Part 2 in a series
By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY — In the early 1970s, the Conservation Commission acquired 7 acres of land on Fredonian Street from McElroy Electronics Co., along with plans to restore the former pond site, according to a 1978 “Guide to Fredonian Park Nature Trail” by Kathy Lewin.
In 1975, the plans were updated and redesigned by Shery Berg of the Mass Audubon Society, partly funded by a Ford Foundation Grant.
A year later, the Conservation Commission, which had a hefty roster of members then, got a $21,000 HUD grant to buy materials and start construction for the park’s makeover.
Working from federal soil conservation specs, Charles A. Perkins Co. designed the dike and pond and a wetlands permit was obtained to clear brush and trees. The permit was renewed in 1977, when the Army Corps of Engineers started work. They dug out the pond and constructed the dike.
According to Lewin’s guide, the only town-funded part of the project to date was a sum of money appropriated at Town Meeting to pay for the Army’s heavy equipment fuel and “rations,” described as on-sitemeals from a nearby coffee shop.
A gravel permit and a $1,000 bond held by selectmen allowed the project to proceed with a grant from Middlesex Conservation District to build bridges, a boardwalk and trail steps, none of which seem to be in place today.
With donated fencing material, town volunteers built a chainlink fence around the area, which featured “extensive landscaping” with seeding, woodchips and plantings such as juniper, trees and shrubs. A beach was created. Picnic tables were built and donated.
The VFW donated and dedicated a memorial stone and flagpole and log benches and picnic tables were placed around the park.
Described in the event program, the park dedication in September 1979 was a grand occasion, with a band concert by the 8th Army Band of New England, an invocation by the pastor of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church and a benediction by the pastor of the United Church of Shirley and several speakers, with past Conservation Commission chairman Harriet Lyon as emcee.
The 1979 commission roster reads like a who’s who of town notables, including Shirley L. Griffin, Ernest Michaud, Hermann Field, Harley Holden, Gordon Chase, Roger Cournoyer, Sophie and Stanley Jurga and Ralph Lambert, among others.
A list of “new members” also included familiar names: Jane McQuillen, Frank Esielionis, John Farnsworth and Stanley Whiting Jr.
An entire page in the booklet was devoted to thanking donors and volunteers, about 100 in all, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with each name listed.
It took a lot of people a lot of work to turn a dream into reality, but despite all the hope and hoopla, the new and improved Fredonian Park seems to have been underused and perhaps underappreciated by townspeople, who did not flock in droves to swim and picnic there.
What happened? Why does the park, with its still-lovely natural surroundings, seem to have become somewhat neglected and the pond all but forgotten behind its thick tangle of brush, its surface coated with green growth.
Asked recently what happened to all the improvements hailed at the dedication 35 years ago and why the green oasis on Fredonian Street didn’t become a recreational hub, Frank Esielionis shrugged noncommittally. People just didn’t use it, he said.
Although the Conservation Commission he served on at the time spearheaded its restoration, he didn’t recall any group or committee taking over maintenance, Esielionis said.
But when it was dedicated, the new and improved park promised a future as bright as its colorful past. In a July 1977, article in The Public Spirit newspaper, Harriet Lyon traced the genesis of the restoration project and the history of Fredonian Park.
Next: Deep Roots, Storied Past.