Anyone who wants to know what community means only needs to take a trip to Days Park in Allentown. Largely because of the interest of neighborhood residents, this historic little gem is sparkling again.
At 1.5 acres, the city park is somewhere between tiny and tinier. It occupies a plot of land just west of Allen and College streets, a little oasis of beauty in a funky section of the city. It had gone downhill, but through the efforts of the Days Park Block Club, it has been restored. The club has won several awards for its work.
The park was a gift to the city by Thomas Day in 1859. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and served well until the Great Depression of the 1930s, when it and its neighborhood slid into disrepair.
It was nearly chopped up in the 1950s when the city, in violation of its deed, attempted to use half of it for a playground and parking lot. A descendant of Day sued the city, won the case and preserved the park. But it was still down at the heels. City Hall didn’t take care of this urban asset and, at the same time, Dutch elm disease was forcing removal of many mature trees.
The park’s revival began some 40 years ago thanks to the efforts of a college student living there. It continued with the formation of the block club, which had much work yet to do. Over time, though, new trees were planted – maples, London planetree and oaks – both in the park and along the sidewalk. A re-creation of the original working fountain was installed as were a wrought iron fence and Victorian lampposts.
For its efforts, the Days Park Block Club has been given several awards, most recently from the City Park Alliance, an independent, nationwide organization dedicated to urban parks. It designated Days Park as a “Frontline Park,” which is reserved for “inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship across the country.”
Previously, the park and club were honored with the City of Buffalo’s Civic Empowerment Award, Preservation Buffalo Niagara’s Stewardship Award and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s William Dorsheimer Community Award.
This is the kind of work that makes a community. It finds a way, sometimes in cooperation with government, sometimes in spite of it. Days Park may be a secret to many in Western New York, but those who know it or who stumble upon it will be taken with its charm, which, given the commitment of its supporters, we suspect will only continue to grow.inue to grow.