXCLUSIVE NEIGHBORHOOD
Some locals are aware of their significance, but how many people drive through or past them every day without ever wondering why they are there?
In 2007, the stone pillars at Park Avenue and Chestnut Street, next to Temple Emmanuel, are among the least talked about historical landmarks in Wakefield, Massachusetts. But at one time they announced, “You have arrived.”
The West Side of town has long been regarded as one of Wakefield’s nicer neighborhoods, with big, beautiful and expensive houses. But at one time, if you lived in the area west of the Park Gates and south of Prospect Street, you didn’t just tell people you lived in Wakefield. You told them you lived in Wakefield Park, or simply, “The Park.” And lest anyone forget, the Park Gates were there to remind them.
Prior to the 1880s, the area south of Stoneham to Chestnut Street consisted largely of farmland and orchards. The earliest signs of development came when J.A. Thompson of 98 Prospect St. and Oliver Perkins, a grocery merchant, created Adams Street, running through the middle of Thompson’s orchards.
Then, in the early 1880s, Dr. Charles Jordan, a retired physician who lived on Avon Street, started buying up farm land on the West Side. He built a home for himself on what is now Jordan Ave. and eventually sold off the rest for development to a man named J.S. Merrill.
In all, more than 100 acres at the base of Cowdry Hill were bought up by Merrill and Charles Hanks, a Boston lawyer. The pair began laying out plans for what was to become an exclusive, planned neighborhood, attractive to upper middle-class professionals who could now take advantage of commuter train service to get to their Boston offices.
Merrill and Hanks marketed the development to affluent city-dwellers, touting the healthy atmosphere and bucolic quality of Wakefield. They put into effect deed and lot-size restrictions to keep out the rabble, and Wakefield Park was gradually created, encompassing Park Ave., Morrison Rd., Morrison Ave., Clarina St., Dell Ave. and Summit Ave.
Wakefield was already a popular day-trip destination for city folk. Ever since the railroad came to town in the 1840s, they would escape the urban heat and take the train to Wakefield to enjoy the fresh air, the lakes and the picnic groves within walking distance of the central and Greenwood depots.
Merrill and Hanks correctly anticipated the coming shift in Wakefield from a factory town for the shoe and rattan industries to a suburb of Boston. By the 1890s, the Wakefield Park development was growing rapidly and continued to grow through the first decade of the 20th century.
Between each of the two pairs of stone pillars erected at the entrance of Park Ave. stretched wrought iron brackets with a circle bearing the letters “WP.” Only one of the brackets remains, rusting in the span between the two pillars nearest Temple Emmanuel.
But the four stone pillars stand to this day, a testament to what was once considered Wakefield’s most exclusive district. (And let’s not kid ourselves. It’s still a pretty good address.)
But at one time, the Park Gates proudly proclaimed to all who entered that this wasn’t just any neighborhood.
It was Wakefield Park.
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