Corner of Purchase and Lime Streets, Newburyport (detail), ca. 1840–1987, The Snow Collection, courtesy of the Museum of Old Newbury.
Playgrounds were controversial in the early 1900s. One of the biggest concerns against playgrounds appeared to be that if there were large gatherings of young people, crime would be the result. The people of Newburyport seemed to want playgrounds in the city, but not just near where they lived, because they would have a detrimental effect on their neighborhoods.
“Throughout the 1800s children in cities played in the streets or any abandoned lot they could find. However, parents wanted what they believed to be a safer and healthier environment for their children to play. Along with this, reformers believed that these mostly immigrant and poor children were in need of saving, both physically and morally.
Public Playgrounds in East Orange, New Jersey, 1908, Wikipedia
Beginning in 1885 with a small sand garden, these efforts led to the establishment of playgrounds and play advocacy groups across the country. In Boston, the playground movement grew so popular as to necessitate encouragement and financial support by local governments with the passing of the 1908 Playground Act, mandating that a referendum be held in any city in Massachusetts with more than 10,000 residents to decide if a playground system would be established, and one additional for every 20,000 population.”*
Corner of Purchase and Lime Streets, Newburyport (detail), ca. 1840–1987, The Snow Collection, courtesy of the Museum of Old Newbury
High and Olive Streets, Newburyport (detail), ca. 1840–1987, The Snow Collection, courtesy of the Museum of Old Newbury
“In Boston, the first playground structures were sand piles inspired by the visit of Dr. Marie Zakerzewska, a Boston physician, to Berlin in 1895. These were soon followed by swings, slides, and climbing structures. By the early 1900s, the increasing popularity of baseball, and later football provided stimulus for playing fields.”**
However, playgrounds were controversial in the early 1900s. Looking through the old Newburyport newspapers there were editorials and articles for and against playgrounds. One of the biggest concerns against playgrounds appeared to be that if there were large gatherings of young people, crime would be the result. The people of Newburyport seemed to want playgrounds in the city, but not just near where they lived.
N.Y. Playground, Bain News Service, publisher, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915, the Library of Congress
Rawson Road playground, Warren S. Parker photographer, July 12, 1919, the Thomas Crane Public Library
Marge Motes, one of Newburyport’s wonderful historians, has done a lot of research on Newburyport playgrounds. “The Newburyport Public Playground Committee report of May 1912 addressed the new Massachusetts Act requiring public playgrounds in cities with populations over 10,000. Two small playgrounds were planned, one in the North end and one in the South End. The North End location was at Cushing Park on Kent Street, and after much arbitration, the Johnson School, at the corner of Madison and Hancock Streets was decided upon for the South End playground. Trained supervision were needed for each playground. The playgrounds were open each day, except Saturday and Sunday through the months of July and August between 10 and 12 and 2 to 5 p.m. The age limit was 12 years.”***
Students at the Johnson School, the corner of Hancock Street and Madison Streets, Newburyport, 1903-1904, The Snow Collection, courtesy of the Museum of Old Newbury
The Johnson School at the corner of Madison and Hancock Street, Sanborn Fire Map 1906, the Library of Congress
The reason that there was “trained supervision” and the playgrounds had such limited hours, an age limit of 12 years, and were only open during July and August, was that people were really nervous about playgrounds and the detrimental effect that they would have on local neighborhoods. It didn’t seem to matter that children of all ages were going to congregate with or without playgrounds, play in the streets and hang around local establishments, often grocer stores. We have photographs of children doing just that.
“The South End Playground was moved to city land at the foot of Lime and Water Streets, next to Perkins Lumber yard; the North End Playground was moved to city land near the foot of Merrill Street on Merrimac Street, both being nearer the river front.”*** And, from what I can make out, the reason they were near the river, was that they were away from most of the residential neighborhoods, especially the wealthy ones.
There are no photographs that I know of early playgrounds in Newburyport, so I have included some from other locations. There are a few photographs however of children congregating together and one playing in the middle of High Street, courtesy of the Museum of Old Newbury.
The Playground Act of 1908 – Playgrounds were Controversial , Newburyport Interactive History Map
~ History compiled by Mary Baker Eaton
Footnotes and References:
* “The Right to Play” The establishment of playgrounds in the American City, by Kyle James Fritch
** History of Newton Parks, Playgrounds & Recreation: Part 2. The Back Story
*** Parks and Playgrounds in Newburyport, by Marge Motes, 2007
Newburyport Historic Newspapers, the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center