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Finding 'Lil Niagara in Elmwood Park

One of Syracuse's best assets is the number of beautiful parks within an hour's drive of its boundaries. These include Green Lakes, Chittenango Falls, Clarks Reservation, Labrador Unique Area, Highland Forest and even the many waterfalls in Ithaca. However, an hour's drive isn't necessary to experience the natural wonders of central New York. The city itself boasts an impressive park system -- 1,000 acres. Imagine my surprise when I discovered "Little Niagara" within a five-minute walk of my house.

I bought my house about a year and a half ago on the southwest side of Syracuse next to Elmwood Park. It was a vacant property directly across the street from the apartment I was living in. I had looked at houses in every neighborhood within the city limits before ultimately deciding to buy mine. The property had its perks but it needed work. To be honest, it was really the park that sold me.

Elmwood Park is surrounded mostly by residential property tucked away next to Corcoran High School. It seems as though the 65-acre park goes largely unnoticed, which leads me to imagine I have my own personal enchanted forest practically in my own backyard. The natural beauty of the place led it to be designated as a park in 1927.

"It was to be 'a good example of the naturalistic park where beauty of the landscape is the predominating factor a delightful unspoiled area of land surrounded by high-class residential property,'" explains the City of Syracuse's Web site for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs. "As such, the design of all the incidental structures - bridges, walls, weirs, stairs, curbs, etc. - were to be in a rough and ready vernacular of rustic stone, natural borders or unfinished, heavy timber."

I was surprised to learn from the Web site that in 1806 a furnace was built on the property and used to cast shot and shells for the War of 1812. Later in 1889, the land was turned into William Pardee's "First Class Temperance Pleasure Resort." The Web site reads, "At that time, it covered about 17-acres and had two artificial lakes, picnic shelters, dance pavilions, a restaurant, concessions (such as a cigar stand and an ice cream parlor), amusements (such as swan boats, rifle range, merry-go-round and the like), and the natural attractions of bluffs, streams and wildflowers. It was described as a 'delightful spot, first rate, handsome, pretty and safe, an ideal place for a day's outing...'"

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