Origins of Open Space in Albion
Blocks in the original “Plat of the Village of Albion” were layed out in a grid of rectangles with 10-12 lots in each rectangle. Eighty-seven blocks were designated for sale and construction of businesses and private homes. Only three blocks were designated for open space.
Washington Square was created by taking 6 lots from the south of Block 8 and 6 lots from the north of block 11. Finally, the grid was broken by closing Chestnut St, to form a block from the south side of Block 8, north side of Block 11 and the space reserved for the street. This space was renamed Crowell Park to honor one of Albion’s most early and active pioneers.
Similar arrangements were made on the east side of the village with 5 lots from the south of Block 44, five lots from the north of block 56, and by closing Center St. By 1900 this later formed the western most end of the quadrangle for Albion College, covering an area of three blocks.
The final open space reserved from the village plat was located several blocks south of Washington Square and a few blocks south of the city center between Ash, Superior, Walnut, and Clinton. This space was titled “Reserved”. Apparently the title didn’t stick because homes were later built on this site.
Little remains of these three early parks. Some postcards from the early 20th century show how Washington Square/Crowell Park were extensively landscape. Perhaps this is a reflection of the interest that city leaders took in Jesse Crowell. When his Stone Mill was converted to use as a bank in 1916/17 the corner stone was moved to the park where it can still be seen today.
Growth of Open Space in Albion
The grid provided possibly the most efficient way to develop and sell property. So efficient in fact that by 1900, despite continued growth in the city, that relatively little space had been reserved for parks or open space. Commerce, industry, and Albion College filled the city with stores, factories, and educational buildings. Of the three original open spaces, only one remained – Crowell Park.
A major addition of open space occurred when Victory Park opened in 1919 to honor WWI veterans. The land originally was owned by William H. Brockway and was purchased by the city from his son-in-law, Dr. Samuel Dickie, then 7th president of Albion College.
Victory Park remained relatively undeveloped for many years, until federal “make-work” programs during the Great Depression matched unemployed workers with development projects throughout the country. Projects in Albion included construction of the City Hall, repaving Superior Street with bricks, construction of a river wall, and construction of a band shell in Victory Park.
Emergence of Parks for Recreation
Modifications to Victory Park indicated the changing role of open space in Albion. At one time an open plat of land was sufficient for picnics, socializing, and quiet recreation.
In the 20th century, especially after WWII, citizens began to demand playgrounds and athletic fields. This required more resources for planning and maintenance. During times of prosperity these are services that business and government willingly provided. During times of scarcity, however, the city’s extensive park system became an unbearable burden.
Safety inspectors from the State of Michigan declared every piece of playground equipment in Albion unsafe in 1999. A local mother responded to this report by asking the Albion Community Foundation to assist her in raising funds to build a new playground for kids. From this emerged the Victory for Kids that rose funds, did considerable organization and planning, and in September 2003 brought 1480 people together to build a new playground in Victory Park. Even more significant than the structure was the amount of civic pride that construction of the playground generated during challenging economic times.
Parks in Albion Today
Today Albion has more park space per capita than any city in Michigan. This is about to be further enhanced by a canoe launch in the marketplace and a river trail. Together these are powerful tools to attract outside interest and investment to Albion, in addition to other attractions including the historic downtown, national leaders in education including Starr Commonwealth and Albion College, and a remarkably diverse population.
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