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Francis William Bird Park, Walpole

Bird Park sign. (photo LL Kearney)

Bird Park was established by Charles Sumner, Sr and Anna (Child) Bird in 1925 in honor of their son Francis William Bird, Jr (1881-1918). However, the idea for this park and other Walpole parks goes back to around 1912. It was around that time the town of Walpole formed a committee to look into the notion changing their form of government and hiring a town manager. The town manager would run the town like a business, but residents would still have the opportunity to vote on issues or proposals that would affect their town, and it would be the responsibility of the town manager to execute them.  Norwood had implemented this new form of town government a few years earlier and Walpole had noticed the many positive changes it had brought to their neighboring town. The chairman of this committee was Charles Sumner Bird (Jr), and in 1919 this committee published a book that reviewed their research regarding this new form of local government and outlined their plans for the future of Walpole. The Bird family were leaders during the Progressive Era, from spearheading business policies that supported their workers, to improving society by creating spaces and programs that would improve quality of life in the community.

One of the new jobs created by this new form of government was that of the town planner, who would work under the direction of the town manager. His job was to not only look at current building proposal and projects, but he would also submit a long-range plan for the development of the town. John Nolan was Walpole’s first town planner, he was a landscape architect who was a protégé of Frederick Law Olmstead, and was responsible for designing Bird Park as well as many of the other open spaces in Walpole. Initially, the plan for Bird Park was a triangular shaped site that was approximately ten acres and was located on Wolcott Avenue. Plans showed walking paths, a pond, a playground and two tennis courts. It was also around this time frame that Charles Sumner Bird (Sr) began acquiring contiguous parcels of land in East Walpole. His plan was to create a planned community on this 70-acre site that would contain affordable homes, meandering tree lined streets, open parkland and walking distance to a school. This garden community was dubbed “Neponset Garden Village” but it was never developed, instead it enlarged original plans for Bird Park, becoming the park we have today.

The park contains 96 acres of land. Designer, John Nolan said of his plan for the park, “a sequestered breathing place in the heart of East Walpole…a combination of broad, sun swept meadow lands, speckled shadowed glades, higher tree screen knolls for the lover of shade, the whole set to the music of a babbling stream.” The park offers over three miles of walking and biking trails that meander through wooded areas, open fields and past ponds and streams. It has a large playground area that contains an enclosed tot lot, tennis and pickle ball courts, a music stage, and at one time it also had a swimming pond complete with beach house. Now under the management of the Trustees of the Reservations, who have begun to allow for sections of the park to not be mowed thus creating a true meadow, here they have erected informational signs to educate the public on environmental topics, they have also sponsored concerts, ice cream socials, a walking play and educational events for people of all ages. Francis William Park has served the public for almost 100 years, and continues to be an open-air oasis not only for the residents of Walpole, but also for neighboring communities.

Go to George Bird Exhibit main page –>

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Landscape photographs in the collage are thanks to Eric Hurwitz!

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