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The pocket parks of central Pottstown

September 28, 2010

The Penn State researchers categorize parks that are less than 1 acre in size as mini-parks or pocket parks. Pottstown has many such parks scattered throughout the Borough. While it is desirable for every park to offer a range of opportunities for physical activity, social connections, contact with nature and elements that strengthen a sense of place, these mini-parks cater to children and typically include playground equipment set in mulch, perhaps a bike rack and some benches or picnic tables.

In general, Pottstown’s pocket parks are clean and have an open feeling to them with good visibility from the street. The equipment is practically new, colorful and cheery, providing active play space in neighborhoods that have fairly dense housing, narrow lots and small backyards that are not adequate for the personal play equipment that can be found on large, suburban lots. These spaces serve as neighborhood gathering spots for independent children as well as for parents and children together.

In central Pottstown, there are two parks that fit this description and one, New Chestnut Street Park, which offers even more possibilities for social connections.

Walnut Street Park is on Walnut between Grant and N. Adams Streets.

Walnut St. Park

The interesting feature of this park is the dramatic slope between the two play areas, creating lower and upper playgrounds. From the street, it looks like there’s just one play area, but if you go inside the park just a few steps, you’ll see another play area down below, which can also be accessed from Rowan Alley. Some local residents in the park the day I visited said it’s the best sledding in Pottstown!

The slide closest to Walnut Street will also give a good jolt to a middle-aged spine! I will here admit that I have done some testing of the sliding boards at some of these pocket parks. In my defense:

(1) I had promised the Health and Wellness Foundation that we would try out important features of each park.
(2) When I was growing up, the high slide at the Franklin School playground was metal and, unless weather conditions were perfect and there was no humidity, it was hard to get in a good run. These new plastic slides send you flying!
(3) I guess I just refuse to grow up. :-)

Moving on…

Washington St. Park

Washington Street Park actually lives on East Street, right at the “T” where that leg of Washington Street ends. It also offers new, fun equipment and plenty of space for running around. A new chain link fence prevents the youngest children from dashing off the playground into the street. I took a few moments at the end of the afternoon to just swing, something I hadn’t done in a very long time. I’d forgotten how meditative it can be. Adults: swinging is not just for kids!

Heading down Washington Street, to the intersection with Chestnut, brings you to the New Chestnut Street Park. This very attractive, practically brand-new, fenced park has become a popular venue for community-wide events such as National Night Out, as well as for a local community gardening day and private parties.

New Chestnut Street Park

A few resident elders can usually be found on a bench right on the corner, keeping an eye on things. Because the park has a pavilion with access to electricity, it appeals to and serves a broad range of residents, not just children. It’s remarkable how the addition of that kind of equipment, which isn’t all that elaborate, can inspire wider and more frequent use of a pocket park. Something to think about if/when there’s funding for renovations or upgrades to other pocket parks in town.

Now I just have to say a few words about the Old Chestnut Street Park, which appeared in the Penn State study but is now vacant. This quarter-acre park, which is on the north side of Chestnut Street, between Franklin and Washington Streets, is actually owned by the School District. This will be a site to keep your eye on as the School District conducts their facilities analysis because the idea of a community garden at this location has been floated out there by some neighborhood residents.

This property also has an interesting history. As you stand at the park entrance and look across the street, you’ll see two really cool, brick buildings that used to be public schools; they’ve got red boards over the windows. The one on the left was Hamilton School, built in 1881 (424 Chestnut), and the one on the right was Adams School, built in 1887 (420 Chestnut). While there are some clues on the buildings themselves, I consulted my handy Pottstown School Directory from 1892-93 that came in a small batch of things I won on eBay a while back. (I’ll eventually give this stuff to the Historical Society or the District, but I’m still working my way through it.) Anyway, this little book is filled with all sorts of interesting tidbits about the District, including the fact that there was a school called “Franklin” on the empty park site, way back in the 1890s. It seems to have had two second-grade classes, taught by Sue B. Fritz and Libbie Krause.

Former Hamilton & Adams Schools

Isn’t it kind of wild to imagine how every piece of land has its own history and its own stories to tell?

WALNUT STREET PARK
Location: Walnut Street between Grant & N. Adams Streets, Pottstown, PA 19464
Size: 0.5 acres
Suitability: Approximately 5-12 years old.
Facilities: Two play areas, picnic tables, benches; shady and sunny areas.
Activities + tips: Lower playground seems more appropriate for younger children. Locals report excellent sledding conditions on the hill!
Hours: Dawn until dusk.

