By LIBBY CUDMORE• Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – When she saw the new plans for Huntington Park, it was like falling in love.
“I’m so head-over-heels for the fruit orchard,” said Tina Winstead, Huntington Memorial Library executive director. “That’s what Henry did,” Henry Huntington, the 19th century railroad magnate from Oneonta who donated the mansion and property that today makes up the library and grounds.
On Thursday, Sept. 10, Stimson Landscape Architects, Cambridge, Mass., presented its plan for Huntington Park during a Zoom meeting.
“This really is a bright spot in a difficult era,” said Huntington Memorial Library executive director Tina Winstead. “It’s a design I believe Henry Huntington would be proud of.”
The planning began five years ago, but recently ramped up when $420,068 in funding for the redesign was made available from the state department of Parks and Recreation.
According to Winstead, when Stimson was hired, she was asked for previous blueprints, postcards and photos of the park to help guide the design, and when they came back, they had revived the orchards, the lilac walk, the “pinetum” – a collection of conifers along the edge of the upper park – and the rotunda.
“The rotunda really was here in 1919,” she said. “I like to think that Henry planned it. Stimson was very excited about the whole overlook idea.”
It’s not the only piece of forgotten history to be reinstalled. Stimson revived the sledding hill, which was fenced off and planted with shrubbery in the 1990s.
“Everyone talks about the sledding hill!” said Winstead. “And once we get all that cleared off, you’ll have such a beautiful view of the hills behind Main Street.
At the meeting, plans were detailed for Phase One of the project, which included the Playland and the Literary Garden.
The Playland would incorporate spaces at the top and bottom of the hill, including a labyrinth, a small play area, and a 40-foot long slide built into the hillside. “It’s a very unique element that will draw from all parts of the town,” said Glen Valentine, principal. “And to get to the top of the slide, there will be a rock scramble, which gives kids an opportunity to explore the hillside.”
“The slide was very unexpected!” said Winstead. “But my charge was for Stimson to do something remarkable that would bring families to the park. It could be a huge draw.”
The library doesn’t want a full playground, she said, for liability reasons, and hopes the public would weigh in on the slide on the survey, linked from the library website. “We really want people to either be all for it or not,” she said.
Stimson associate Sean Kline, an Oneonta native, said bluestone would be incorporated into the design, including the overlook and the rock scramble. “Table Rocks is my favorite spot in Oneonta,” he said. “It gives you an amazing context for the city and the materials of the region.”
The gardens, said Valentine, would function as a series of “outdoor classrooms,” each with specific plantings, such as a pollinator garden or an herb/medicinal garden.
There would even be a “literary garden,” which the library could change yearly to tie to a particular theme. “One year it could be colonial plants or a World War II ‘Victory Garden’,” he said.
In all, the full redesign would include a performance space in the lower part of the park and orchards in the arboretum at the top, similar to the ones Huntington had on the family farm the library is built on.
Additionally, the library received $122,000 in Library Construction Aid to install new lampposts to match the ones on Main Street.
Winstead said the park could get underway as soon as this spring, with completion by the summer.
“They really brought back the elements of the park that Henry wanted,” she said. “It feels very right.”