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Group floats effort to restore iconic Lily Pond, develop winding, landscaped pathway

Posted 7/26/22

The local nonprofit program, Olmsted City of Greater Utica, has announced the launch of a campaign to restore Lily Pond in Utica’s historic Frederick T. Proctor Park.

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Group floats effort to restore iconic Lily Pond, develop winding, landscaped pathway


UTICA — The local nonprofit program, Olmsted City of Greater Utica, has announced the launch of a campaign to restore Lily Pond in Utica’s historic Frederick T. Proctor Park.

The campaign aims to restore the iconic feature in time for next year’s centennial of the donation of the park to the people of Utica.

The Lily Pond is a cement reflection pool located on a plateau between the park’s main upper level and its lower level, which runs along the Starch Factory Creek. Like the rest of the park—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the foremost American landscape architect of the first half of the 20th century.

“The Lily Pond is the most important original Olmsted-designed element in Utica’s 600-acre parks and parkway system,” notes Olmsted City Chair Phil Bean, “and it has been a favorite destination for 110 years, but it’s definitely showing its age. It can’t go on like this forever.”

The Lily Pond has been patched in a variety of ways over the last several decades, but it has never been fully restored, and now Olmsted City hopes to do a “once-in-a century restoration.”

“With financial contributions from the community, we will preserve the Lily Pond for the next 100 years,” notes Olmsted City committee member Frank Williams. “The future of this historic park is in the hands of the people of Utica, who own this park. We as a community have pulled together before to do even bigger things, and with this $50,000 match challenge for starters, we can achieve this worthwhile goal.”

For every dollar raised, up to a total of $50,000 on this challenge, a donor will contribute a second dollar, thus doubling each donation during this first phase of fundraising.

Olmsted City proposes not just to restore the Lily Pond but also to build an Olmsted-style winding pathway, landscaped with trees, shrubs, and benches, across the pond’s plateau, which will unite a number of elements: the pond; the road leading to the park’s lower level; the two iconic stone “bathhouses” and a stone staircase, both built by unemployed workers (mostly Italian immigrants) during the Depression; an Olmsted-designed stone staircase; and several paths.

The new pathway will be handicapped accessible and create several small destinations where visitors can enjoy a variety of relaxing views, according to officials.

Olmsted City has already invested over $30,000 in F.T. Proctor Park this season alone, the announcement said, adding those funds have been used to repair a stone staircase; install five benches; restore a long-lost carriage circle; plant 2,000 trees; shrubs, grasses, and other perennials; weed large planting beds, and install historically-appropriate bollards (or posts) to restrict traffic, which replace large cement blocks, including at the park’s main gate.

“We are very excited about the work we’ve done this season,” remarks Olmsted City Vice Chair and volunteer coordinator Amy Funkhouser, “especially because we were able to enlist the help of about four dozen volunteers to do most of it. It’s gratifying to hear so many park visitors say, ‘thank you!’ as they walk by while we’re doing our work. It means a lot to us that we’re affecting people so positively, and this Lily Pond project will be an important next step.”

Olmsted City hired the Syracuse architectural firm Klepper, Hyatt & Hahn to devise plans for the Lily Pond’s rehabilitation and the new pathway. The estimated total cost of the project is $150,000, and the current $50,000 match challenge seeks to raise two-thirds of that total. If sufficient funds are raised by Nov. 1, Olmsted City hopes to complete the project by the end of June 2023.

The City of Utica will contribute to this project by building the pathway — to be landscaped by Olmsted City.

“Although Olmsted City and its parent organization, the Landmarks Society, are committed to historic preservation and restoration,” said Bean, “this is about more than just fixing up old stuff.” Public health research has proven that spending time in urban public parks like F.T. Proctor can confer significant physical and mental health benefits—and this, Bean notes, is especially important in a city where many people are contending with lifestyle illnesses and trauma, especially many local refugees.

“Spending time in parks like this can be like medicine, but the visual appearance of these parks counts for something, as does the design,” he continues. “Parks that are in a good state of repair are more likely to attract visitors, and parks that have walking loops—something the new pathway will enhance—are 90% more likely to attract visitors who will engage in healthful exercise.”

Olmsted City committee member Honorine Wallack also observes that a rejuvenated F.T. Proctor Park — once considered the “jewel” of Utica’s Olmsted system—could also promote Utica’s economic development.

“In recent years, even before COVID, younger people have been leaving the country’s largest cities and moving to smaller ones,” she observes, “but they’re not just going to random places. This generation is more engaged with the outdoors than was the case among young people only 20-30 years ago, and a lot of them are moving from cities that have Olmsted-designed parks. They understand the value of what we have here, and our parks are more likely to factor into their calculations if they are in a good state of repair.”

Established in August 2021, Olmsted City is a program of the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated since 1974 to the preservation of Utica’s historic architecture.

Olmsted City has no paid employees. It focuses specifically on the restoration, preservation, and promotion of Utica’s Olmsted heritage: the 600-acre parks and parkway system and 6 neighborhoods (including one in New Hartford) designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and his firm, Olmsted Brothers.

Donations to Olmsted City are tax deductible, and checks made out to “Olmsted City” can be sent to Olmsted City, P.O. Box 8597, Utica, NY 13505.

More information — including how to make a donation — can also be made by credit card at



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