In light of the current discussion over the future of Victory Field it might be informative to examine its past. The area now comprising the DPW lot and the fields was part of the Israel Whitney farm purchased by the town in 1825 to use as an almshouse and poor farm.
Recognizing the growing interest in outdoor sports and recreation Watertown’s selectmen in 1893 had a portion of the farm graded for a football field and within a few years added a baseball diamond and bleachers for spectators, followed by
a play area for children. In 1901 a pipe was laid from the water main on Orchard Street to flow an acre or so for winter skating. When a subsequent board of selectmen determined that the “Town Field”, as it had become known, should be sold and developed to increase tax revenue the people of Watertown came to its rescue at a special Town Meeting on the 4th of November 1910 by turning it over to the town’s Park Department “to be used as a public playground.”
A major upgrade a decade later included construction of a concrete grandstand/field house/storage area and on Memorial Day 1922 the field was ceremoniously dedicated as “Victory Field” to the men of the town who had fought in the recent world war. The adjacent six acres between Marion Road and
In the years following the next world war the football field was relocated and a brand new field house and new bleachers with press box added. While at the track field a diamond for Little League Baseball was built in 1953 and in 1967 an outdoor basketball court. The original cinder track was superseded by one of rubberized surface in 1971 and the current quarter mile configuration dates from 1991.
Although school teams have always used both fields as have the town’s summer playgrounds from 1912 and from the mid 1950s Recreation Department and youth sports programs, Victory Field has always been a town facility, a public park, its care vested with the Park Department which in 1968 became a branch of Watertown’s Department of Public Works. Superintendent of Schools Francis Kelley in the 1940s initiated a crusade to have it turned over to the School Department which ultimately came to nothing and a later effort to achieve the same end was defeated at Town Meeting on April 10, 1969. But for the most part the informal recreation of citizens and town school and youth sports activities
have peacefully and happily coexisted.
In 2011 the fashions and exigencies of modern athletics overtook Victory Field when artificial turf was installed on the football and baseball fields, essentially terminating use by the public. If the proposed Phase Two renovations are carried out the track area will suffer the same fate, becoming primarily a venue for marketing school and town sports programs and leasing to outside organizations. Though presumably the track, tennis and basketball courts, and the tot lot, will still be open to the community, the field, after 90 years, will be gone and thousands of Watertown children and adults will be forced to go elsewhere for casual sports and recreation or become “couch potatoes.”
What old Israel Whitney would make of all this we don’t know. But as the town year after year elected him Field Driver he knew a field when he saw one. And he knew a field is alive and green and growing and that upon its successful long term cultivation our health and well-being depends.
For a “field” in artificial turf, regardless of how many sports are played upon it or the income it may generate, is really not a field at all.
Let’s keep what remains to us of Victory Field alive and green and growing.