The Thompson Park Circle: Entrance to the Park
Early in its design phase, John C. Thompson, President of the New York Air Brake, must have envisioned the Park Circle being the grand entrance to the City Park.
Seeking out John C. Olmsted, the adopted son of the notable Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame, Mr. Thompson nevertheless hoped to capture the prestigious nature of the elder Olmsted’s work.
It should be noted, John often partnered alongside his brother, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. after their father retired to carry on the family business. John’s biological father, also named John Olmsted, contracted tuberculosis and passed away. His mother remarried the deceased John’s brother, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.
In other words, young John’s adoptive father was his uncle, and his brother, by adoption, was his actually his cousin. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., wasn’t born until 1870, some 15 years or so after Central Park was designed by his father.
Hopefully this explains the long-held misperception of Thompson Park being designed by the same Olmsted that created Central Park.
Mr. Olmstead made his visit to Watertown in which the Daily Times reported on June 7—
John C. Olmsted, of Brookline Mass., the designer of the city’s projected park, is now in Chicago, looking after some landscape work there of which he has charge. On leaving there he will come directly to this city to make such changes in his designs as he deems advisable after inspecting the park as preliminary staked out. He is expected here the last of the week or the first of the next, and will probably remain several days. He will visit here frequently during the progress of the work.
Bids were placed on the Park Circle entrance and roadwork in 1900 with the lowest offer being $18,000. The Park Circle itself would be a convergence of several streets: Park Dr., Thompson Blvd., Olmsted Dr., Academy St., and Thompson Park Dr. Two other streets, Park E. and Park W., flank Park Dr. for residential access off of State Street.
The park was originally known as City Park due to John C. Thompson’s wish to remain anonymous. This remained its name for its first 25 years upon opening in 1903. It was upon Mr. Thompson’s death that the City of Watertown officially revealed the donor and renamed the park in his honor.
Over the years, Park Circle and its surrounding area have been used frequently for winter activities. Sledding has long been a favorite past time, but in more recent years garnered criticism due to safety concerns. In years past, Park Circle had been frozen over with water to make a skating rink. The location has also been used for Snowtown USA festivities in years past for the snow sculpture competition.
A side note: two photos included here are one for the plans for the park and the other is a residential area on the western side of Gotham Street which would have been named Bonny Brae. Bonny (or the alternative “Bonnie”) Brae means “Pleasant Hill” in Gaelic. The plans never obviously never went into development, but remain an interesting look into the residential planning concepts of the time.
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