Friday, August 6, 2010

King Philip Park

The Lakeville Park Commission, first established in 1904, is unique in that it was created at an early time when many towns and cities, including those much larger in size like Middleborough, had yet to establish such bodies.

Lakeville’s initial Park Commission originated in a dispute over a parcel of land which would later become the first public park in Lakeville. Originally, the land in question (now the site of the former Lakeville Public Library at Bedford and Main Streets) had been given to the Town of Middleborough (when Lakeville was still part of that town) as a ¾ acre lot during the first half of the nineteenth century by owners Amos and Luther Washburn with the stipulation that it be utilized for the construction of a schoolhouse for what was then Middleborough school district 31. In the event that the property failed to be used for the prescribed purpose, the Washburn family or its heirs were entitled to repurchase the land for the sum of $54.

A schoolhouse was, in fact, built upon the lot and stood there for a number of years until 1883 when it was closed for lack of pupils. It was reputedly moved to Highland Road in 1885, later moved back to the Washburn lot and, finally in 1896 moved to Precinct.

Following 1896, the property remained vacant and was not used for the educational purpose its grantors had desired. Consequently, in 1900 Fred C. Hinds of Newton, a Washburn family relative and summer resident of Lakeville who resided in the home later known as the King Philip Tavern, paid Town Clerk Orrin Haskins $54 to redeem the lot under the terms of the original agreement.

The Board of Selectmen at the time, however, refused to forfeit title to the property and refused to acknowledge Hinds’ payment, while “strenuously” asserting the town’s claim to the property. Undoubtedly miffed, Hinds petitioned Selectmen for a special town meeting to consider the matter of ownership of the parcel, but the Selectmen ignored the petition. Hinds subsequently petitioned a justice of the peace at Middleborough for such a meeting and obtained a warrant for a special Lakeville town meeting to be held in Middleborough.

The Selectmen appear to have relented in the face of this embarrassing situation and on January 30, 1901, a special town meeting was held in the Lakeville Town House to consider the matter of turning the property over to Hinds’ wife, Emma. The tussle between Hinds and the Selectmen clearly piqued the interest of Lakeville voters for they attended the meeting in numbers “far in excess of the number who attended the annual town meeting.”

The purpose of the meeting was “to see if the town will authorize the selectmen for the consideration of $54, already paid to the selectmen, to execute to Emma R. Hines [sic] of Newton in the county of Middlesex, the schoolhouse lot.” What was described as “a lively debate” (assuredly an understatement) ensued. Selectman Nathaniel Staples won the approval of the assembly when he declared that upon the advice of counsel Lakeville would hold the land.

Town moderator Nelson took the floor and, “in vigorous terms, censured the town officials, and also addressed many sharp personals toward Mr. Hinds, who did not seem to notice his statements.” Following this chastisement, Nelson proceeded to announce that the town, in fact, proposed erecting a new schoolhouse on the lot sometime in the future.

While the meeting was a decidedly heated one, it was also unproductive and failed to act, postponing action by a unanimous vote of 46-0.

The matter, in fact, continued to drag on, with both Hinds and the Town of Lakeville claiming title to the property. Ultimately, supporters of Lakeville’s claim argued in favor of securing the town’s title by acting upon the first fourteen sections of Chapter 28 of Massachusetts revised laws which permitted communities to establish park commissions and take land for the purpose of establishing public parks. The proposal was well supported within town and elicited much discussion throughout the region, largely due to the small population of the community. “The probable establishment of a park commission in this town, one of the smallest in Plymouth county, is causing much comment.”

The matter was brought before the Lakeville Town meeting of March 7, 1904, and not surprisingly was approved. James P. Peirce, Sidney T. Nelson and Fred A. Shaw were named as Lakeville’s first park commissioners and $100 appropriated for improvement of the property which was to be known as King Philip Park.

The Hinds, for their part, continued to maintain that they owned the property and the matter was only finally resolved in 1912 when Hinds signed over his rights to the property to the Town, thereby confirming the town’s ownership and laying to rest the dispute which resulted in the creation of Lakeville’s first Park Commission. In 1914, the former Lakeville Public Library was constructed upon the site.

Former Lakeville Public Library, 241 Main Street, Lakeville, MA, photograph Vision Appraisal Technology
What is now the former public library in Lakeville was constructed in 1914 upon the site of King Philip Park, Lakeville's first public park. The establishment of the park led to the organization of the Lakeville Park Commission, one of the earliest park commissions in Plymouth County.

King Philip, engraving from Samuel Gardner Drake, History and Antiquities of Boston (1856).
Lakeville's first park was named for the Wampanoag sachem as were a number of other physical sites and establishments in Lakeville including King Philip's Lookout and the King Philip Tavern.


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