ROCKPORT — At the tippy top of Summit Avenue, where once stood a hospital, and before that an estate, rests a park recognized by few, but remembered fondly by others.
The Sandy Bay Historical Society spent the last year working to raise the numbers of both those who recognize the park, and those who realize why it should be remembered.
The stone-pillared entrance to Haskins Park recalls a grandeur once plentiful, when Leander M. Haskins presided over the hilltop acres after its 1882 construction. The Leanders enjoyed ocean views from their porch at the top of the hill, swam in a granite-lined pool situated at the corner of the estate, and visited the family’s horses in the barn set at the back of the property until Haskins’ death in 1905.
“It must have been really something in the day,” said Debra Legg of the Sandy Bay Historical Society, standing just inches from a few red bricks that peek up from the pavement, remnants of the original drive.
When he died, Leander left the property to the town for use as a hospital or a park, creating an opportunity for Dr. Clement K. Heberle to convert the estate into his Restcroft hospital in 1932. The sanitarium hospital, specializing in treating rheumatoid arthritis, stayed open for a mere six years. Still, that was long enough to leave an impression on the young Dick Heberle, the doctor’s son.
Now in his early 80s and living in Daytona Beach, Heberle still visits Rockport and the park. But, trees and shrubs have encroached on the property Heberle remembers as a hospital. That’s why the historical society, before Heberle’s next visit in October, plans to tidy up the property and hopes to create a granite plaque memorializing Haskins, the man who donated the land used by Heberle’s father.
“He deserves to be remembered for what he did for the town,” Legg said, also citing Haskins’s donations to Carnegie Library and a handful of churches of various sects, and his creation of a scholarship fund for Rockport High School graduates.
Paired with Haskins’ generosity, Heberle’s passion for the land and the comfort he takes in visits, further sparked the historical society’s involvement, Legg said.
“I never anticipated being this involved with this project,” Legg said. “It’s (Heberle’s) emotional attachment, combined with the historic background driving the project.”
A spruce tree, just a dot in aerial photographs from Heberle’s childhood, now rises far above trees in the Dogtown forest behind it. Dried leaves and crumpled brush mash against the stone wall, an original aspect of the property, and overgrown brush sprawls over the field’s edges. The property, once a 70-acre lot, has shrunk under the pressure of an expanding forest surrounding it.
When the society began looking for people to clear the brush, rake the leaves and repair the land, a handful of volunteers stepped forward to volunteer for a cleanup on Saturday, Sept. 22. Other groups, including Boy Scouts who use the land occasionally for scouting activities may also pitch in.
“We’re hoping to involve a big group,” Legg said. “It’s nice to start something and get enough people enthused to make a project of it.”
Since the society intends to complete the project with little to no taxpayer funds, the group will rely heavily on volunteers to restore and maintain the area. Still, Legg said, it’s clear the park is not in total disarray.
Thursday, two women shared a picnic table bench beneath a tree’s shade, one resting her cane against the bench. Their dogs chased each other around the property’s historic circular mounds of rocks.
“It’s enjoyed now, and it’s used now, and the idea is let’s keep it that way,” Legg said. “I’m hoping it will be a place that Rockport can be proud of.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.