By Dan Shine
The Settling of Kelsey Hill
See Part 1
In 1959, The Boy lived on Kelsey Avenue: On summer nights, he was allowed to ride his bicycle up to Painter Park each night after dinner, “Just as long as you’re back home before dark.” This newfound freedom was exhilarating for the seven-year-old, and unthinkable for any parent or child of today’s era.
Once he arrived at the park, The Boy would stop and watch part of the baseball games that seemed to be taking place there every night. To The Boy’s inexperienced eyes, it was clear that this “Twilight League” was a far cry from Little League games that he had seen—these were men, not boys—and for sure they knew exactly what they were doing. The boy watched, fascinated. As dusk approached, he pedaled past the park’s tennis courts and headed for home.
But how did Painter Park come about and from where? And how was it developed? Well, it’s like this…
The first Board of Park Commissioners for the Borough of West Haven was created by the borough’s Board of Selectmen on Aug. 1, 1919. The first members were Edward Gagel, President, Dr. Charles Phelps, Secretary, and Charles Treat, Vice President.
The board’s main function during its early years was the acquisition and development of property to be used for park and recreation purposes.
The first properties acquired were, Painter Park (1921), Ray Park (1921), Shingle Hill Park, (1919), Barney Hill Park (1928), Allingtown Park (1921), Dawson Avenue Park (aka Abbott Park), Beach Bluff Park (1920), Morse Park (1921), Chamber of Commerce Park (1929), Commerce Park, Bassett and Graham Properties, Huggan Field (1927), North End Park (1925). In addition, West Haven Green was given to the community by First Church in 1875.
Perhaps the most significant property acquisition was that of Painter Park, which was donated by:
Descendants of the Graham family-~Frank L. Nason and Stanley L. Nason,
And the great-grandsons of noted Revolutionary figure Thomas Painter- ~Henry M. Painter and Robert K. Painter.
As the legal paperwork stated, “For the uses and purpose of a public park to be known as ‘Painter Park’ forever. All that certain piece or parcel of land at Painter’s Rocks so called, and containing thirty-three and one-half acres, more or less.”
In its first year a clear vision for the park was emerging: To quote a Parks and Recreation Annual Report, “several acres of Painter Park had already been cleared and with a moderate amount of grading will furnish an excellent field for the various athletic sports the remainder is capable of development into one of the most attractive forest parks around.” Field #1 (the baseball field) was completed in 1923; Fields 2 and 3 followed shortly thereafter.
By 1925, Painter Park had driveways, bleachers, benches and playground equipment installed and ready for use. By that time, the fledgling Town of West Haven, no longer a Borough of Orange, had appointed Herbert Scranton as Superintendent of Parks, responsible for upkeep of all West Haven parks. He would continue in that capacity until 1932 when he would be succeeded by Harry Noyes, who would continue until 1954. In 1928, tennis courts became the newest available facility to be offered by the town through Painter Park.
Over the years, the majority of West Haven residents have benefitted in one way or another from the existence of this fine park, through a multitude of gatherings and sporting events of all types. To those who donated the land, the time and the talents to make the vision a reality, we say Well Done!
Ed Note: We thank Cathie Iaccarino, Peter Malia James Holt and Mark Paine, without whose capable and most willing assistance, this story would not have been possible.