officials want to turn Frog (Pond) into a prince
An old photo of public ice skating at the Bartlet Mall on Valentine's Day, 1925
NEWBURYPORT Conditions at Bartlet Mall seemed perfect yesterday for an afternoon of winter recreation. Temperatures reached a seasonally warm 39 degrees. A half-week of school vacation still remained. And a fresh coat of snow had covered the park's hills earlier in the week.
Yet, not one skater could be found on the Frog Pond shortly before noon. The surrounding hills had no children sledding. Cattails at the water's edge were broken and stripped of their fur. Tree limbs were littered about and firmly embedded in the ice. Every staircase leading to the water from the surrounding streets remained covered in snow.
Only a frozen set of footprints stretching 18 steps from the water's edge toward the pond's center provided any evidence that someone had visited the place recently.
City officials are hoping to change that scene and return the 203-year-old outdoor public meeting place fashioned after London's prestigious Pall Mall to its former role as a city gathering place, where hundreds of people used to line the streets to watch ice skating in the winter.
Fundraising for the Bartlet Mall renovation project is nearly complete. The $465,000 undertaking will improve walkways, add benches, increase pedestrian lighting and landscape the area.
A winter carnival to raise awareness of the mall is scheduled for January.
"As someone who grew up here," said Mayor Mary Ann Clancy, "I remember when the park was the center of the city. That was the place where everyone was skating. You had kids sliding."
About $382,000 has been raised for the renovation, according to senior project manager Geordie Vining. Of that sum, $111,000 came from the city's Community Preservation Act fund. The rest has come through private donations.
Vining declined to say which groups have contributed. He said the city still has several outstanding requests for money. A city announcement on the fundraising progress will be made early next month.
With more than 80 percent of the renovation's funding secured, Clancy does not expect to have to use additional city money for the project.
"We've had great interest from private donors, businesses and charitable organizations," Clancy said. "We should be able to do the project through a combination of those."
Elm trees will be added along High Street, near the corner of Auburn Street. A chainlink fence and the cracked concrete walkways will be replaced. Brick paving furnished with a strip of landscaping will extend along High Street. A more historic iron fence will be installed. On Auburn Street, granite paving and a wooden fence will be added at the entrance.
Three gravel beaches will be added around the pond, on the western, southern and eastern sides. Those areas will extend to a new gravel pathway around the water. To accommodate the walkway, the area around the water will have to be dredged, fill will have to be added and the pond will be elevated. A white willow tree at the rear of the Superior Courthouse will be removed to allow for full circulation around the water.
The fountain at the pond's center and its mechanical systems will be repaired. New light fixtures, benches and picnic tables will be added throughout the park.
Vining said the final designs for the project, including grading and electrical plans, will be ready by the end of January. The project is scheduled to go out to bid at that time.
The Parks Commission has organized a winter carnival on Saturday, Jan. 29. The idea was inspired, in part, by pictures that former Mayor Richard Sullivan kept framed on his wall, according to Parks Commission member David Keery. The black-and-white photographs show the pond occupied by dozens of skaters, with hundreds of onlookers gathered around.
In addition to skating, the carnival will include a parade, sledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, a hockey demonstration and a snow sculpture contest. The Parks Commission has enlisted help from the city's schools to run the carnival.
"We're trying to make this a real community event, real old-time New England," Keery said. "With this event ... and the renovation through the summer, I think this is really going to grow."
Once the Bartlet Mall renovation is complete, Vining has suggested setting up a volunteer commission to oversee the park. The group would oversee maintenance, among other things.
"Right now, there are zero dollars for maintenance," Vining said. "Anything in terms of dedicated funding for that would be better than nothing."
Clancy likes the idea of a Bartlet Mall Commission, which could help raise money to maintain the park. She suggested a combination of public and private money for that purpose.
"In tough fiscal times, it's good to have a group out there beating the bush trying to find money for maintenance," Clancy said. "There is no question, some city resources should be allocated to maintain the city landmark."
(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)