Forest Park (Springfield)
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Forest Park (735 acres), on the banks of the Connecticut River in Springfield, Massachusetts, is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States.
In 1884, O. H. Greenleaf offered 65 acres for the establishment of Forest Park. At least 178 acres were donated by Everett Hosmer Barney, initially a Civil War arms producer and later a clamp on ice skate and roller skates magnate. In 1890 Barney built an elaborate, turreted two and a half story Victorian mansion on a hill at the west end of his estate, with a spectacular view up the Connecticut River to downtown Springfield. Greenleaf and Barney convinced several of their friends and neighbors to donate most of the remaining land for the park. The bulk of this land was in the abutting town of Longmeadow, which ceded control of the park lands to the City of Springfield.
Among the park's notable attractions is a locally renowned petting zoo, an hockey and ice-skating rink (Cyr Arena), a baseball grandstand and diamond, a rose garden, a bocce court and many miles of walking trails. Other attractions include basketball courts, tennis courts, a beach sand volleyball court, playgrounds, picnic areas, a swimming pool, a small water spray park for children, a snack bar, ponds with a wide variety of waterfowl, and a small exhibit of dinosaur tracks. The ruggedly contoured valley of Pecousic Brook occupies more than half of the south side of the park. This area is less developed and serves as home to a wide variety of wildlife.
A major attraction during the Christmas season is Bright Nights. The trees of the park are decorated with lights in the form of various characters (including many from the works of Springfield native Dr. Seuss) and scenes, some of which are animated. Viewers in automobiles queue up to drive for more than a mile along a meandering path through the park to see the displays. One of the most elaborate exhibits is a replica of Everett Barney's mansion. Barney's mansion was used for park events until the early 1950s, by which time it was considered a firetrap because it lacked sprinklers. In the 1950s about 50 acres of the park, including 15 acres of the former Barney estate, were taken to construct the Springfield / Longmeadow sections of Interstate 91. Barney's house stood atop the hill at the northwest corner of the park, and the highway construction might have threatened its foundations. His stained glass windows were moved to a house in the Palmer area where the demolition contractor lived at the time. The mausoleum of Barney's son and a carriage house still survive from the estate, along with many remnants of an extensive arboretum and water gardens planted by Barney around 1900. The developer of the Forest Park neighborhood continued this theme by planting many interesting specimen trees especially on Magnolia Terrace. This historic neighborhood with many fine examples of Victorian houses abuts the park on the north, while a small enclave of Springfield's stately brick colonial homes and the town of Longmeadow, Massachusetts borders the park to the south.