'Syracuse's Yellowstone' to
mark 75 years
September 26, 2002
Larry Rutledge came to Syracuse in 1987 from a big tract of land in
Parish, where he had a trout stream, woodland and a place to ski cross
"When I looked for a place to live, I never thought I'd find something
like my country place in the city," he's saying the other day as we walk
through a corner of southwest Syracuse. "I found a house with access to a
trout stream, woodland and a place to put on my cross-country skis. I
couldn't believe it."
We're touring the 65 acres along Furnace Brook that we call Elmwood Park
and Larry calls home. His house is on Elmwood Avenue, and his heart's in
this piece of urban wilderness that's been a city park for 75 years.
Saturday, Larry and his colleagues in the Elmwood Park Neighbors
Association invite us to revisit or discover their favorite city landscape
and enjoy the views.
"Celebrate Elmwood," from noon to 4 p.m., will observe the rededication
of the park and completion of $600,000 worth of improvements over the last
year. Larry, who's a property manager for Transitional Living Services,
can't stop talking about it.
"We want to celebrate not just Elmwood, but all the city parks," Larry
says, standing at the dam next to the old stone mill that's been here since
the 1850s. "We feel great about the resurgence in the parks by our city
officials and by the people who use them."
The main work we notice in Elmwood is the way the streambed has been
dredged and repointed. Some of the features created by WPA crews during the
Great Depression were covered with silt and loose stones.
A pathway created by those same anonymous workers has been rediscovered
on the park's northern side. Across the way, volunteers are clearing brush
to reveal more of the park's nearly 70-year-old stonework.
Larry points to a wall of boulders that curves around the edge of a
slope: "That was one of the things that enchanted me about the park when I
first moved here."
Neighbors called this "The Gully" years ago. It was carved by an ancient
brook at the time of the glaciers. Early settlers harnessed the water to
power mills along the stream. The first mill, on the same lot as the present
landmark, made cannonballs for the War of 1812.
Later, this was a private amusement area - once called "Dreamland" -
before Elmwood village came into the city and the land was bought for a
That was in 1926, when the city bonded to buy "Dreamland" and Sunstruck
Hill near Teall Avenue, now Sunnycrest Park. A newspaper writer toured the
gully and pronounced it "Syracuse's Yellowstone."
"Yellowstain" may have been a better name in recent years. I remind Larry
Rutledge about a walk in Elmwood seven years ago, when a neglected park
cried out for help. Yes, things have changed, thanks to a commitment by city
officials and prodding by the neighborhood association, which Larry leads as
"Until the AmeriCorps crews came in here, you'd never seen anyone working
in the park. There was only one garbage can," he recalls. "Those volunteers
were a big help in cleaning up and encouraging us to organize. Those kids
really impressed us."
Larry says the association also appreciated encouragement back then from
Lyle Halbert, then the city parks planning director.
"The parks people asked us to be their eyes and ears," he explains.
"They've also involved us in the planning process."
We check out the new Elmwood playground, finished this spring. "The kids
love it. We really need this," Larry says.
The brook laps by us as we walk. A county work crew picks up trash across
the stream. We hear the birds, and kids on the Corcoran High School playing
fields at the end of the park. There's a couple walking a dog.
"There are six neighbors who come into the park with our dogs almost
every day with a plastic bag to pick up trash," Larry says. "A neighborhood
Cub Scout pack (48) helped us clean trash out of the dam. Weekends, some of
us are clearing out the brush so you can see the stone stairways on the
"You used to be able to sit up there and look out at the park. You know,
they had flower beds in there."
Last summer, crews sprayed a mixture of seeds and fertilizer on the
park's north slope, hoping to control erosion that fed silt into the stream.
Larry isn't sure the new cover took completely. Some repointed stones in the
steam have tumbled back into the water.
We remind ourselves of nature's ways. Those old WPA workers made their
park out of a raw stream that still resists taming.
Larry had some good news about the old mill, which we may have thought
was part of the park because of the location. Actually, it was private until
2000, when Elmwood Fish and Game Club sold the landmark to the city. They'd
had the mill and one-acre lot for 57 years.
Besides keeping an eye, and an ear, on the park, Larry's association also
keeps in touch with the Elmwood neighborhood. Recently, members worked with
the city and Home Headquarters on demolishing two vacant houses on Elmwood
Avenue. The lots will be added to the park.
The work had an unexpected benefit: Workers found an old millstone under
a porch of one of the homes. "It's to be part of the nature center," Larry
We're sitting at the edge of the dam now. I ask Larry about the
importance of park friends.
"We realize we can't have a healthy park unless the neighborhood is
healthy," he explains.
Just now, Elmwood, bathed in autumn light, looks decent.
"I think it's more neighborly now," according to Larry. "It feels
friendly and safe. I think that encourages more people to use the park, and
use it respectfully."
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