Picture: Three baseball players, Frank Westcott, James Archer and John West Jr., stand outside the Wilton No. 8 School, “The Little Red Schoolhouse”. Located on Route 50 north of Edie Road. The building is now a private residence.
Wilton youth has enjoyed the great outdoors since the town was formed in 1818. The early years of hamlet living were filled with work for young and old alike. Sports were simple and leisure time in winter was spent on home made snowshoes and hand crafter toboggans. Surely snowballs were as popular as in later years and snow caves were enjoyed with equal delight. Sliding on the ice was possible, but ice skates were probably scarce. The summers longer days allowed swimming and climbing trees and racing with the neighbors, after farming chores.
The late 1800’s brought a sophisticated toboggan run to the Glen Mitchell area near our southern border, now occupied by the Middle School on Route 9. The 150ft ramp was enjoyed by adults with children in tow. The speed was reported to be “a mile a minute” and the “run” was at least 1500ft in length. The area was lit with electric lights and torches for night adventure. This was no “Poor man’s playground”. Glen Mitchell operated until 1890 and then again in 1910-1911. It rivaled Ben Riley’s Toboggan run at the Arrowhead on Saratoga Lake.
The early 1900’s brought about the homemade toboggans and bobsleds for the rural youth in Wilton after McGregor built a roadway up his mountain they enjoyed sliding down. There was no shortage of hills in the town, Sprott’s and Merrills were also inviting. Most recreation was enjoyed in schoolyards. After walking to and from school, a good supper and “early to bed” was a pleasant end of the day.
The 1970’s brought about the idea of the Wilton Recreation and Park Commission. The Ballard and Dorothy Nolan schools were used in the first attempt at organized sports. 1972 brought summer recreation with a few playground directors in morning and afternoon hours. Parent volunteers were welcome and children were transported by bus, Gloria McMaster was the Director and Treasurer.
By 1978 the old town garage was converted into a Senior and Youth Center with weekly hours year round.
1984, the first full-time Recreation Director, Jean Williamson, replaced the part time, Prim Martin. Ron Stunzi, Joan Kelly, MaryJane Parry and Carol Green directed the popular Teen Center for several years.
There were several attempts to obtain land for a town recreation field over the years. Land was obtained from the New York State Developmental Center on Northern Pines and Mike Dennis offered 5 acres on Lake Elizabeth. These plans never developed successfully. There were proposed sports fields near Mulberry Estates that never came to be finalized.
The present Gavin Park plans developed between 1985-1988 and the first buildings and fields were finally developed. The first gymnasium was built in 1995 and followed by the Christopher Dailey Memorial Youth Gymnasium in 2006. Sports fields continue to be added and improved yearly. At present, Gavin Park’s recreation continues to be the model for year round activities for youth and adults.
The long years of struggle, with cooperation of combined government and community, has obviously been worth the effort.