St. Paul’s Original Public Park…

© Jerry F. Couch 2019

ORGANIZED IN 1915, one of the Womans Club of St. Paul’s initial goals was to create a public park for the enjoyment of St. Paul residents.  The spot the ladies chose was owned by the N & W Railway and located near the St. Paul Union Depot (occupied by Home Town Hardware in 2019).

Initial efforts by Womans Club members to persuade railway officials to make the land available were ignored.  The ladies weren’t easily brushed off and they didn’t give up.  Finally, the park became a reality in 1921.  It was, however, a “grace and favor” arrangement.  The N & W Railway continued to hold title to the property.

Club members spent $40 from their meager treasury to purchase park benches.  They also propagated and transplanted shrubs and trees from their gardens to beautify the grounds.  As the town grew, the park became increasingly significant.  For example, when the St. Paul Apartments was built on the corner of Russell Street and Fourth Avenue in the early 1920’s, the park provided a grassy area where residents could escape summer’s heat.  It was also a gathering place on Saturdays when people from the surrounding area came to St. Paul to do their shopping.

Fourth Ave. 1920s Chub Bolton postcard
The town park is shown in the foreground of  this well-known postcard view of St. Paul from the mid-twenties.  The park was fenced to prevent it from becoming a shortcut to the depot.  Shrubs and trees planted by members of the Womans Club were off to a good start.  The brick building on the left was owned by Dickenson-McNeer.  At the time of this photo, it housed Bolton Brothers, which was a grocery store.  Professional offices were located on the seconf floor of the building, which was demolished in 1967.  The St. Paul Apartments is at the middle of the photo and the St. Paul National Bank is on the right.

In 1957, Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores contracted a long-term lease agreement with Norfolk & Western for the park site.  A new grocery store building was erected and opened for business in early 1958.  The town’s park ceased to be.

N & W to Piggly Wiggly A Ronnie & Helen Gordon
N&W plat showing boundaries of the area to be leased to Kennedy’s Piggly Wiggly Stores.

Many years would pass before the town would have another park, but it was worth the wait.  Today, the A. R. Matthews Park is source of pride for the St. Paul community.

Here are some additional pictures of the original park and those who enjoyed it during its heyday.

St. Paul Park ca 1930 2
This happy group was enjoying an outing in the park in the late 1920’s.  Notice the buildings on Russell Street in the background.  Only one survives – the Fraley Building.
1933 student 8
May Day was a popular annual event at St. Paul High School.  In 1933 the weather cooperated and the celebration, complete with the Maypole we see here, was held in the town park.  In the background we see the wooden store building that once occupied the front portion of the present-day Hillman House lot.
MomEdithTangoPark & Bingo the dog
Emma Peak, Edith —-, Tango Cheek, and Bingo the dog playing in the park, ca. 1940.
Pauline Puckett 1942
Fashionably-dressed Pauline Puckett in the park – 1942.
Pauline Molinary & Friend Shirley Stanton St. Paul Park 1943
Life-long friends, Pauline Molinary and Shirley Stanton sledding in the park, 1943.

 

Lillian & friends - park
Sisters Lillian Austin (left) and Mary Austin (right) enjoying the park with friends – 1940’s.
Mescal Stanton & Sam St Paul Park 1944
Mescal Stanton and Sam Molinary, 1943.  The pony is unidentified.  The “Railroad House” (present-day St. Paul Railroad Museum, is in the background).
Domer, Frank, Jim Cooper, Sam, Cathy & Terry Siler st paul park ca.1946
In this 1946 photo, Jimmy Cooper, Frank Molinary, Domer Molinary, Sam Molinary, Terry Siler, and Cathy Siler pose with an artillery piece in the park.  At one time, this gun was located in front of the St. Paul School.
Jim & Connie Dorton 1949
Jim Dorton and Connie Dorton playing in the park, 1949.  The recently-completed bus terminal is in the background.  At its left is a shoe repair shop and on the right is a pool hall.  Notice the covered way that facilitated the loading and unloading of bus passengers.  Later, this portion of the building was remodeled for use as the local office of Old Dominion Power Co.
carlFDorothyF
Carl Flanary and Dorothy Flanary (Wise) socializing in the park in the 1940’s.  The St. Paul Union Depot can be seen in the background.
TownPolicemansWifeGloPark
Little Gloria Meade and an unidentified woman enjoy the park in this ca. 1950 photo.  Gloria and her parents lived in the Lays Hardware apartments at that time.

THANK YOU to all the “friends of history” who have allowed photos from their family albums to become part of the St. Paul Heritage Collection.  Your support and generosity makes these local history articles possible.

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