The Jamestown Historical Marker Committee, chaired by City Historian B. Dolores Thompson, dedicated the City’s 76th historical marker on Wednesday, Nov. 14, in recognition of the over 100-year-old “Hundred Acre Lot” now known as Jamestown Community College’s College Park. The ceremony was held at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, just across Curtis Street from the marker location, with supporters from JCC and RTPI in attendance.
Currently owned by JCC, the Hundred Acre Lot owes its existence to the teachers, students, and alumni of Jamestown Public Schools, who worked for three years, between 1913 and 1916, to raise the necessary funds to purchase the land. Through their efforts, the beloved patch of forest became one of the first school parks in the United States in 1916. Jennifer Champ of the Fenton History Center explained the key role of Jamestown schoolteachers in helping to save the land from timbering.
In the early spring of 1913 the news had begun to spread that the trees in the Hundred Acre Lot were falling under the woodsman’s axe. To help save the forest “for generations that are and for those that are to be,” teachers of Jamestown’s public schools formed the Hundred Ace Lot Association and initiated a campaign to raise the money to buy the land. During the fall of 1913, the Association launched a public campaign and asked every “man, woman and child in Jamestown, who has an interest in the future of our city” to give.
Teacher Mary Willard emerged as a driving force behind the effort. She contacted her former students to enlist their support. “Let the spirit of your childhood re-visit the loved spot for five minutes and you will surely be swept onward by the tide of enthusiasm that has caught us and all the devotees new and old of the beautiful Hundred Acre Lot,” she urged. The response was overwhelming, and in total the Association raised $4,250 towards the $8,250 needed to purchase the property.
In the fall of 1915, the Association decided to have a community festival to pay off the rest of the debt. The festival took place June 2-3, 1916, and was held on the grounds of the Jamestown High School. Every teacher and their class was part of the festivities. As a member of the Committee on Entertainment, Willard orchestrated a large Shakespearean pageant to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The event was a rousing success and the old Hundred Acre Lot officially became the property of the Jamestown Public Schools.
Pam Brown, retired Jamestown Public Schools Records Management Coordinator, was instrumental in discovering the details of the story through surviving documents and archival materials in the school archives.
The spirit of the park’s early advocates lives on today in the efforts of JCC’s Sustainability Committee, which includes several JCC faculty members. Following in the footsteps of Mary Willard, JCC biology instructors still bring their students to the woods, now known as College Park, to understand firsthand the importance of biodiversity and conversation. Led by retired JCC biology professor Becky Nystrom, a group of JCC faculty, staff, and community members recently formed a Forest Stewardship Task Force devoted to raising awareness of the park and ensuring the preservation of its ecological treasures for years to come.
In addition to honoring the history of the Hundred Acre Lot, Wednesday’s dedication ceremony also shined a light on the important legacy of Jamestown’s historical marker program, which continues to erect one historical marker per year under the guidance of long-time City Historian B. Dolores Thompson. Ms. Thompson reflected on the marker program’s many successes over the years. Committee members assisting Ms. Thompson are Traci Langworthy, Karen Livsey, and Art Osterdahl.
Jamestown Mayor Samuel Teresi was also on hand to offer words of congratulations to the Marker Committee and all those involved in erecting the 2018 marker.