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Welch Field history: Pool celebrates 60 years!

September 2, 2017
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Town & Village Historian , Westfield Republican

For those of us alive in 2017, "It seems there's always been Welch Field," as the late Billie Dibble, former Westfield Historian, wrote in Dibble's Dabbles, published in the Westfield Republican, Sept. 30, 1982. Dibble continues, "Last week as I watched my young granddaughter as she enjoyed the new play equipment at Welch Field, I wondered how many children had participated in the activities on that very spot and how many athletic events, pageants and parades had taken place there during how many years. I knew I could not remember when there wasn't a Welch Field in Westfield."

Both Billie Dibble, and myself, (Billie being a generation older than me) recalled, "During (our) school days and until Douds Field at the 'new' school was completed and ready for use, all school football games, baseball games and track meets were held at the field at the corner of Union and Third streets."

The April 2, 1913, Westfield Republican front page headlined, "MAGNIFICENT GIFT Dr. C.E. Welch, President of the Welch Company, has Presented the Y.M.C.A. Five Acres of Land For an Athletic Field and Playground." The caveat was that the people of Westfield and vicinity had to "raise the sum of One Thousand Dollars, or more, on or before May 1st, 1913, to be used in grading, draining and suitably equipping an athletic field and playground the plot of ground west of Union street and south of Third street" This was subject to the management of the YMCA and YWCA, and should it be abandoned for use as athletic field and playground, it would revert to Welch or his heirs.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy of Patterson Library
Pictured is Welch Field Pool from 1969 (a couple years after it was opened).

The following week, April 9, 1913, an appeal was made to "Help the Children. One Thousand Dollars in One Hour, Next Saturday for Athletic Field and Playground." Although, by April 30, 1913, $200 more was still needed, the May 7, 1913, newspaper headline rejoiced, "WE GET THE FIELD!" But it seemed that "the best laid plans" are subject to further revision, as the YWCA raised concerns on June 25, 1913, that more funds were needed ($200) as the playground was not ready, and needed drainage. This being accomplished, soon the athletic fields were in use for summer Business Men's baseball games, and fall 1913 school and other organizations' football games.

By the following summer, a July 8, 1914, article asked, "Shall We Play Ball?" and commented that "We have some good ball timber in town" Requests were made for citizens to turn out and give the teams support, and that, "We need a grand stand at the field and a subscription paper can be found at this office to contribute to this worthy cause." By Oct. 7, 1914, it was realized that the amount needed for a grandstand would exceed the original $400 anticipated, so many local business stepped up and provided materials and labor as well as canvassing for enough money for not only the grandstand, but sewer and toilet facilities, and tennis courts. A grand total of another $3,000 was successfully raised by Nov. 11, 1914.

Over the next few decades, many football, baseball, archery, and tennis games filled the fields and courts during the spring, summer, and fall months, as well as pageants and parades for Independence Day and Labor Day celebrations. There were warnings to young people that they must not ride their ponies or horses on the Welch Field, nor the animals be allowed to graze thereon.

But even in the winter months, as noted in December 1927, "WANTED 100 HUSKIES Need an Army of Shovels. If all signs don't fail-winter has come to stay. The skaters can't be held back another minute-action they cry. Here is the dope-you must furnish the brawn. Welch field is to be flood for community skating but before this, comes the snow removal and all who like to skate are asked to do their bit. Thursday eve, Dec. 29th at 7:30-just come up to Welch Field 100 strong armed with a shovel and how the snow will fly and a good job can be done in jig time. Remember ice skaters see you at Welch Field Thursday eve."

At some point, the YMCA or YWCA started a swimming program in the summers, apparently transporting the children to a location on Lake Chautauqua. During the World War II years Infantile Paralysis (Polio) became a major concern and in August of 1944, the Welch Field swimming portion of the playground program was closed on the advice of the Public Health Officer because of the danger of contracting polio from the water.

The July 23, 1947 Westfield Republican published the following headline: "Welch Field Board of Control makes Known Deed to Welch Field." Mayor W. Heckman found the document in response to a query, and one of the terms of interest was that should the YMCA default, the first option would be for the Welch Field to be offered to the village of Westfield, and only if they refused, would it revert to the Welch heirs.

The next major transformation to the Welch Field was the "brainchild" of Westfield's Rotary Club that developed "an ambition program" in cooperation with the village board and its Youth Recreation Program for a pool and ice rink. Mayor Sheldon A. Greene chaired two official village board meetings to discuss and finally accept the Rotary swimming pool proposal. (Research has not determined what happened about the ice rink at that time.) The Rotary Club had already raised about $50,000, at the time; many other groups and individuals stepped up and raised an additional $25,000. A ground-breaking ceremony for the pool was held on May 9, 1967, which was completed along with a bathhouse, and opened to the public Aug. 13, 1967.



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