The History of Northfield's Way Park (Part One)

Way Park

The Northfield City council recently rejected a proposal to designate Way Park (located on Northfield's west side) a Heritage Preservation site.  The Council was apparently concerned about the precedent it might set to approve the request, especially given the city's limited budget.  I thought it might be interesting to find out more about the people behind the push to designate the park.

As it turns out, the research and application process was undertaken almost entirely by one individual, David Sudermann.  Sudermann, who said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the Council's decision, has lots to say about the history of Way Park, his reasons for getting involved in the push to designate it, and the reasons he thinks the park's designation remains important. 

For Sudermann, the park and its history have deep personal meaning.  He and his family have lived next to the park for years, and both of his daughters were born in the hospital which used to stand on the park's south end.  As children, he said, his daughters played in the park "almost every day."  Sudermann didn't become actively involved in researching and advocating for the park until the razing of the old hospital in 2003, at which point city officials were openly contemplating building condos on the park.  This plan has since been abandoned in favor of restoration and preservation efforts, but Sudermann still feels that getting the park designated as a historic site is important.  He completed, he says, over 250 hours of research on the park's history in preparation for nominating it.  Not surprisingly, Sudermann has a lot to say about the park's past. 

Here are the broad outlines of Way Park's history, as highlighted by Sudermann (more details to come):

From 1855 to 1933 the land was part of an open pasture, which was purchased in 1882 by John S. Way, one of Northfield’s first settlers, who had apparently made his fortune in the 1849 California gold rush.  The land was used informally for early Northfielders as a spot for outdoor activities like sledding, skating, and kite flying.  In 1933, the land was officially made a park, which was developed by the landscaping firm Morell and Nichols, who eventually put in a reflecting pool on the north half of the park and an ornamental sunken garden on the south end.  In 1939 the new Northfield Hospital was erected on the south end of the park, where it served the community until its demolition in 2003.  The north end of the park continues to be used by the community for outdoor recreation, as it has since the early 1930s.