Beauty surrounds historic Spencer park
Every community has its hidden gems – those cool places very few people outside of those who live there actually know about. With the pandemic forcing us to find different activities closer to home, many of these are being discovered and appreciated for the beautiful escape from everyday life that they are.
I’ll be spotlighting some of these areas throughout our five-county region, starting with a national-recognized treasure hidden almost in plain sight.
Nichols Pond Park, Spencer
Anyone driving through the center of the Village of Spencer in Tioga County can’t miss the pond across from the Shurfine grocery store on Route 34, and the gazebo and picnic tables on the Main Street side of the park.
But the trail around Nichols Pond, paved and spruced up by village residents a decade ago, stretches back to a covered bridge, rock wall and garden, a rock sculpture creature known as Evinrude the Swamp Monster, and the grounds that annually host the 110-year-old Spencer Picnic and house one of New York’s oldest baseball grandstand structure.
There are also a host of great fishing spots, benches all around the grounds, free community concerts in the summer and beauty as far as the eye stretches, all year around. And as of this winter, the park is part of the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to a nomination from the Village of Spencer.
“Growing up in the area, I wasn't aware of the history of the park,” said Abbey Hendrickson, Community Development Specialist for Tioga County’s Department of Economic Development and Planning, who helped compile the application. “Through the process, I learned so much.”
The park covers approximately 23 acres, which includes the area around the pond. The stone-dust path wraps around a natural habitat for wildlife such as birds, amphibians, and fish, while marshy sections serve as a nursery for native aquatic plants. It features a fountain on its eastern side, towards the dock area.
Beginning at the eastern entrance, a paved 18-space parking lot is in front of the east side of the pond. Interpretive signage and a wood gazebo are adjacent to the lot, beyond which is a wooden dock.
Along its course are four contemporary benches and 16 wood panels used by the Spencer Library as a book walk display. There are a total of 17 benches scattered throughout the park, mostly overlooking the pond.
The trail follows west around the pond, then crosses a small brook via a wood-framed covered bridge, constructed in 2011. Close to the covered bridge is a picnic bench and a large folk-art sculpture entitled Evinrude the Swamp Monster.
At its westernmost extreme, the path passes the area where the baseball field and dugouts, grandstand, concession stand, and other built features are clustered. Six rows of horseshoe pits are located directly behind the concession stand, surrounded by a low chain-link fence.
The trail then passes the Spencer-Van Etten Middle School to the north, before completing its circuit on a southeasterly course to the starting point, the eastern parking area.
Nichols Park was named for John Avery Nichols, the first recorded owner of the property. The park dates back more than 150 years as private grounds that were taken over by the Village around the turn of the century.
Over the years, the park was used for a variety of community activities, which continues to this day. The huge wood-framed baseball grandstand dates back to the early 1920s.
By the 1960s, the pond had become overgrown with weeds, and several projects over the years – including one that concluded in 2011 with the construction of the covered bridge and clearing of a designated pathway around the pond – have kept it the gem that it is today, in large part due to efforts of volunteers.