By Lynn Paulson

City of Canandaigua Historian

The area that is now the location of the New York State Marine Park, including the mouth of Sucker Brook, was once the site of early boathouses and several mills in the 1800s. The first Canandaigua Water Works was erected in this area in 1884. It was also the location of the former McCormick Ice House. The City of Canandaigua acquired this property from two residents of Holcomb (now Bloomfield) in 1929. The city immediately established a skating rink at that location, which was referred to as the Hayton Lot.

The City of Canandaigua adopted the name Red Jacket Park for this newly acquired municipal park. Red Jacket (Sagoyewatha — Keeps Awake) was a famous Native American Seneca orator and chief of the Wolf clan. He took his name from a highly favored embroidered coat given to him by the British for his wartime services, since the Senecas had allied themselves with the British during the Revolutionary War. He played a critical role in the negotiations between the new United States government and the Iroquois chiefs after the Revolutionary War. In 1794, Red Jacket was a signatory, along with more than 50 Iroquois leaders, of the Treaty of Canandaigua (Pickering Treaty) that confirmed peace with the United States.

Red Jacket Park quickly became a popular hangout for Canandaiguans of all ages. A flag was flown at City Hall that signaled that the skating rink was open for the day. There were ice carnivals held in the winter and summer carnivals sponsored by the Mutual Hook and Ladder Fire Company. Several circuses were held there, sponsored by local service clubs and community groups.

Athletic fields at the Red Jacket Park were used by community baseball teams as well as by Canandaigua Academy. The Slo-Pitch leagues, American Legion teams, Kiwanis and Rotary teams, the Canandaigua Lakers, the Little World Series and the Canandaigua Empire State Leagues, to name a few, all used these facilities at one time. Red Jacket Park was also a popular location for picnics, whether it was for families, reunions, meetings or clubs. During most of these events, there would be refreshment stands that provided all kinds of food and beverages for the celebrants.

In August 1955, New York State opened the boat launching site on Sucker Brook in Red Jacket Park that was leased by the City of Canandaigua. The two parking lots reserved by the state could accommodate only 30 cars with trailers. The remainder of the park continued to be used by the city for its athletic fields and community events.

In 1968 and 1969, New York state purchased 22 acres of land adjoining the Holiday Harbour development along West Lake Drive, where the current Atwater Meadows Park is today. The State Finger Lakes Parks Commission proposed building a new boat launching facility at that location. By 1970, the City of Canandaigua, the Town of Canandaigua, Ontario County and the Chamber of Commerce all were on record as opposed to this site mainly due to the traffic hazard it would create.

In October 1971, the Canandaigua Common Council agreed to negotiate with the State Finger Lakes Parks Commission for the expansion of the Red Jacket Park boat launch site instead of the proposed new boat launching facility. Describing it as "the lesser of two evils," the Common Council felt that this expansion would cause the least amount of ecological and traffic problems.

On Jan. 11, 1973, after several previous attempts, the Common Council agreed to an exchange of the 13-acre Red Jacket Park, including its ball field, for the state undeveloped property on West Lake Drive. This proposal was met with opposition from several members of the community, including the softball leagues. They felt that Red Jacket Park should be upgraded and kept by the city. Petitions bearing more than 900 signatures in opposition to this proposal were presented to the Common Council. However, the Common Council negotiated with the state to allow the use of the ball field and natural ice skating rink until Labor Day 1974 while the land swap deal was finalized.

Interestingly, in February 1972, a proposal for a year-round, outdoor, roofed, recreation arena featuring an artificial ice skating rink was proposed for the western end of Red Jacket Park along Sucker Brook. The facility would operate as a skating rink for five months of the year and in the other months could be used for basketball, tennis, roller skating, picnics and dances. In March 1972, the Common Council defeated this proposal, mainly due to its cost to the city. To accommodate the concerns of the baseball leagues, the Common Council authorized the renovation of the Jefferson Avenue Playgrounds. The new ball fields were officially opened in 1974.

The land swap deal approved in 1973 continued to be delayed due to several issues. Clear title to the ownership of Red Jacket Park slowed the process. Additionally, the land swap deal required permissive legislation to be passed by the New York State Legislature and signed by the Governor. Several amendments to this legislation postponed the actual transfer of ownership until 1981.

In 1983, the Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park opened its boat launch facility. Atwater Meadows became a city park that would remain largely undeveloped to this day. Red Jacket Park was no longer, but it will remain a fond memory for many Canandaiguans.