On February 26, 1931, America was deep in depression. What was life like in Rockland then? We have one piece of evidence that our community spirit remained strong. On that day, Louis B. Cook, President of the Rockland Community and School Improvement Association, signed the deed that gave five acres of land on Broadway to the City of Rockland.
The purpose of the gift was to establish a public park for children. “As a condition of the conveyance, the City of Rockland shall agree that the park shall be perpetually dedicated to the boys and girls of Rockland and that during the school year they shall at all times have priority in the use of the field. During the summer months, however, the City may, on proper permit, allow the use of the field for athletic contests and proper recreational purposes.”
Another clause of the deed allows an exception for the erection of a school building. Finally, the City agreed that the Association could erect and maintain on the field a sign bearing the legend “Community Park presented to the City of Rockland by the Rockland School and Community Improvement Association, Inc., and dedicated by them to the boys and girls of Rockland for the perpetual use as a recreational field and playground.”
Some older readers may remember the early years of the park. It must certainly have been used by children as a playing field. Then, in 1954, pursuant to the exception allowed in the deed, the land was given to the School District, and the North School was built. Later the name was changed to MacDougal School, for Doris Coltart MacDougal, the first woman principal in Rockland, honored for having “dedicated 40 years of her life to the youth of this community.”
The school was in service for 54 years. Meanwhile, in 1982, the Rockland Community and School Improvement Association was dissolved. Then, in 2010, the school was abandoned, the land was returned to the City, and the building was torn down.
For some years there was a debate about what the City should do with the land. Penquis, a large government grant based non-profit organization in Bangor, expressed an interest in acquiring the property for a Federally subsidized low-income housing development.
After reflection, however, it became clear to the members of City Council that Rockland was morally and legally bound to respect the vision of those citizens who ninety years ago formed the Rockland Community and School Improvement Association, raised the funds to acquire five beautiful acres of open, level land near the city center, and gave the land to our children so that they would always have a place to play. In this spirit, on May 8, 2017, the City Council unanimously gave final approval to an ordinance by which the land is formally recognized as the MacDougal Community Park.
Rockland’s Parks Commission has been seeking input on ways to make the park an attractive place for children to play, and in general to make it a beautiful park that all of Rockland can enjoy and admire. Volunteers have been working on plans, and on modest and inexpensive improvements. A first picnic table has been placed in the shade of a tree. A perimeter path, a half mile long, has been laid out with yellow pin flags. Children are coming by on their bikes, dogs are chasing balls, frisbees are being tossed, and ideas are being hatched for, among other things, community gardens and a path from the park through the woods to the playing fields on Old County Road, and eventually over Dodge’s Mountain to the Rockland Bog.
The essential vision, however, is not new, but old; far older, indeed, than the Rockland Community and School Improvement Association. It is a primordial vision of happy children playing together; children happy even when times are tough, thanks to a community that supports them.
Our new old community park, and our ideas for it, will be the subject of the Rockland Metro show on WRFR this Wednesday from 5 to 6 pm. Calls will be taken at 593-0013. To offer to join us in the studio, email firstname.lastname@example.org