Travel Back in Time: Watson Park, Still a Jewel in East Braintree
The lighthearted days of summer evoke happy memories of Watson Park for a writer who grew up in the neighborhood.
Everyone was enjoying the parade of colorfully costumed kids, decorated bicycles and festooned doll carriages making its way down Arthur Street from the brick elementary school on Quincy Avenue. It was a beautiful Saturday in May and the annual Watson School Field Day was underway.
Parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends cheered for us along the route, some clapping their hands while calling out our names, others taking photos with the “family camera.” The theme that year was growing your own garden and so for reasons otherwise unknown, except that maybe red crepe paper was on sale or left over from Valentine’s parties, I became a tomato for the day.
At first this seemed like a good idea. With the aid of an industrial-strength stapler, my dad put his creativity and engineering skills to the test, plumping the base with old newspapers. Meanwhile my mom had been busy at her sewing machine, making a fashionable stem “hat” to go with. (Add a feather and it could have easily competed with one of today’s “fascinators” from London.)
When I finally tried it on and took a look in the mirror, my too-cool self was a little embarrassed, but mostly amused. Once on the parade route, everything was going fine until we hit the wire fence entrance to Watson Park along Gordon Road. Then it happened. Clumps of carefully crumpled and stuffed newspaper began to fall out from the bottom of my costume.
Soon I was leaving a trail of “tomato stuffing” behind me. With every step it became worse, because now the heat of the day and crepe paper dye had combined to create scary-red streaks down my arms and legs. I tried to stall the inevitable by adding a demure knee lock to my marching step, but it was too late.
Totally deflated, in every sense, I sheepishly made my way to the judging area. This had to be one of those “A for effort” situations, because I actually received a ribbon. Perhaps it was for perseverance in overcoming obstacles, or just plain sympathy, but ultimately it stood for enjoyment, and all the laughter that recalling this incident has brought since.
Fortunately my field day costume memories also include some glamorous moments as well. One in particular, and my favorite, is the time I was “Cinderella” the year we had a Disney theme. Thanks to my mother’s keen shopping instinct and alteration skills, I was resplendent in a pastel pink gown with lace bodice and chiffon skirt, which we had found along with a sparkling tiara, at the Bargain Center one Friday night.
My other “glam” costume was an intergalactic getup I had fashioned from a dance leotard and tights with a black cape and big gold foil bolt of lightning for my crown. That year’s theme was somewhat historical, a tribute to U.S. exploration in outer space.
Of course Watson School field days themselves became history when the school closed some years ago. But the park has continued to serve East Braintree well, by providing family recreation space complete with a separate children’s playground, tennis courts, a basketball court, and most notably, eight youth league ball fields.
My brother, who played little league ball at Watson Park, recently shared some of his memories with me. “I liked how you graduated from one diamond to the next, with the goal of the Major League park (even though the Babe Ruth diamond was bigger),” he said. Another highlight was the refreshment stand, he added, “and getting free food (bought by the manager) after a game.”
Paralleling my enjoyment of field day parades was his recollection of the Little League parade on opening day of each season.
“It was on a Saturday,” my brother recalled, “and then we'd play two innings or so each team so that everyone could play.” Those parades also started at Watson School and proceeded down Arthur Street, not far from our house.
Also within walking distance of my childhood home was the then Swift’s Beach on Vinedale Road. We were able to swim there, take swimming lessons and enjoy a picnic on the sand with family and friends. This beach was renamed during the mid-1970s in honor of World War II veteran and East Braintree resident Lt. G. Murray Smith, who died in service.
There is a walking path between the beach and the park, named after the late former Selectman Frank Toland, who had also lived in the East Braintree neighborhood nearby and been an instrumental member of its civic association.
Four of the ballfields have also been dedicated in the name of former East Braintree residents who made a special contribution to youth sports in this area and have since passed: William Sheridan a former president of the Braintree National Youth League; William Darosa, a former player in the Braintree National Youth League; Debra Steele, a former administrator of the girls softball division and Walter Delorey, one of the founders of the East Braintree Little League, predecessor to the Braintree National Youth League.
At a time when the park is a focal point of discussion and decisions regarding proposed revitalization projects, it is worth noting that Watson Park has been a fixture in East Braintree since approximately 1921, having been a part of Thomas Watson's original farm. For those of us who have enjoyed this park more recently, that seems amazing.
On my visit a few weeks ago, although there weren’t any games or parades taking place, I had one of those moments often created in movies where cheers and applause resound from an empty stadium in a character’s memory after a pivotal event. For me, this was a happy feeling and one that Braintree residents today can look forward to, in real-time, for years to come.
Factual information about Watson Park and Smith Beach contained in this article, unless otherwise noted, was provided by the Braintree Department of Recreation and Community Events.
Correction: The 15th paragraph previously stated that four of the Watson ballfields were dedicated posthumously. In fact, the Sheridan and Delorey fields were dedicated prior to the passing of their namesakes, though they have since both passed away.