Brandon Park: A tribute to a beloved sister

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This being Williamsport’s sesquicentennial year, Sesquicentennial Corner, a weekly Saturday series, will focus on the city’s history.)

Long before the first planting of a tree in Brandon Park, there was a marriage.

The Lycoming Gazette of May 31, 1826, announced the wedding on May 24 of John Brandon and Jane Cummings.

They had two children. Their son died at 9 and a daughter, at 8. Mrs. Brandon, outliving her husband, died on Sept. 13, 1840. John Brandon died at 32 on June 22, 1829.

Her property — at Market Street and Rural Avenue — passed to her brothers. It finally was acquired by A. Boyd Cummings, last surviving brother, and was presented by him to the city as a park. He stipulated that it should be called Brandon Park to perpetuate his sister’s memory.

The Gazette and Bulletin of Feb. 26, 1889, gives an account of this gift. It says the park was “procured through the good offices of Robert P. Allen, attorney and former state senator.”

It comprised 43 acres and was then valued at $80,000 “if cut up into building lots.”

In early June 1889, the sylvan space was a place of refuge.

A massive flood, “nearly forty-eight hours of incessant rain,” as described by author John F. Meginness in his 1892 “History of Lycoming County,” led the West Branch of the Susquehanna River to crest at 34 feet.

The park land became a tent city for those who’d lost everything in the flood, according to Meginness.

By August 1894, the Brandon Park Commission approved the purchase of 400 sugar and Norway maple trees.

The trees added to “the large number of thriving young trees” growing in the park, according to a history of the park by Thad Meckley, chairman of the Brandon Park Commission.

Trees replaced those that died and filled out the park drives along which trees were not yet planted, Meckley said.

The Gazette and Bulletin announced on June 26, 1901, the unveiling of the O.H. Reighard Memorial Fountain.

It was dedicated in honor of the Oliver H. Reighard, a state legislator who lived at nearby 330 Mulberry St.

Rose trees from Germany were presented to the park May 6, 1907.

The garden long has been a favorite for visitors since its inception, Meckley said.

The commission launched a fundraiser for a pavilion project July 8, 1912. Originally, the design of the pavilion was a square building with a stage in the front. The final version, a half shell-shaped stage, was decided upon and the band shell was dedicated June 16, 1914, Meckley said.

On that day, crowds swelled in preparation for a concert by the Repasz Band, he said.

Red, white and blue regalia draped the new edifice.

Ladies attending the event wore stylish hats and long dresses for the start of the summer months.

The newspaper estimated the attendance at 8,000 people, he said.

It truly became the gathering place to be entertained beneath the sky and stars.

The band shell officially was named after the late Dr. Kenneth Cooper, an obstetrician who lived in a house with a front porch overlooking the park. Cooper became its No. 1 supporter, organizing efforts as chairman of the park and shade tree commission to plant a variety of trees throughout the park and city and caring for the park by tending to its gardens long after his retirement, Meckley said.

Today, the Victorian-style roundhouse remains a city landmark. It has survived the years, but most of the original gingerbread details have been removed or covered over, Meckley said.

The band shell remains the place for summer concerts, he said.

The park’s trees are covered in lights for the holidays, an event called the Festival of Lights, which gives those who view it, especially at night in early December, a warm glow as they hold a cup of hot chocolate and think peaceful thoughts.