From the Historian: The park on Main Street

Anita Mance
Spring in Edmund Lyon Park.

Edmund Lyon Park is an open expanse planned as a park for families in a planned community. It is 7 acres of land in the middle of our town/village, land donated by mechanical engineer/philanthropist Kate Gleason.

When the village of Despatch (renamed East Rochester in 1906) was founded in 1897, it was created as a planned community for families and workers of the Despatch Transportation Company of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroads. Acres of farmland were purchased to create an industrial suburb. Part of the land was reserved for parks — the first park being Vanderbilt Park in the middle of the village. The heavily forested, swampy area was purchased by Kate Gleason. Kate brought in workers from her father’s Rochester company, Gleason Works, to excavate and clear out the space. Shrubs and flowers were planted. In the summer of 1916, the park was formally dedicated and named for Edmund Lyon, a businessman who had been an integral part of the creation of East Rochester. At the top of the hill on the corner of Ivy and Main streets, on the highest elevation of the village, a steel flagpole was erected — a place of honor for all to see.

Soon, a bandstand was erected and remained standing until 1988 when a new sturdier one was built in its place. In 2012, it was named in honor of Nick Verzella in acknowledgment of his contributions as an educator, veteran and the main speaker for Memorial and Veterans Day ceremonies.

In 1930, the first of our war memorials was dedicated in honor of those who served in World War I. The granite tablet and cannon were placed at the top of the hill. Since then, several monuments have been added to the Station of Heroes in the park — a World War II monument dedicated in 1949; a cross for casualties in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam; an inscribed rock for those who served in Korea and Vietnam; and, in 1919, an eagle monument in recognition and appreciation for all who have served since 1975.

For many years, a road separated the park into two sections. When the park was refurbished and new drainage installed, the road was removed.

The park has served as a place for children to play with a variety of playground equipment over the years. During the 1940s to ‘60s, summer recreation programs were held (also in Concrest and Northside parks). Arts and crafts were a part of the program with children making potholders, painting plaster plaques and making things of leather and boondoggle. Weekly hat, pet and doll shows were also held. 

At one time, tennis courts were available, as well as bocce ball courts. In 1962, a spray pool/skating rink was built near the Madison Street side of the park with funds donated by Frances Remington, the daughter of Edmund Lyon. While the skating rink is no longer used, an updated spray pool was recently erected on the site. In 2006, a fountain was dedicated with funds from the Rotary — “promoting the virtues of goodwill, friendship and teamwork.”

The park has also held celebrations for the village’s 50th anniversary in 1947 and the centennial in 1997. The bell from our old school was placed near the bandstand, along with a rock engraved to honor our first 100 years.

In 2013, Emedio Rossi was honored with a plaque for his work in beautifying the park as the “gardener of the village.”

In 2015, a pathway was dedicated by the Patriot Guard Riders to Officer Daryl Peirson (East  Rochester resident and a Rochester police officer), who was killed in the line of duty in September 2014.

In 2019, a clock was placed in the park in memory of Joseph and Elizabeth Petti. 

During all seasons of the year, people enjoy the park for solitary walks; games of baseball; practices for soccer, football and basketball; sledding; band concerts; Easter egg hunts; firemen carnivals; Christmas displays;  and family picnics. Over the years, Edmund Lyon Park has seen many changes, but it remains a source of pride and history for all to enjoy.  

Since 2005, the Parks Committee has worked hard to preserve and enhance all of our parks. With grants and private donations, much has been accomplished. Through private donations, over 25 benches have been purchased and over 35 memorial trees have been planted. 

If you wish to learn more about donating to our parks, please look at our village’s website under the listing “Community Resources — Parks,” Mark McDermott, chairperson, Parks Committee.

Anita Mance serves as historian for the town/village of East Rochester.