Just behind the majestic gothic style Gould Church on Roxbury’s Main Street lies a stretch of green gracing both sides of the East branch of the Delaware River. Known as Kirkside Park, this 11-acre treasure is rich in natural beauty and history which Roxbury proudly enjoys today.From the late 1890’s to the late 1930’s, Kirkside Park was part of the estate of Helen Gould Shepard. It was extensively landscaped and appointed with rustic Adirondack style bridges and gazebos, graceful paths along the stream, a small falls, rustic style furniture, and stone terraces. Mrs. Shepard was aided in the development of this area by Ferdinand Mangold, the gardener and groundsman at “Lyndhurst,” the Gould’s Westchester County Estate on the Hudson. In many respects, Kirkside Park is a sister site to Lyndhurst as it is speculated that the more exotic trees in the park came from the Lyndhurst Greenhouses. Kirkside Park gains considerable historical significance due to its association with Mangold and a nationally known museum property.
During the early 1900’s, the park became the center of social and athletic functions for the Gould family, their visitors, and the community. In photographs that survive from those years, local residents and visitors to the area are shown enjoying each and every one of the park’s facets. Basket picnics, ball games, fishing and boating events, and field days with “bicycle races, hammer throws, and sack races” were common.Unfortunately, after Mrs. Shepard’s death in 1938, the park was not maintained for nearly a half century. Rustic bridges were replaced by iron rails, abandoned paths reverted to turf, the plantings were disregarded and overgrown, and the stone retaining walls eroded and were swept away. Many years would come to pass before the park would return to its original state.
Darren McGee, NYS DED
In 1949, after the deaths of Helen and her husband Finley, Helen’s brother offered Kirkside and the property to the General Synod Church of America (GSCA) as a memorial to his sister. The GSCA accepted the gift and, in 1950, Kirkside was dedicated “In Loving Memory of Helen Gould Shepard” as a home for aged ministers, missionaries, and other professional workers of the Reformed Church of America. Twenty-five years later, the GSCA imposed a moratorium on accepting new residents. In April, 1980, the residents of Kirkside were notified that the facility would close its doors on June 30 of that year, at which time the GSCA would put the property up for sale. May, 1980, a group of concerned Roxbury residents decided to fight the move and a lawsuit was undertaken to block eviction of the eleven elderly residents and prevent the sale of both the magnificent Main Street structure and the 11-acre parcel.
Kirkside was deeded to the Town by the GSCA in July of 1981 and the Town agreed to “Hold the premises forever as a public park for use by the citizens of the Town of Roxbury.” Kirkside was leased to the Consistory of the Jay Gould Memorial Church for $1 per year on successive five year terms, for as long as it remained in operation as an adult home.In 1999, the Town of Roxbury embarked on the restoration of this magnificent site and the Town Board took the first step by unanimously approving a volunteer committee to plan for the park’s revitalization and restoration. Since, the park has taken back its historic dimensions and appointments in the form of rustic bridges, graceful paths which line the Delaware, meticulously dry laid stream bank retaining walls, fresh new flowers and shrubs, picnic facilities, and ball field restoration. Recently, the two historic barns located immediately adjacent to the park have been donated and now join the roster of slated restorative projects.
The park remains a vital center of activity, enlivened by soccer games, concerts, outdoor theater, fishing, hiking, cross country skiing, and picnicking. All summer long, the cries of cheering fans and baseball players dressed in 1898 uniforms will be heard as the Roxbury Nine reclaim their home field in Kirkside Park. As summer dawns and Kirkside Park comes to life, perhaps the spirit of a generous and lovely lady will also return and caress the place she called home and happily find it adopted by a community she loved.
Space in Kirkside Park is available for weddings, family gatherings, and special occasions. For more information contact Project Director Peg Ellsworth at (607) 326-3722.