For more than 200 years, scores of immigrants have arrived to make Utica home, joining our longstanding communities of those who arrived before them for the same reason — to build better lives for them and their families.
Back in the 1890s, Thomas R. Proctor began to speak publicly about the need for Utica to build parks and tree-lined boulevards. He wasn’t as concerned about the people who belonged to country clubs and could afford to take their carriages or automobiles to the countryside; he cared about the workers who traveled miles by streetcar to take their families to an outdoor space on the weekends if they could even afford that. Most simply couldn’t.
What the people of Utica really needed was access to parks within walking distance of their homes.
The Proctor family wanted everyone in Utica — regardless of stature — to have a place to enjoy clean air and engage with nature. They also wanted Utica’s park system modeled after Central Park so Utica could embody gracious, progressive urban living.
Up until this time, Utica had only three public parks that totaled less than five acres. In 1897, Maria and Rachel Proctor built a fourth park, Watson Williams, on James Street, which covered almost seven acres.
But it wasn’t until Thomas R. Proctor was moved to create a space for the largely immigrant population of Utica that nearly 600 acres of Olmsted-designed parks were born. It took years of hard work, dedication, and resilience, but Utica’s parks are a glorious example of what our community is capable of building together.
Today, our parks are still enjoyed by Utica’s immigrant population, first and second-generation families who gather in the parks for picnics, sports, play, and relaxation.
The Proctor family had this vision well over a century ago, and those core values still ring true today. By having green and clean spaces readily accessible, the potential health and wellness benefits to us as individuals, families, and communities are immeasurable.