Stockton Park’s reconstruction effort
By Marc Laplante, President
Lawrence City Council
“This plot is situated at an important corner, at the intersection of Winthrop Avenue and Union Street, being the main thoroughfare to Andover, and should be kept attractive.” – 1900 Lawrence Parks Commission Report
Lawrence recently began the process of upgrading Stockton Park with a groundbreaking ceremony. The little park at the 5 Corners intersection – where there was a water fountain – finally is receiving attention. As the Parks Commission wrote over 120 years ago, this is a “main thoroughfare,’ or in today’s parlance, a “gateway.” In 1898, the Parks’ Commission envisioned that “this small park will be an attractive place, being located on one of the main avenues entering the City.” Unfortunately, the site has been an embarrassment for years.
During the recent groundbreaking ceremony, I quoted President John F. Kennedy who said after the Bay of Pigs invasion that “Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan.” Regarding the newly celebrated renovations at Stockton Park, my former colleague Roger Twomey was the first “father” of this successful endeavor. He began discussions with businessman Sal Lupoli to improve Stockton Park in 2009. Lupoli committed to adopting the park. However, the project never got off the ground because the City’s finances and schools were taken over by the state.
In 2016 Mayor Dan Rivera approved my request to place $330k in the city’s Capital Improvement Budget to renovate the park. It took until 2021 when acting Mayor Kendrys Vasquez began spending the money for the park’s renovation. This brings us to 2022 with Mayor Brian DePeña moving to complete the project within the next few months.
This is all very good news to residents and neighbors who longed desired the improvements. What is fascinating is the history of the park. The park’s origins have been misunderstood. As recently as 2016, the city’s website stated that Stockton Park was named after Cecile Stockton, who was killed in the Korean War. While he was from Lawrence, Cecile Stockton was a Korean War veteran from Lawrence…INDIANA! According to my research, the park was named for Howard Stockton, who was the Essex Company’s treasurer from 1880 to 1932.
The Essex Company’s history is important since it was created in 1845 to create and manage the waterpower that provided the industrial explosion in a new town that was to be named “Lawrence.” It was while Stockton was the company’s treasurer in April 1897 that the small triangle of South Lawrence land was transferred from the Essex Company to the City. I am unsure of the circumstances regarding the park’s naming, but Howard Stockton succeeded Charles Storrow as the Essex Company’s treasurer – the top company official.
It would seem that this transaction would only take place with Stockton’s approval. He was a heavy hitter in Lawrence. While he lived in Boston’s Beacon Hill and worked in the Essex Company’s State Street Boston office, this was not his only responsibility. He served on several boards and was an official with other businesses until his death at the age of 90. Oddly, his Essex Company position was not listed in his 1932 obituary. He may not have spent much time in Lawrence, but his company was critical in capturing the water that powered the mills along the canals.
Finally, I discovered that the water fountain was dedicated in 1969 to South Lawrence Vietnam Veterans. The fountain was in such disrepair that its demolition was inevitable. We now have a new opportunity to remember those residents who served and those who perished in that war. Our time with these veterans is fleeting. Do we have the energy and desire to make this opportunity a reality? Perhaps we can expand the new tribute to all Lawrence residents who served in Vietnam.
I am sure that Stockton Park will soon be beautiful. Let’s now make it more than that. Let’s make it a meaningful reminder of our city residents responding to our nation’s call in Vietnam.
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