Saturday, August 31, 2013

Boston Park—the people’s park

Clara Zelinski looked over her father’s shoulder one day, and saw men working in the triangle of land between Riverview Road and its cutoff to Boston Mills Road.  “What are they doing?” she asked him. “Building a little park.”

It was the mid 1930’s; Claire, as she was called, was in high school. It was also the depression, although she did not know that. In the store they continued to write receipts for the flour and coal families purchased.  The receipts went into cubby holes above, one for each family.  “They’ll pay when they can,” her father said.[1]

There is a dusty piece of land across the railroad track from Zelinski’s Store in the 1905 aerial view of the Cleveland Akron Bag Company, the covered bridge and the Boston Store.  The county improvements to the intersection in 1928 defined the area as a triangle.

Boston, 1905
Zelinsi's store is the white building, right of the covered bridge
In 1905 it was The Boston Store

In the depression era of the thirties, in 1935, the alignment of Riverview Road, with the triangle at the Boston Mills intersection, was formalized.  The projects of the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC), Public Works Administration (PWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) performed much needed improvements to Riverview.[2]

When the CCA was through working, Claire said, there was a water pipe and spigot in the park, for community use, “although we didn’t get our water from there.” In Boston and the surrounding area many families relied on a public water source for drinking and cooking.[3]

There is a spring on Boston Mills Road, a short distance from the intersection of Riverview and Boston Mills, which had a public watering trough along the road on property once owned by the bag company, as well as a spring house for public use. Many locals tell how the spring house was used as a drop off and pick up location for moonshine.

Mr. Zelinski told his daughter there would be a public spigot in the little park. Apparently a pipe was laid from the spring, under Riverview Road and into the park.  Roads were dirt, paved with crushed limestone; trenching across the road from the spring to the triangle would have been a day’s job.[4] Perhaps the pipe was laid during the County’s 1935 road improvement project.

I believe the folk art stone “well”, now a planter in the northwest corner of the park, was built to protect the pipe and the spigot, probably in the 1930’s, when the “little park” came into being.  It is possible the sidewalks leading to the spigot from north, east and west were laid at the same time.

The sidewalks are sandstone, cut and fitted like a jigsaw puzzle.  They would have stopped the grounds around the spigot from becoming overly muddy.  Where did the sandstone come from?  That remains a mystery, but it has been suggested it was scrap, perhaps from the Slippery Run Quarry scrap piles, trimmed out to make the sidewalks.

No one knows when the public spigot was removed, but there is no knowledge of it by the early 1950’s.  Several landslides onto Boston Mills Road apparently destroyed the springhouse and contaminated the spring.

The stone housing remained, and is visible in a photo of a beam used to build the Ohio Turnpike being transported down Riverview Road to the construction site, in the early 1950’s.  Look under the beam and the stone housing is there at the edge of the park.

Turnpike Infrastructure, early 1950's
Boston transformed itself several times in its history. The boom town of the canal days faded, Boston became a quiet little suburb in a beautiful valley; a rural crossroads with only a few stores, and industries.[5] The Beacon Magazine interview with Kitty Stanford described Boston’s residents as young and friendly.  “They back community projects—like the church—and always help each other in time of trouble.”

Progressive loss of the major employers in Boston notwithstanding, the community remained and the little park had visitors.  A swing behind the park was used by children of the little houses around the crossroads.

The little park that could had no official ownership, except community ownership. The park in the triangle was a patch of grass over county road right of way.  There was no deed, there was no parcel number.  Who mowed the grass?  Citizens.

In the fifties and sixties the grass was generally mowed by the Zorena men, driving the Wheel Horse between Grandpa Zorena’s farm to Mike Junior's home.  The youngest  Mike often was in trouble with his dad for nicking the blades on the sandstone sidewalk.[6]

The park became more “official” in 1971, when a flag pole was placed “in the little park in Boston;… a memorial to the late Lester Dickinson, a World War II veteran, who operated Dickinson’s Place at River and Boston Mills Road for thirty five years.”[7] The 112th Engineers Battalion and many volunteers set the pole and donated American and Ohio flags.

Boston Park, though, remained a park that belonged to no one.  In the eighties and nineties it was maintained sometimes by the Boston Cemetery, sometimes by Boston Township.  It was the gathering and stepping off point for the annual Memorial Day ceremonies honoring Boston’s veterans.  The stone pipe housing became a planter maintained by residents, the cedars planted in the forties were tall guardians of the park.

