Photos by Lauren Thomas
Ever wonder who that person was whose name is emblazoned on the sign at the entrance to your favorite neighborhood park? So did we at New Paltz Times, so we did a little investigating.
George Majestic Memorial Park, Gardiner
George Majestic Memorial Park in the hamlet of Gardiner is named for former Town Supervisor George Majestic, who led the Town Board from 1958 until his death from an apparent heart attack in 1975. According to the Oct. 9, 1978 edition of The Evening News out of Newburgh, the 26-acre park was dedicated in the former supervisor’s name on Oct. 8, 1978, when 300 local residents, including Majestic’s widow, Irene, and son, George Jr., gathered at the site.
There was apparently some controversy about going forward with the ceremony, however, because then-supervisor John Bonagura, who’d succeeded Majestic three years earlier, had been killed in a crash on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge less than a week earlier. The reporter for The Evening News wrote that Bonagura’s sons said to go ahead with the ceremony, however, as “Jack would want it that way.” So while the New Paltz High School Band played America, the Beautiful and George Majestic Jr. raised the town flag to half mast, the park was dedicated to George Majestic Sr. on the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Town of Gardiner. Assemblyman Maurice Hinchey, a friend to both Gardiner supervisors, was in attendance.
According to Gardiner and Lake Minnewaska by Carleton Mabee in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, George Majestic Sr. was born in New York City and moved to Gardiner with his parents in the 1930s. His mother was from Yugoslavia and his father a cabinetmaker from Austria. After helping to dig the Delaware Aqueduct, Majestic opened a hardware store in 1947 on Main Street in Gardiner, where the parking lot opposite Pasquale’s is now located. The store moved down the street to its present location in the mid-1960s, where the Majestic family still operates the business.
George Majestic is remembered as a tough man with vision who was able to cope with “endless contention” in town government. He was instrumental in not only buying and setting aside the land for what became the town park but also the town purchase of more than 100 acres of river frontage at the end of Steve’s Lane.
The land that the park was created on was originally the dairy farm of Philip and Anna Donahue. At the time the land was purchased by the town, ten acres of it were owned by the DePuy family and 16 acres were in the hands of Josephine and Thomas Murphy.
Hasbrouck Park, New Paltz
Hasbrouck Park on Mohonk Avenue in New Paltz was originally known as Jean Hasbrouck Memorial Park, named for the original patentee on the land. The parcel was donated to the village in 1923 by her descendent, Laura Hasbrouck Varick. The earliest mention of the Varick lot being used for a public event comes from a New Paltz Independent article of 1906 about a festival there that included acrobatics and trained dogs.
According to an editorial in that paper, the donation of the land to the village generated varying opinions in the community. “A great many of our people may have their individual views regarding the location of this parcel and its adaptability for park purposes… They should, however, keep in mind, before voicing their ideas too freely, that it is more than we have had since 1677 and a step in the right direction.”
Six years after the donation of the land a proposal was raised to site a new high school building there, but the state was concerned about the title of the land, given that its deed specifically stated it was for park purposes. A later Independent article stated that residents had proposed putting in tennis courts (achieved) and a swimming pool (not). And since Laura Hasbrouck Varick wanted the land to contain a memorial to soldiers of the first World War, a Howitzer was donated by a veterans group in 1925, which remained at the park until 1942 when it was melted down for use in the efforts of the next World War.
Hasbrouck Park received a baseball field in a Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) project and a playground (with attendants) was built in 1941. But when the Town of New Paltz had difficulty keeping up the park, it leased the land to New York State, an agreement rescinded in 1983 amidst some controversy. The park was rededicated to the village during its centennial celebration in 1987. A group of real estate agents led a drive in 1992 to build a bandstand, known today as “the Gazebo,” and a new playground was added in 1995, built by volunteer labor and more than $75,000 in donations, according to New Paltz Revisited by Carol A. Johnson. Hasbrouck Park today is known as the site of many large community gatherings and even served as home for a while to the group Occupy New Paltz, who set up camp there in 2011.