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Lily Pond work to help restore grandeur to historic F.T. Proctor Park

Posted 3/16/23

Still more big improvements are in store for Utica’s historic Frederick T. Proctor Park this summer and fall.

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Lily Pond work to help restore grandeur to historic F.T. Proctor Park


UTICA — Still more big improvements are in store for Utica’s historic Frederick T. Proctor Park this summer and fall. Olmsted City, a program of the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica, will reconstruct the Lily Pond, a reflecting pool designed in 1913 by renowned American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., which has been in very poor condition for decades.

“The Lily Pond is the most iconic, largest single bit of Olmsted-designed hardscaping in Utica’s Olmsted-designed parks and parkway system,” says Olmsted City chair Phil Bean, “but it’s been falling apart for a very long time, and now we are going to recreate it as it appeared around 1916. We are very excited that we were able to raise the resources to make this possible in time for the centennial of Maria Proctor’s August 1923 donation of this park to the people of Utica.”

Olmsted City hired the Syracuse architectural firm of Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt to create blueprints not only for the restoration of the pond to its former appearance but for the addition of a number of features that will make it more durable and functional.

The work will involve the use of a special concrete mix containing elements that will help it stand up much better to Utica’s winters than the mix used in 1913. In the pond’s center will be a new feature: a naturalized pile of rocks as a base to conceal a fountain to circulate and prevent the water from becoming stagnant. This feature will not only be decorative but will complement the Olmsted-style stone construction found throughout the park.

In addition, the electrical cable for the fountain will be concealed in a conduit that will be built into the floor of the Lily Pond, unlike the current arrangement, where the fountain cable sits on the floor of the pond. Finally, an underground drainage system will be built around the perimeter of the pond so as to reduce strain on its walls caused by moisture accumulation, freezing, and heaving in winter.

“This is a once-in-a-century fix,” Bean noted, “and although Olmsted was the very best in the business in the first half of the 20th century, he didn’t make allowances for either water circulation or drainage. The innovations factored into our project will be a great boon to the park for generations to come.”

To carry out this first phase of the three-stage project for the Lily Pond and the plateau on which it rests, Olmsted City has hired Beebe Construction, a leading regional construction company.

Phase One, the reconstruction of the Lily Pond, will be completed in June.

Phase Two will involve the creation of a winding pathway across the plateau on which the pond sits, which will connect other historic elements and existing pathways. This phase will be carried out by the City of Utica, as its contribution to this project.

The new path will be dedicated to the memory of Maria Watson Williams Proctor, who collaborated with her husband and with Olmsted on the park’s design and oversaw the park’s maintenance in 1920-23.

“The City of Utica is blessed by the richness of its diverse and elegant parks system,” notes Mayor Robert Palmieri. “These efforts to upgrade, enhance, and preserve the parks system are invaluable to residents and the quality of life Utica has to offer. The revival of the historic Lily Pond in F.T. Proctor Park is an enhancement that will contribute to the beauty of Utica.”

The City is also in the process of building a new pavilion, complete with restrooms, at the park; it is also exploring the possibility of repaving the parking lot.

Phase Three will include the installation of benches and shrubs on the Lily Pond plateau to create mini-destinations for visitors to enjoy relaxing views.

“The new path will connect other historic features on this level of the park,” said Olmsted City Vice Chair Amy Funkhouser. “And Olmsted City will plant native low-growing shrubs along it, such as American meadowsweet and New Jersey tea, to frame the new benches and showcase the beauty of this area.”

Phase Three will begin in mid-September, and thereafter the Lily Pond and the adjacent new pathway will be dedicated.

“We are extremely indebted to the more than 250 donors who gave what they could to our successful campaign to raise $160,000 to carry out this work,” Bean said, “and we are equally grateful to the scores of volunteers who gave freely of themselves over the course of the 2022 season to carry out other restoration and enhancement projects throughout the park. The City of Utica also deserves very warm thanks for all it’s done to support our efforts. What’s happening at the park shows what we can accomplish as a community when we pull together.” Bean also noted that the Lily Pond Restoration and Enhancement Project and the work the City is doing at the park might not be all that happens there in 2023. “I think we might have one or two more announcements to make this year—stay tuned,” Bean coyly remarked.


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