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Prohibition Park and Westerleigh

From The PS30 P.T.A Golden Anniversary Supplement 1907-1957

Standing at the Jewett Avenue end of Boulevard and looking down the hill towards Public School 30, it is difficult to imagine that once here gathered many leaders of the National Prohibition Party. At the foot of the hill on Fiske Avenue stood a large auditorium, seating four thousand, and the symbol of the party - a stone fountain with presumably clear water - was prominently displayed next to it. (We PS30 kids always climbed on it. inserted by AOA.) When the fountain was torn down last year scarcely anyone remembered what awe it had inspired sixty-odd years earlier when colored electric lights shone through the flowing water at night.

What is now Westerleigh was once known as Prohibition Park. Much of the land had previously been owned by the Vanderbilts and was purchased by the Prohibition Camp Ground Association in 1887, who also bought other land from time to time. The original plan of the Camp Ground Association was to establish a summer resort where families interested in the prohibition movement could enjoy the country air amid congenial surroundings and also where meetings on the Chatauqua Plan could be held. No saloons or commercial enterprises were to be permitted. Small lots were sold - suitable for tenting - and soon many families decided to build summer residences, some remaining the year around. Streets were laid out bearing names of prominent prohibitionists or of "dry" states. Maple trees were planted and wooden sidewalks were laid. A large circular tent was first erected in what is now Westerleigh Park, but was replaced in 1891 by the auditorium. There was a good attendance at the meetings here, with crowds coming from all over to enjoy the programs. In 1893 progress came in the form of a single-track trolley on Jewett Avenue from Port Richmond to The Boulevard. Later, this same trolley company developed Midland Beach as a "respectable" resort, enticing residents to use the extended trolley lines.

On the spot where the old building of P.S. 30 now stands was built the Park Hotel, accommodating 500 guests. This was the typical three-story frame hotel of the era with porches all along one side and rocking chairs to match. The first school in the Park was held in 1894 in the hotel parlors, and in colder weather was transferred to the more easily heated parlor of the Villa, a summer boarding house at the corner of Fiske and Maine Avenues. The Westerleigh Collegiate Institute, which went from the kindergarten to the college level, was built in 1895 at what is now the intersection of College Avenue and New York Place, and College Avenue was laid out leading to its doors. No one appears to know why the school chose that name, but when later residents of the area preferred not to have a "temperance" address, they adopted the name "Westerleigh" (I guess those residents were the Rum Runners. added by AOA) After enough residents braved the rugged winters "in the country", a two-story brick public school was built in 1904.

As interest in the prohibition movement grew less, the organization became more of a real estate development under the name of the National Prohibition Park Company. Many literary men were urged to move here by Dr. Isaac Funk, who was then working with them on the Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary. This produced quite an intellectual community and as the ranks swelled, the Deems Literary Society was formed in 1898. The poet, Edwin Markham, was among those who moved to the Park and he and his family became active in the community. Because of the differing religious beliefs of the residents, a protestant "union" church - the second of its kind in the country - was organized and Deems Chapel built on Jewett Avenue in 1895. At that time there were still many wooded areas, with what was known as the "Iron Mines" laying between Jewett Avenue and Westcott Boulevard opposite Waters Avenue.

Alas, before long the "college" and the auditorium burned down, together with many of the early records. More and more people moved to "the country". The twentieth Century was ushered in, and gradually the Prohibition Park of yesteryear became the Westerleigh of today.

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