ITHACA, N.Y. –– Stewart Park is turning 100! And in celebration, the Friends of Stewart Park organization is reflecting on the last century while looking forward to the next.

This is just a small piece of the yearlong celebration in store for Park lovers. You can see the list of events on the website at stewartpark.org/events. However this week the Friends will be holding a Zoom meeting to discuss the park’s revitalization plan and gather feedback from the community on how they would like to see the park improved. Secondly, Ithacans can get away from their screens by riding the free carousel in the park –– a tribute to the park’s past.

Stewart Park has a rich history, purchashed in the 1890s from a private owner to become a public space with a zoo, a merry-go-round, and Ithaca’s first vaudeville theater.

In 1915, the park closed and was leased by Theodore and Leopold Wharton for use as a film studio until 1919.

Then in 1920, Mayor and the park’s namesake Edwin C. Stewart helped the City purchase the land, though he would never see his accomplishment come to fruition. One month before the park’s opening, Mayor Stewart died and the park was renamed Stewart Park in his honor.

Now 100 years later, efforts to bring Stewart Park back to its former glory are underway. For 10 years, Friends of Stewart Park, working in partnership with Wharton Studio Museum and the City of Ithaca, have been working to revitalize the 100-year-old public park –– in 2011, the Stewart Park Revitalization Plan was passed, helping to focus the nonprofit’s efforts.

Projects completed since that time have included the reconstruction of several pavilions, creation of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, improvements and preservation of the 70-year-old historic carousel (which will be open for free rides), improvements to walking trails and paddling access points, and construction of an inclusive playground.

Friends of Stewart Park Director Rick Manning said he is excited not only for the future of the park’s rehab, but also for the public to enjoy the park, and one of its proudest acts of preservation.

“Over the past 10 years Friends of Stewart Park, the Wharton Studio Museum and the City of Ithaca, and many generous Ithaca businesses and individuals have made the restoration of the carousel a reality, including newly painted horses, an accessible ramp and chariot, and a new protective cover that will help preserve this historic carousel for years to come,” he said. “Friends of Stewart is excited to sponsor a Saturday of free carousel rides to continue our centennial celebration.”

The free carousel rides will take place tomorrow, on Saturday, June 5. The Stewart Park Carousel regularly runs 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, as well as on holidays that fall on a Monday.

The public meeting held over Zoom on Wednesday, June 9 at 7 p.m. which will highlight improvements and seek input on where park users feel revitalization efforts should be focused moving forwatd. They want to know what you love about Stewart Park, what you want improved in Stewart Park, and what you’d like to see in Stewart Park.

“This is your time to make your voice heard,” the announcement of the event says.

Registration is required. To register, visit the Stewart Park website here.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com