History of Vest Pocket Park
By Alice Wareham (Originally published as “Little Vest Pocket Park” 0n April 14, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise )
In 1966, the large Sagendorf building at 96-98 Main Street was destroyed by fire, leaving downtown Saranac Lake with a charred eyesore. VIS agitated at one village board meeting after another, emphasizing the danger that children might be tempted to play in it as well as its unsightliness, located across from the Hotel Saranac.
After the charred hulk was finally removed, VIS received permission from then-owners Sonny Moody and Phil Hyde to fill, plant grass and generally return the lot to a neat appearance.
In 1972, Jane Bourke, chairman, supervised spreading of fill and topsoil. Russell Pratt planted the row of spreading cedar trees to hide the dropping corner of the property’s rear and the Pontiac Theater’s brick backdrop. That fall, high school students and Boy Scouts volunteered to rake stones from the turf and prepare it for planting. The following spring, VIS grounds superintendent Earl Colby planted grass seed donated by Ed Worthington Jr.
In August, President Gertrude Woodruff dedicated the Park.
During the winter of 1975-76, the Vest Pocket Park committee worked with architects Wareham-DeLair on a comprehensive plan for the property. For financial reasons, the plan was to be completed in three stages. Master mason Fred Winderl laid brick paths. Under Donn Garwood’s instruction, BOCES made four redwood benches, memorials to Clara W. Ridenour, former VIS secretary.
In 1977, Frank Houck planted two Norway maple trees, one the gift of Estelle Steiner, at the rear of the benches.
Mr. Ronald DeLair built and donated a trash receptacle for the park’s entrance. Co-chairmen Patricia Bentz and Alice Wareham planted two potentillas beside the benches in memory of Paul Stephen, who had enjoyed and monitored the park in his later years. Dorothy Ratigan gave two lilacs in memory of Muriel Scanlon and another was given in memory of D. Mott Chapin from the VIS.
In 1988, VIS placed curbing beside the sidewalk to discourage wearing down the lawn’s edge. On Aug. 20, 1991, Mayor William Madden III dedicated the newly rebuilt wall at the park’s rear to the memory of former VIS President Gertrude Woodruff. Fred Winderl did masonry for both improvements.
In 1996, Lee Foster resodded the lawn, and in 1999 one of the Norway maples, now diseased, was removed. By this time, the park was showing severe wear, with the benches worn and defaced by initials.
When Nancy Murphy became chairman, she undertook a complete renovation of Vest Pocket Park.
In 2001, VIS donated a golden juniper hedge along the library driveway, dedicated to Auretta Herrington, former VIS treasurer. The right rear lawn was sinking where the debris from the Sagendorf fire had been tossed and was now rotting. Too expensive to dig up, VIS had decided in 1995 to apply more topsoil. In 2003, Pro Landscaping again filled the area, graded and resodded the lawn.
With new white cedar benches and trash receptacles built and installed by Thomas Glover Jr., in 2004 the park’s restoration was complete.
Interestingly, when the first high school was abandoned in 1925, Walter Sagendorf had led a group urging the high school property become a public park. His group failed, and the site was sold as the building site for the Hotel Saranac.
Vest Pocket Park is used by all ages and is possibly the most heavily enjoyed VIS public park.