WASHINGTON STREET PARK
Location: Intersection of East and Washington Streets, Pottstown, PA 19464
Size: 0.5 acres
Suitability: Approximately 5-12 years old.
Facilities: Playground, swings, picnic tables, benches; shady and sunny areas; small, grassy multi-purpose open space with slight downward slope.
Activities + tips: New fencing along East Street prevents younger children from running into the street.
Hours: Dawn until dusk.

NEW CHESTNUT STREET PARK
Location: Corner of Chestnut and N. Washington Streets, Pottstown, PA 19464
Size: 0.5 acres
Suitability: All ages.
Facilities: 2 sets of play equipment; multi-purpose, grassy space; paved area and pavilion with electricity; mini-amphitheater; community flower gardens & lovely landscaping.
Activities + tips: Call the rec. dept. for information on rentals. Pitch in if there’s a community gardening day next spring!
Hours: Dawn to dusk; sometimes later for groups with event permit from Rec. Dept.

OLD CHESTNUT STREET PARK
Location: In between 417-427 Chestnut Street, Pottstown, PA 19464
Size: 0.25 acres
Suitability: All ages.
Facilities & Activities: Paved path, open space; seems to be used mainly as a pedestrian pass-through.
Tips: Small site owned by Pottstown School District, which is currently doing District-wide facilities analysis. Check out the cool former school buildings across the street!
Hours: Dawn to dusk.

Contact regarding any park rentals:
Pottstown Parks & Recreation Department
Borough Hall, 100 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464
610-970-6500
Click on the Department’s “Special Events” tab to learn more about upcoming events.

Follow the parks series at Mission: Healthy Living, Positively!Pottstown, Twitter (PositivelyPtown), Facebook, and The Mercury.

PHOTO GALLERY

Walnut St. lower playground

Walnut St. Hill


Washington St. swings


Washington St. grove


New Chestnut St. entrance


New Chestnut plaza


New Chestnut play area

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4 Comments
  1. September 29, 2010 8:43 am

    Sue,

    Genisis Housing has long held a vision for the Washington St. Corridor. The renderings of what this area could become are promising and frankly, along with the wonderful New Chestnut St. Park, a very achieveable vision. The idea of a Community Garden at the Old Chestnut St. Park is attributable to Judy Memberg, director of Genesis, supported by C.P.R. – and I believe that the SD was, at one time, a visionary, (if not co-creator), of this concept as well. We hope that when the School District finalizes their facilities analysis they will come to embrace the potential of this park to serve as an opportunity to create a “chain reaction” of learning, healthful eating, exercise and community solidarity.

    From there we can inspire all of Pottstown’s neighborhoods to create gardens. Pottstown is way behind the national trend in this arena, but Victory Gardens, (as they were once known), are steeped in our history as our good neighbor to the East, Philly, is the leader with the most number of productive gardens in the nation!!

    In her architectural renderings for the Washington St. Corridor the wonderful old school houses across the street are fixed up and functional. As they sit, currently, one of the buildings is in rapid decay and has tax liens. The other appears to be structurally sound. I hope we can move quick enough to save these historic structures for the enrichment of our town.

    • September 29, 2010 9:38 am

      Hi, Katy – thanks to you and others for keeping this community garden idea alive. I think it’s a very important revitalization concept that does triple- or quadruple-duty, at the very least.

      put a vacant property to good use
      bring neighborhood together
      be a pilot project/serve as an example to rest of the town
      possibly be connected to a larger effort to bring even more nutrition/healthy life education into the schools
      provide residents with healthier food choices at lower cost
      great public relations for a new, progressive image for town & District

      Under this scenario, maybe assume that the District does get money through a sale of the property to a non-profit. Even if there are no taxes collected going forward, something like this, if successful, contributes so much in value, esp. if other projects can get underway relatively soon thereafter. In addition to the tangible positives for residents, I can’t stress enough the public relations value – priceless?

  2. amy myers permalink
    September 29, 2010 1:40 pm

    you’ve forgotten hale street park!

    • September 29, 2010 2:17 pm

      Are you talking about Hale/Virginia/Brookside? I grouped that in the “north end” parks, coming up tomorrow!

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