By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum website (www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu), Jan. 30, 1882, dawned cold and white at the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park, New York. By 8 p.m. that night, Sara Delano Roosevelt had been in labor for more than 24 hours.
Forty-five minutes later, she delivered a 10-pound boy who was blue and not moving. The doctor blew air into his lungs, and the newborn began to cry.
Fifty-four years later as president of the United States, FDR stood here in Niagara Falls to dedicate what was originally known as Hyde Park Stadium, a Works Progress Administration project which now includes a beautiful golf course, bocce lawn bowling, tennis courts, Sal Maglie Stadium, trout stocked Hyde Park Lake, awesome picnic pavilions, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a newly remodeled Ice Pavilion and a peaceful Rose Garden.
The athletic field at Hyde Park that FDR came here to Niagara Falls to dedicate nearly 80 years ago, would eventually become the largest city park in New York state outside of Manhattan’s Central Park.
Ironically, the name has no clear connection to the name of the famous Roosevelt family home, Hyde Park; rather, it was a gift from Charles B. Hyde, owner of a paper company, one of several that once dotted the landscape as a by-product of cheap and plentiful power and a skilled labor force in Niagara Falls that started the ball rolling.
Reportedly, when he sold the paper company and retired, he purchased a large tract of land on what was then the outskirts of the city. He willed the property to the city which took ownership after he died in 1921, laying the groundwork for the eventual development of the park.
In 1928, the Niagara Falls Power Company pitched in donating 58 acres, then stepped up to the plate again in 1943, tossing in another sizeable slice of valuable real estate.
As he said in his brief remarks, “I take great pleasure in coming to this dedication of this stadium today. There are many reasons why we ought to be proud of what we have been doing. This stadium, like many others in the country, represents a twofold effort. The first is to give work to people who need work, and the other is to build physical improvements for the future.”
His opening comments at the dedication reflect his visionary perception of America and Niagara Falls, New York which, as he had witnessed four years earlier during the height of the Depression, was clearly suffering the hallmarks of the economic crash that had impaled the world.
Yet, more than the less than prosperous circumstances that he saw here and across the United States in 1932, he also saw the extraordinary potential here and in the rest of the country, and he was willing to invest in it, putting hundreds to work immediately, and thousands more since as the economic impact and societal value of Hyde Park is now worth millions to this and subsequent generations.
But Hyde Park is not all that FDR helped to develop in Niagara Falls according to some local seniors, his programs helped build some of the trails along our Niagara gorge extending all the way out to Devils Hole.
FDR’s New Deal delivered real reform and actual jobs, launching an unprecedented $5 billion spending spree designed to perk up the people’s spirits as well as their purchasing power.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) signed into law on March 31, 1933, put at least 250,000 young men between the ages of 17 and 25 to work on a national reforestation program.
By the time the program ended more than two million men including 250,000 veterans had been put to work planting more than “two billion trees, stocked millions of waterways with fish, and built 52,000 public campgrounds and 123,000 miles of roads.
After more than a few bumps in the road, and in spite of considerable resistance from some on the other side of the political aisle, things began to improve, and, as they say, “the rest is history.”
But might President Roosevelt’s 1936 remarks at the dedication of Hyde Park’s Athletic Field also be prologue to the future?
Is there a new, improved WPA in the works, might there be another Presidential dedication in Niagara’s future?
Let’s hope so!
Happy Birthday, FDR
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