Suddenly, in the 90’s, the residents of Boston learned their park would be swept away. Dynamic forces bore down from three sides. The National Park wanted Riverview’s curves eliminated to enable their vision of a 45 m.p.h. scenic byway; the ski resort wanted more parking, and the County Engineer was happy to find funding to straighten the road.

John and Bonnie Johnston, assuming the title Life-long residents,[8] undertook a campaign to make powers that be understand Boston’s residents did not intend to let their history sink under asphalt.  Petitions were submitted, public hearings held.  The National Park and the ski resort offered to relocate the park as a wayside, with benches and interpretive signs.

The people were not pleased.

The National Park and the County Engineer formulated a design that would relocate the road leaving the north and west sides of the park intact, saving the cedars, the walks, the planter, the flags.

The ski resort was not pleased; if the park could be relocated, parking for the ski resort would be gained.

The citizens of Boston and their elected officials continued to petition their government, attend public meetings, demonstrate their park was Boston.

The people prevailed.

Today the park is a grassy rectangle.  In the northwest corner towering cedars surround the stone planter, the sandstone walks have been reset.  The Memorial Day parade still steps off to the Boston Cemetery.  The little park that could still has no credentials; no title of ownership, but the quiet grassy plot covering road right away remains as the heart of Boston.

 Joanne Noragon
 Boston Township Fiscal Officer                                                                                           
 August 31, 2013                                                                               

The red building in the lower left was Zelinski's store

[1] Conversation with Claire Zelinski Muldowney, August 23, 2013
[2] Riverview Road, a Scenic Byway, prepared by GPD Associates, April, 1991, for the Summit and Cuyahoga County Engineers
[3] Conversation with Jerry Ritch, Boston Township resident, August 23, 2013
[4] Conversation with Joe Paradise, Summit County Engineer’s Office, August 26, 2013
[5] Quoted from My Town: Boston, The Beacon Magazine, November 20, 1955.
[6] Conversations with Amy Zorena Anderson over the course of this park research.
[7] Fran Murphy, in the Akron Beacon Journal, May 21, 1971.
[8] John F. and Bonnie Johnston letters and petitions commencing May, 1996


  1. The Boston Park is threatened again. The Park's current plan will use the park as the off loading point for hundreds of people on each train. I see no hope for the walks or the planter.

    Does anyone know of the probably depression era folk art form that yielded that stone planter? None of my research has yielded a clue.


    1. The planter, which I believe you said was the collection basin for the spring, looks a lot like one that was in a provincial park located in my home village (Nova Scotia, Canada). I do not, however, know who made it or when. It had a running water spigot so you could collect clean water to cook or drink; the water fell from the spigot into the waist high basin. It was removed years ago - I don't know why, but it was probably not working and too expensive to fix, and/or no longer considered sanitary enough for park users. But when I was a child we used to picnic there and one of the attractions was to get a drink from it.

  2. THis kind of history is more fun than the stuff in School Books. I hope you (the town) can find a way to preserve at least some of that little park and all it's history.

  3. Hari OM
    TREMENDOUS!!! Fabulous work Joanne. Real and tangible history. So sorry to hear there is again a fight to be had. May preservation prevail. YAM xx

  4. Well done , the citizens of Boston. The little park is worth fighting for, don't let them beat you.

  5. A wonderful story of perseverance and determination in the face of government and business. It is a beautiful little park with a lot of significance not only for its surrounding neighbourhood but the entire city.

  6. Another lovely story that I've enjoyed reading. Thank you Joanne.

  7. This is a wonderful, wonderful story. Thank you so much. And I am echoing everyone else, and hope that good sense (and taste) prevail and the park can be saved. Again.

  8. Yay for the people who cared enough to keep the park.

  9. Joanne always has a cause...God bless her.

  10. Even 80 years ago, people had a vision what they hoped would be, and held their ground. I wish they could see it now.

  11. Well worth the fight and research Joanne. Wonderful history. Save the little park.

  12. Wow... Boston looked like that a century ago? (not that I I have seen the latest Boston, but I like to look at old pictures)

  13. Wonderful story, and wonderfully told, Joanne - you have a gift for making history interesting, and I'm glad you use it.

  14. This is such an interesting part of Boston's history, Joanne. Thank you for enriching us with it.

  15. You should try to get this published in all the regional papers--it would make a great human interest story, and perhaps help in its preservation

  16. I do so hope the Park can be saved again, having hundreds of people tromping all over it will ruin it forever.
    At least you've documented the history of it and with pictures too. So it will be remembered. But I hope the people who want to use it for drop offs have a change of heart and mind.