Image/Data/Interview – KS

The Aero Service Corporation of Philadelphia – which provided business and government with aerial photographs for various purposes such as planning – photographed an area of South Trenton, New Jersey, sometime after 1932. The image features the Delaware River, Mahlon Stacy Park, the State Capitol, War Memorial Theatre, and the main business district. Around 1937, Lynn H. Boyer published a colorized version of the image as a postcard for Chicago-based German postcard giant Curt Teich (famous for their “Greetings from…” series). This visual piece retained its shelf-life until at least the mid-1950s, when one was mailed across the country from Trenton to Independence, Oregon, right in the thick of a highway debate which occupied the capitol city for decades. The construction of what broadly became known as Route 29 occurred in several geographic phases and bore many names: Lafayette Boulevard extension, East-West Freeway, John Fitch Way, Assunpink Way. In the 1950s, the road’s next phase prompted the State Highway Department and the city fathers to determine the fate of one of Trenton’s most prized and cherished possessions – Stacy Park. This postcard showcases that beloved and invaluable attraction for Trenton’s visitors and residents: a natural refuge from the city’s antics where the crowded cluster of buildings gives way to the great wide open, and which would eventually bow to the march of progress with the completion of Route 29.

            After finishing the kind note addressed to them, the recipient of this postcard turned it over to find Stacy Park situated between the Delaware River and the busy city of Trenton. The textured linen of the postcard add vibrancy to the various colors of the city: the striking greenery of the park, the blue waters of the Delaware, and the white marble and red bricks of Trenton’s government and businesses. The center of attention – the largest entity in the image – is Stacy Park, with the portrayal of the city and the river emphasizing the importance of this open space. Though the park is surrounded by important buildings and a flowing river, movement within this space is null; it is free of people and vehicles. Despite the emptiness in this picture, the park was constantly occupied and offered recreational space for countless citizens whether it be for leisure or civic events (Boy Scout activities, veteran memorials, traveling exhibitions, and sanctuary for homeless people in need of rest). In fact, the conspicuous absence of activity next to the sprawling cityscape indicates serenity more than unpopularity. This Edenic-space is untouched by humanity; it is perfect. It offers a retreat from the hustle-and-bustle of modern life for the city-dweller.  

            The park is not, however, devoid of active space. The many trails, baseball field, and riverfront access, present the many possibilities of leisurely activity. One might find while strolling the clean walkways a peaceful family fishing at one of the park, and a little league championship game at the other. Fanning outward from the baseball field is the skyline of Trenton: separate from the park, yet connected by charming pedestrian bridges over the Sanhican Creek (AKA the Water Power) – the future bed of Route 29. Stacy Park acts as a hub for Trenton, where the city’s daily operations revolve around. It is a meeting ground for residents, shop-owners, state workers, guests at the Stacy Trent Hotel, and maybe a crowd filtering out of a show in the War Memorial (completed in 1932 as tribute to the veterans of World War I). As the rest of the city fades away into the background, the park remains in the foreground – the heart of the city.

            Natural space is vitally important to a just society. The people of Trenton relied upon Stacy Park not just for recreational use but for civic and social purposes; it was the heart of the community and presented equitable access to not just open air and land but to the lively waters of the Delaware River for those still residing in the city proper. The citizens of Trenton pleaded for the preservation of this park, but would in the end apprehensively approve of sacrificing the land if it solved the city’s traffic problems. State and city planners around the country throughout the postwar era arranged for the desecration of natural spaces such as Stacy Park for various urban renewal projects; and if total destruction did not occur, access to these spaces was severely limited. For instance, after the construction of Route 29 through this park, a sliver of land remained along the river, allowing enjoyment for whomever risked crossing the busy road. When one of the earlier phases of construction was finished about a mile north of this particular location (Stacy Park stretched a few miles along the river), 3-year-old Christopher Thompson attempted to cross the highway in order to reach the park but was struck dead by a car on the fresh asphalt of John Fitch Way. 

Tags: Roads, Parks, Water, Business, Class