A Hidden Gem in Downtown WrenthamJul 01, 2020 11:55AM ● By Grace Allen
The entrance to Sweatt Memorial Park.
It’s easy to miss the entrance to Sweatt Park if you’re driving through downtown Wrentham.
But if you’re out walking, as more and more people have been doing lately, it’s a pleasant discovery. Located on the sidewalk near the intersection of Routes 1A and 140 between a consignment shop and dry cleaner, the entrance is marked with flower-filled urns and benches, as well as a plaque.
The real surprise, however, is visible only when you descend the terraced stairways. Visitors are greeted by a sweeping vista of 200-year-old towering sycamore trees, walkways, benches, and old tennis courts.
Wrentham’s Landscape and Memorials Committee has taken on the task of refurbishing the area, and people are noticing.
“We’re all trying to enjoy the outdoors right now, and it’s really gratifying to have people stop by and say, ‘thank you for doing this,’” said committee member Diane Glass.
“We’re thrilled it’s being used,” said Rebecca Zitomer, the committee’s chairperson. “It’s like a little secret garden. It just needs some love and attention.”
This is not the first time the area has been refurbished. About ten years ago, the committee had worked to renovate the park’s focal point: the stairways and sloping gardens leading down to the park from the street. Granite walls were installed and the centerpiece--a sculpture depicting Native American leader King Philip on the interior wall above a terraced alcove—gained new prominence.
Now the committee, with several new members, has returned to the task. The gardens had become overgrown and the park’s maintenance had lapsed.
The below street-level park was built in the 1930s in memory of Wrentham resident William Sweatt. Upon his death, Sweatt left the town $200,000, the interest of which is earmarked for expenditures not covered by the regular town budget. The Sweatt Fund is intended primarily for the care of the town common and its trees.
Sweatt Park is considered an extension of the town common. Grants from the Sweatt Fund were used ten years ago for the park’s initial restoration.
This time, the Landscape and Memorials Committee is working with the DPW and the Sohoanno Garden Club to return the park to its former glory. The committee includes garden club members, arborists, and a granite expert. So far this year, the volunteers have weeded the terraced gardens and planted new flowers and bushes. Mulch has been brought in and spread. The shrubs were purchased at cost by committee member Doug McDuff, owner of Landscape America. Many of the perennials were donated by Glass and committee member Selena Zubrowski, culled from their own gardens.
Zitomer served from 2005 to 2011 on the original committee to restore the park, helping to provide a vision for the amphitheater design. She had to step away, however, after major illness.
“I think the park was forgotten, and other priorities came along,” she explained. “People don’t see it, so it’s out of sight, out of mind. It’s a sunken park. But I think it’s very relevant in this day and age. All our parks are being used and getting a lot more traffic.”
The committee’s short-term goals include getting water and lighting to the site. Currently, committee members are lugging water from home to keep the new plantings alive, said Glass, who is also a member of the Sohoanno Garden Club.
Long-term goals include fixing the tennis courts and walkways. The parking lot off of Depot Street—another entrance to the park--needs to be resurfaced. Other ideas include adding a playground and perhaps a skateboard park. An empty lot nearby has already been repurposed by teens into a makeshift skateboard park.
Bordering Sweatt Park is the former Crosby Valve property. The 50-acre grassy tract is designated to become a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development in the future.
“There is an overall vision for the area,” said Glass.
Glass, a retired lawyer, and Zitomer, who owned a children’s store and art studio in Wrentham before her illness, say the downtown merchants are happy the park is getting some attention.
“People are working from home and out walking, getting a coffee from Crosby’s Coffeehouse, and discovering the park,” said Glass. “We had one woman stop and say, ‘I’ve lived in this town for 35 years and I didn’t know this park was here.’ It’s really a treasure. It’s a hidden gem.”
Added Glass, “We’ve realized that when Mr. Sweatt provided this fund, people didn’t really travel very much outside of Wrentham. It was a different era. And that’s what is happening right now, during this pandemic. Our work on Sweatt Park is just very timely.”
For more information about the project to restore Sweatt Park, contact Zitomer at [email protected] In addition to Zitomer and Glass, the Landscape and Memorials Committee members include Selena Zubrowski, Doug McDuff, Ray Rose, Joe Macrina, and Andrea Crabtree.