It covers 127 lush and verdant acres, and it’s the envy of every athletic director in the region. One hundred twenty-seven acres of ball fields and swing sets, picnic tables and basketball courts–– all of it practically in your own backyard. This is Saugerties’ Cantine Field, and it’s not just an integral part of the fabric of the community today, it has been for many years.
Greg Chorvas is the superintendent of the town’s parks and recreation department, which oversees the maintenance of what is officially known as the Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex. For some, such an endeavor might be just a job, but as Chorvas grew up in Saugerties, Cantine Field is something of a labor of love.
“Growing up in the village, I did spend a lot of time at what was just a couple of ball fields here,” said Chorvas. “It wasn’t a complex what we know of today.”
The sprawling complex, its fields and bleachers and courts for tennis and basketball is more modern than one might think, at least in its current incarnation. For something that’s been a part of Saugerties for as long as anyone can remember, what you see today is only a few decades old.
Cantine Field began, rather humbly, more than a century ago. In the late 1800s, Cantine Field was known as theTownDrivingPark. While the area was owned by the Cantine family, it was open to the community as a recreational area. In the 1930s, while still a publicly-used but privately-held piece of land, Cantine Field was given an extensive upgrade as a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which, to village historian Majorie Block, evokes the efforts of our current government. (Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2011.)
“[There was] a lot of work done in the 1930s through Works Progress,” said Block. “It was kind of like the stimulus today.”
The construction, which employed many out-of-work locals, was completed in 1937, and included a grandstand at the complex’s main baseball field and the addition of two more ball fields.
Martin Cantine, who owned and operated the Martin Cantine Paper Company, officially handed what was then a 31-acre property over to the town ofSaugertieson May 8, 1938, along with a sizeable monetary donation for its maintenance. It was officially named “Cantine Field,” and for decades it served as it does today, as a community park for organized and recreational sports, leisure and other essential quality of life endeavors ordinarily associated with the great outdoors.
A series of events in the 1970s helped cement the park as the crown jewel of the community, beginning in the early part of the decade when the Knaust Estate donated 39 acres of land adjacent to the original Cantine Field to the town, more than doubling it in size. The donation was made on condition that the field also commemorate Saugerties veterans. It was then named the Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex, a new name for an old park that was about to take on new dimensions thanks to the dedication of one of its greatest supporters, the late Jack Keeley
“That started in approximately 1977,” said Greg Chorvas, town superintendent of buildings and grounds, who recalled how Keeley helped the town apply for funding through the Palisades Interstate Park Commission under the Land, Water and Conservation Fund in the amount of $96,000. The town was awarded the 50 percent matching grant, and an additional $96,000 non-matching grant was obtained a few months later through a combination of federal and state public works grants, thus fulfilling the community’s matching obligation for the initial grant.
“Then things started to roll,” Chorvas said.
The pair of grants enabled Cantine Field to add six more ball fields, two of which were lighted. Also a result of the funding was the construction of the large pavilion beyond the left-center fence of the original baseball field. The money also helped lead to the building of the senior center, other playgrounds and basketball courts, shuffle boards courts and parking lots, and countless other additions to an already immense park.