Footprints: Playground around for nearly half a century

By: Iris Naylor
   Is it any wonder the Stockton playground between the canal and the former railroad tracks is looking a little worn around the edges?
   It is almost 50 years old.
   Back in 1953, concerned citizens, something the borough has always had in abundance, formed the Stockton Playgrounds Association. Its purpose was to provide a place in which all the children could play safely. The group was a spin-off of the Citizens League, organized in 1952 to save the school children from being bused out of town.
   The school was saved, repairs were made, and the school is still here. So is the playground, although somewhat outdated.
   Members of the association had almost despaired of finding an area within the borough limits big enough to contain facilities for the children to play safely, for a baseball field for the older children and adults and a picnic area for families. Its parent organization, the league, had only about $58 in its treasury, and it had none.
   Still, it was determined and, in April 1954, articles of incorporation were drawn up. The association was made up of representatives from each sponsoring organization. Originally this meant the Borough Council sent Mayor Chester L. Errico, the fire company sent Charles D. Wilson and Frank Pennett and the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the fire company sent Mrs. Charles D. Wilson. Other representatives named were William J. Sandford from the Board of Education, Mrs. Thomas Brisson from the Parent-Teachers Association, Howard Fennimore from the Orpheus Lodge, Raymond B. Mason from the Civil Committee, F.O. Hathaway from the Presbyterian Church, Mrs. Frances Hendricks from the Berean Baptist Church and Stuyvesant Barry from the league.
   When the articles of incorporation were filed, Bernard Douglass and Harold J. Hendricks was two of the 12 trustees named, and Horace Cathers Sr. became a member-at-large.
   This was not just any group of interested citizens. This was a dedicated group of citizens with the backing of all the other citizens. Its quest for a piece of land ended with the generous offer of J.W. Smith’s Sons to sell the property above Ferry Street between the railroad and the canal to the association for a special price. The association agreed to accept this generous offer and immediately took on a debt of $7,000 for the 7½ acres. It met this debt by selling off the property between the creek and Ferry Street and by launching a fund-raising campaign.
   The week of Feb. 28 to March 3, 1955, was designated Playground Week. The children of the school were encouraged to make posters advertising the event. Seventeen posters were submitted and judged. The first-prize winners received each a silver dollar. Second- and third-prize winners received half-dollars. Everyone who submitted posters received token gifts of appreciation, and all the posters were prominently displayed around the borough.
   Contributions came pouring in. Colligan’s Inn donated the entire proceeds of the "wishing well" in its Old World Garden in addition to its other generous contribution. Diners at the inn almost always make a wish and toss a coin in the well, and the coins gathered once a year are donated by the inn owners to a worthy cause.
   The goal of the association was $5,000. By the end of April. $5,500 had been realized.
   It was time to make the playground a reality. Five pieces of equipment for the children’s lot included a merry-go-round, a 10-foot swing set, a 12-foot swing set and a slide. The cost of the equipment was $750. Two ball fields were laid out, one for the younger players and one for the older.
   Plans went forward for fencing along the canal, a tennis court, a sand box and a picnic area with fireplaces, toilet facilities and drinking fountains.
   Volunteers worked long hours to make these plans happen. Then came Hurricane Connie and her sister, Hurricane Diane, and the flood of 1955 that made history in the Delaware Valley.
   Stockton’s loss amounted to between 75 and 100 homes damaged and many businesses. The volunteers who had worked so hard on the playground now had to direct their energies to mopping up at home.