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OCT 29 - NOV 05, 2015

Clearing the Record on Charles Hyde and Hyde Park

Frank Parlato

OCT 29, 2015

Emily Douton
Hyde Park Lake

For years the common lore of Niagara Falls is that a philanthropist named Charles Hyde donated Hyde Park to this city as an act of municipal munificence.

Hyde Park is located along Hyde Park Boulevard a street also named after him.

Today Hyde Park is a 580 acre park and contains an 18 hole and 9 hole golf courses, bocce, lawn bowling, tennis and baseball.  

It is the site of Sal Maglie Stadium, and also features picnic pavilions, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Hyde Park Lake and the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion.

According to Wikipedia, “Hyde Park was the brainchild of Charles B. Hyde, the owner of a paper company at the corner of Hyde Park Boulevard.”

As the story goes, Hyde sold his paper company and retired, and bought a large tract of land on what was then the outskirts of the city.  In 1921, he suffered a stroke and died in Los Angeles and willed his land to the city for use as what is now Hyde Park.

That was not actually true.

He donated no land to the city.

Recent research by the Niagara Falls Reporter sheds new light on the topic.

Hyde Park was indeed named after Hyde, who was a freight agent for the Erie Railroad in Niagara Falls, owner of a small paper company on Sugar Street (later renamed Hyde Park) and a stock market investor.

He did not will land but actually stock to the City of Niagara Falls on condition they use the money for a park and name it after him.

According to the Niagara Falls Gazette, July, 2, 1923, Hyde told people he was related to the "well known English family that bequeathed to London, England, the property that was converted into beautiful Hyde Park, named after the donors."

Hyde "provided in his will that his estate should go to his wife, to be used by her during her lifetime, and that at her death to revert to the city of Niagara Falls to be used for the purchase of park property that must bear the name Hyde Park."

Actually Charles Hyde was exaggerating.

According to Wikipedia, Hyde Park in England was created in 1536 by Henry VIll for royal hunting. It was acquired from the canons of Westminster Abbey, who had held it since before the Norman Conquest.  It was a royal private hunting ground until James I permitted limited access to gentlefolk, appointing a ranger to take charge and in 1637 opened the park to the general public -- with no apparent help from any of Charles B. Hyde’s family.

In any event, after Hyde's death, his estate was appraised at $100,000. His money however, did not go directly to the city – but to his widow, Emily Douton- Hyde for as long as she lived.

She could use his money until she died then what was left would go to the city for a park.

Hyde, by the way, was the second husband of Emily Douton Hyde. She lost her first husband, William Douton on April 15, 1912 when the ocean liner he was aboard, the Titanic, hit an iceberg and sunk.

Shortly after Charles Hyde died, in September 1922, the city residents, in a referendum, in anticipation of collecting the Hyde bequest when his widow, Emily died, voted to approve a bond for $285,000 for the purchase of 58 acres of land known then "as the Gill Creek area and was designated to be named Hyde Park."

Emily married Dr. A. F. Biondi in March 1922 and died herself on June 30th, 1923, of cancer of the stomach.

Then the funds of Charles Hyde reverted to the city.

It was reported in the Gazette that “$100,000 of the Hyde estate now coming to the city of Niagara Falls will be used for retiring bonds of that issue, thereby greatly reducing the cost of the property to the city. The park has already been designated as Hyde Park in honor and memory of the generous” Hyde.

Things continued to develop.

In 1928, the Schoellkopf family (the Niagara Falls Power Company) donated 58 acres.

And in 1928, we learn from the Gazette, that the city finally got around to liquidating Hyde’s stock which was “a total of $106,384.25 (which) has been received by the city from the estate of the late Charles B. Hyde, all of the securities having been disposed of. The final disposition of the securities was made when 1,888 shares of Shredded Wheat Company stock were sold through the H. O. Babcock Company.”

While the city spent in the original purchase of lands over twice what Hyde was to donate, and Hyde may have been knowingly exaggerating when he said his ancestors founded Hyde Park in England, he was the genesis and founder of a park that perhaps would not have been developed but for him and his desire to leave a legacy.

Over the decades the park grew.

As residents began to use the park, a stone comfort station with showers and restrooms was built in 1925.

Construction, of the golf course begun in 1926.

In the 1930’s a dam was constructed across Gill Creek near Pine Avenue, flooding the swamp area and creating a 42 acre lake called Hyde Park lake.

In 1936, a stadium, Depression-era public works project, was built and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Oct. 17, 1936.

Attached to the stone comfort station and lounge was added in 1938 a restaurant.

The Niagara Falls Power Company donated additional land in 1943.

By 1967, the park consisted of 147.3 acres of land, a swimming pool, a playground, gardens, picnic area, baseball diamonds, a stadium, tennis courts, bowling greens, Hyde Park Lake and other facilities.

Today Hyde Park is a 580- acre park in the center of the city, the second largest city park in New York State, Central Park in New York City being the largest.

Charles Hyde was a benefactor of this city.

Charles and his wife Emily are interred in adjoining crypts in a mausoleum in Oakwood Cemetery.







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©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
POB 3083, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14304
Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina