The eastern 1.2 acre portion of present day Montgomery Park was sold to the Village of Dryden in 1925 for $1 by Dr. Mary Montgomery, in memory of her deceased brother, Dr. John James Montgomery. The property is located directly behind the Montgomery family home (38 West Main St.), where Mary lived with her brother for a period of time, and where her father also lived and practiced medicine.
Original Montgomery Family House, 38 West Main St., as it looks today, with Montgomery Park in background.
In 1934, pine seedlings were purchased and planted at Montgomery Park, spaced with a future picnic area at the park in mind. Pine seedlings were also planted at the school. In June 1935, local farmers worked together with the Village to clear rocks and debris from the property, level the ground and seed it to grass. On Armistice Day, 1935, the Legion committee dug a roasting pit at Montgomery Park, and slow roasted a steer all night over coals created by two truckloads of burned tree stumps. 1200 meals were served and the festivities continued at the Opera House with a fiddlers’ contest and harmonica contest and then a dance.
In 1941, before any other improvements were achieved, ice skating was made available at the park. The entire park was used as a rink. The Town excavated with a bulldozer as needed to make the area level, and used excavated dirt to create the sides. The rink was sprayed with water, and then flooded. When the ice was well frozen, a red ball was hung. With flood lights installed on poles, children and grown-ups alike enjoyed ice skating and hockey over the winter. There was talk among the men of adding a trolley car with a stove in it, for skaters’ comfort! Ice skating at the park continued for many years.
In 1947 the first summer program was funded: six full days per week for ten weeks of games, skills and crafts, held at the school. The following year, plans were made for the summer program to move from the school building to Montgomery Park. The plan included adding a small playground and a building to the park that could host a bathroom and indoor activities. Evidently much of the plan materialized, because a 1950 article about the Summer Program reported that the children enjoyed a swing set, slide, and sandbox, as well as badminton, baseball and croquet games, and ping pong and checkers inside the park building; the lack of bathrooms and a water source for drinking and water play were lamented.
By 1954, the twenty year old pine trees must have provided sufficient shade for picnicking, because the paper records that Grange volunteers built one picnic table and repaired another.
The park building received extensive renovations inside and out in 1970, including new windows, ceiling, and paint, in a cooperative project between the Dryden Village board and the Dryden Jaycees. The Jaycees used the building for its bi-weekly meetings and club room. The local Boy Scout Troop 24, who also helped with the project, held meetings there during the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Many improvements came to the park in 1973-74. An additional 1.5 acres located directly behind the hotel was sold to the village for $4300 by Mr. Manuel Llop in 1973, thanks to a generous donation by Robert Baker Sr. The village and town filled and graded the site, and created a ball field, multi-purpose courts (tennis and basketball) and parking area. The courts were designed with curbing and drains so they could be flooded for winter ice skating. In early 1974, equipment for the tennis courts was purchased, along with basketball backboards and bleachers. The Kiwanis club, with donations and support from village residents, added lights for night time skating and fencing around the courts. Using the courts as an ice rink took a toll on the pavement, and the area was resurfaced and painted in 1979. Skating was enjoyed at the park until about 1990.
As part of the 1976 bicentennial celebration preparations, a near replica of the bandstand which stood in the Village Green for seventy years was constructed at Montgomery Park in 1974. It was decided to build the bandstand at the park so that musicians would not have to compete with the noise of heavy traffic flowing by the Village Green and because Montgomery Park had become the heart of the community. Sarto Schickel worked with architect Jack Franzen to design a very similar, but slightly larger, version of the original 1889 bandstand. Measurements were calculated based on a photograph that included a man who was known to be 6 feet tall, standing by the old bandstand! The ceiling is cleverly designed to broadcast sound outward.
In 1975 the flag pole was placed with much celebration at the park in memory of Harry Pilling, former Village Board member, milkman, Kiwanis Club member and volunteer fireman, among other beloved roles. The pole was funded by Harry’s friends and family, including the personal savings of Harry’s son Robert, who died in 1972.
In 1978 the Kiwanis Club of Dryden presented an architectural plan to build a pavilion that included a kitchen and restrooms to the Village Board. In their proposal, Town and Village would split the cost of materials and Kiwanis would donate the labor. The Village Board did not want to assume the ongoing maintenance of such a building. In 1982 a simple picnic pavilion without kitchen or restrooms was constructed by Sertoma, and the old park building was removed.
1982 also marked the 125th anniversary of the incorporation of the Village of Dryden. The Village held a birthday party celebration in Montgomery Park that included a Dryden High School band concert, a performance by the Dryden Footlighters Traveling Troupe, square dancing on the tennis courts and other activities. A large birthday cake was displayed on the bandstand, cut by Village officials, and pieces were distributed to attendees.
Since the first annual Dryden Dairy Day in 1985, Dairy Day festivities have been held at Montgomery Park. After the Dairy Day parade down Main St, hundreds of people flock to the park to have lunch, learn more about dairy farming, listen to local bands playing on the bandstand, watch dignitaries get dunked in the dunk tank, have a 10 cent carton of milk, purchase local crafts and much more.
To discourage young drivers from doing donuts on the ball field, a grant was procured to create plantings around the street and driveway edges of the park in 1987-88. The honeysuckle hedge along the driveway, the Norway spruces along Elm St and the now removed box elder by the bandstand were all planted using those grant funds.
From 2003 until 2013 the Town of Dryden sponsored a weekly program of music in the park throughout the summer. In 2006 a skateboard park was established in the tennis court area in memory of Christopher Ackley, a teenager who was planning a skateboard park at Montgomery Park before his untimely death. In 2007 the Town of Dryden also added a shed adjacent to the tennis courts to store skateboard equipment.
Dr. John W. Montgomery was recorded as a village physician as early as 1828. He was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, the local reading and debating society and twice represented Dryden in the legislature in Albany. Construction on the Montgomery family house (38 West Main) began in about 1840. In the early 1800’s, this property was home to one of Dryden’s early log whiskey distilleries, run by Nancy Bowlby Ferguson. Originally the Montgomery house was a square plan structure two story; a third story was added in the Second Empire mode in about 1880. Construction on the house across the street, 43 West Main St, began on the same day.
Dr. John’s son, Dr. John J., continued his father’s practice and sometime between 1857 and 1866 had a small office added to the east of the Montgomery home. Dr. John J was an original incorporator of the Southworth Library Association. He lived in the house with his sister, Dr. Mary Montgomery for a period of time.
If you would like to add to this history, please email Mary Kirkwyland.