LETTER: History Lesson on Victory Field, Resident Urges Town to Keep Field Green

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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

Orchard Street, formerly a town gravel pit and dump, were similarly conveyed to the Park Department at a June 1927 Town Meeting to become part of Victory Field. Here a sixth mile track and town tennis courts were completed in 1930 and a playing area for soccer and field hockey graded and seeded.

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 The original cinder track was superseded by one of rubberized surface in 1971 and the current quarter mile configuration dates from 1991.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.

Dick O’Connor
Channing Road

10 thoughts on “LETTER: History Lesson on Victory Field, Resident Urges Town to Keep Field Green

  1. Thank you Mr. O’Connor. As a lifelong Watertown resident and WHS graduate, I wholeheartedly agree with your every word. I want Victory Field to remain as is!

  2. Personally, I also prefer grass, however I think we need to also think of the needs of the high school athletes who compete on this field. After all there are many other parks in town with natural grass including the Lowell School right across the street.

  3. If Watertown paid as much for great underlayment for grass as for plastic turf, we’d have a usable grass field plus worms and birds and butterflies, cool temperatures, and neighbors to enjoy them.

    • Overused grass fields, such as we have in Watertown, cannot sustain their surfaces and meet the active use requirements of it’s growing residents. That is why communities across the commonwealth continue to add artificial turf fields for sports specific uses. The School Committee which represents families in Watertown is advocating for an additional field for our children. The idea that we can spend alot of money to simply create and maintain a grass field is false. Why has Harvard University, with it’s billions in assets, moved toward turf fields?

  4. I concur 100% with Mr. O’Connor. This beautiful field is for the use of all of us not just a few. I am saddened by the lack of common sense in this community. It is appalling.

  5. Very well done article of the history of the victory field complex other than the paragraph beginning with 2011 as there has been more use for our Watertown residents on the stadium side since the Phase I renovation.

    Before that only baseball and football was played, but now baseball, football, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse and some softball is played on formal and informal basis. The addition of artificial surface and lights has given our residents more opportunity for excersise, fun and social interaction.

    My daughter, Tory Boyle played field hockey and lacrosse on Victory, something that could not be done before the Phase I renovation.

    It is now again the place to be and a safe and central place to meet friends and family as well as play.

    The theory that this article and some others I have seen is that we want to limit access on the track and field side of victory. This is so untrue. We want to increase the opportunity for our residents by improving the facility as recommended in the 2014 plan presented to the community in a public meeting.

    I wish some residents would stop saying this and state the facts and the reality of the situation. Everyone has a right to an opinion, but ultimately the truth needs to be the cornerstone of the final decision.

    This includes more accessable pathways, resting and shade areas, appropriate and handicapped accessable seating as well as a new track, courts, lights, parking and an appropriate surface that will meet the demands of our users.

    Although I played all my baseball career on natural grass, this surface is not the answer in my opinion at our Victory Complex as the installation of a more appropriate surface will help solve our major capacity issues that are well documented.

    Looking for continued dialog in hopes of rebuilding a facility we can be proud of and meets our residents needs now and in the future.

    The next meeting of the victory ad hoc meeting is Monday at 7:00 in the town hall.

    I would ask those who utilize, have utilized or will utilize the Victory Field Complex would attend meetings, state their opinion or somehow be involved in the process.

    Regards,

    Peter Centola – St Patrick’s HS 78′
    Karen Centola – WHS 88′
    Tory Boyle – WHS 13′
    Philip Centola – WMS ’18
    Leanne Centola – WMS 20′

    25 Thurston Road

  6. Victory Field Park is also rented out many evenings to Boston Sports&Ski club yet remains a great natural turf field(and if there are contentions with Watertown groups these outside groups should not get the field..or possibly could use other fields in Watertown). This is a community park, used by students , kids, toddlers, seniors and all residents of Watertown. We have 160,000 sq ft of fenced in Plastic fields already while other towns(some with 2+ times number of students of Watertown) have only 1 football field..less than Watertown. Keeping this Victory Field Park Oval portion of the park as green as possible while allowing for upgrades for the track/tennis and other amenities, seems like a great balance. A balance of the needs of all our residents/students, along with the fact that this is a community park and gathering ground, would be fair.

  7. Why is all the rec department’s focus on competitive team sports? There are just as many residents of Watertown … kids, grownups, seniors…who don’t watch or play sports; who just want to jog, walk or play other types of games like catch, or gaga (ever heard of it? It’s played all around the world), bocci, kick-ball, dodgeball. Maintaining grass it worth it because it gives back oxygen and cleaner air to breathe while you are recreating. We are short on natural open space. Please don’t destroy the jewel that victory field by turning it over.

    • Actually the Rec Department runs many different programs, very few of which are focused on competitive team sports. If you go to the Rec Department website you can see that they run all sorts of programs. For the kids they run Camp Pequossette, Trip Week and the Park programs during the summer, as well as offer camps during vacation weeks, little shooters program for K-1st graders, and many after school programs throughout the year.

      For adults they have things such as adult tennis programs and chair yoga for adults, to name a couple. Just this past Friday night cops and rec hosted a movie night behind the police station, a great community event that was well attended.

      I also know that the rec department hosts an open forum periodically, I know Peter Centola is always looking for input from the community on different programs that the Recreation Department might be able offer going forward.

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