Looking Back: Queen City Park

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Thursday June 25, 2015

Are we called
to the place
where we live?

Queen City Park is a magical little enclave of South Burlington, picturesquely tucked away below the southern fringes of Red Rocks Park.

Are we called to the place where we live? Could there be a fabric subliminally woven into the mapping of our lives? I believe it is possible. After all, it was a simple “wrong” turn thirty-seven years ago, that lead me to this place I have come to call home.

Queen City Park is a magical little enclave of South Burlington, picturesquely tucked away below the southern fringes of Red Rocks Park. With its quaint charm and lakeside appeal, today this neighborhood is a sought after place to live. Yet, that was not always the case. In fact, this little set-apart community has a precarious history.
For about 40 some years, this neighborhood was considered to be “on the wrong side of the tracks.” It wasn’t until around the mid nineteen-eighties that a positive shift began to take place. Suddenly people outside of ‘The Park’ recognized its unique qualities and value, and wanted in.

Perhaps our first annual Queen City Park Day, held August 1, 1982, was the actual turning point. By that time, a number of socially conscious activists, with a strong sense of community, had already moved in. In a joint effort, we created a wonderful array of land and water activities for both children and adults followed by a potluck, bonfire and singing. We even had a Queen City Park logo silk-screened onto tee shirts. All of this was done to instill a sense of pride in our community, especially for the children who had been teased because of where they lived. Other Queen City Park Days have taken place over the years, but that first one was pivotal.

So are we indeed called to where we live? Are there vibrational threads in our lives that link us to the tapestry of a terrain with which we resonate? Occasionally while sitting on The Green in Queen City Park or down by the water’s edge in Red Rocks, I’ve experienced heightened energy as if frequencies from eras past still remained; where then and now mesh together in unbound, timelessness. And, why not? After all, the last stronghold on this prime lakeside terrain were a group of spiritualists with broad and liberal religious convictions. Contradicting the notion of heaven and hell, these counter culturists believed the doorway to reformation remains always open to any soul, in this lifetime and beyond.
An offshoot of the Vermont Spiritualist Society purchased this parcel of land from the Central Vermont Railroad in the early 1880’s. Soon after, the Queen City Park Association, under the name of The Forest City Park Association, was formed with the intent of turning this lush forestland abutting the eastern shore of Shelburne Bay into a private park for spiritualist camp meetings, picnicking, and as a summer resort. The Queen City Park Association was a stock corporation with a capital stock of $5000. Each share sold for $100. A shareholder received a tent site that could be rented to others when he/she was not using it.

In 1882, under the auspices of the association, the first Lake Champlain Spiritualist Camp Meeting was held from August 21 to September 11. Other than word of mouth, there is little recorded documentation of the early Queen City Park Spiritualist gatherings until the 15th annual meeting in 1896. During these summer gatherings, a school was held featuring notable lecturers. There were séances, vendors, musical performances, dancing, and more.

In 1886, improvements to the initial tent meetings included a number of handsome cottages along with a commodious hotel. That first hotel burned and by 1890, a second more elaborate three and a half-story structure had been built with 80 rooms and an elegant dining hall that seated 150 people. When Lucius Webb bought the property, he had the dining room rebuilt to seat 300.

To accommodate the influx of people, there were special trains from Burlington to Queen City Park. A round trip ticket could be purchased for 15 cents. Around 1899 streetcar tracks were extended from Shelburne Road to The Park. Ferries, such as The Reindeer, would also pick up and drop off passengers down at a wooden pier jetting out on Shelburne Bay.

In the late 1930’s a huge fire engulfed much of Queen City Park. Barely a structure survived and the spiritualist legacy became little more than an intriguing bit of history.

Nevertheless, vestiges of that era are still evident within the heart and soul of our community. The original artesian well remains, as does the bell that once sat upon the roof of the pavilion.

Wesley Eldred, who grew up in Queen City Park, recently shared this tidbit. “That bell has been part of our community for more than 100 years. For many years, the pavilion at the southwest corner of the green served as the location for public meetings and social events. That bell was on the roof of the pavilion. In 1915, a chapel was constructed complete with a bell tower and the bell was moved into that tower and the pavilion was torn down. As children, we would sneak into the chapel and ring the bell at odd times. Around 1950 the firehouse was constructed and the chapel was torn down and the same bell moved to its present location where, in the absence of a bell rope, ringing is a challenge, but a reminder of the changes that have occurred.”

Sometimes I walk around the narrow streets of this community, pondering what it would have been like mingling here among the 19th century spiritualists in their Victorian attire. Hmm. Then again, perhaps I already am!

SOURCE: Janet Schneider, Guest Contributor