Thompson Park – Do You Remember the Company-Owned Family Park?


 

Entrance to a Day of Fun

As each generation grows older, it witnesses the disappearance of sights, sounds and activities.  We look back on those times and forgotten places often with remorse, but almost always with fondness. Every generation experiences this.  This month’s story is about one of those places; the company-owned recreation and activities park.

Neither my dad or stepfather worked for a place that had their own park, but my friends did!  Hamilton in the 60’s and 70’s was still populated by several thousand families whose primary wage earner worked at a factory.  Hamilton’s nickname, after all, was “The Safe City”.  Oh, it wasn’t all that safe to live there, (just ask the Ruppert family – oh wait, they’re all dead), but we were the headquarters for Mosler Safe Co and we had Diebold.  Additionally, we had Champion Papers, Beckett Papers, Hamilton Tool, Kuykendall’s, Fisher Body of GM, Hamilton Foundry, Deuscher’s, (where I was to one day work), Hamilton Brass, Force Control and the list went on and on.  We were also close to very large factories like GE.

GE and Champion Papers had their own parks.  GE’s park was so large that it even had an 18 hole golf course.  It’s since been transformed into a business park but I believe they still have a couple of smaller recreation complexes for basketball, volleyball etc.  Hamilton isn’t that far from GE Park but back in the day, people lived much closer to the places they worked, (just like the current demographic shift going on today in many areas).

Champion Papers though was pure Hamiltucky and it had its own park.  In my neighborhood alone there were several families where the father worked for Champion.  My recollection is the Mathews, McMahans, Scotts, Copas families and I’m sure more that I don’t remember.  The main manufacturing buildings were only a couple blocks away from my house on Prytania.  If you’re a regular reader, you might recall that we used to take chalk to make our baselines (link) and that I used to sell those heavy Sunday papers down at the mill (link).

One car at a time

Thompson Park was the name of the park belonging to Champion Papers.  My friends Tommy, Rich and Diane (from this story), asked me out to Thompson Park on a number of occasions and I accepted every invitation – I loved it out there.  Putt putt, creeking, ball diamonds, horse shoes, picnics; what was not to love?  Each summer I got to visit the park a few times but the ‘summer of Diane’ was best because in addition to invitations from Tommy & Rich, Diane wanted me there too so she’d coax her brothers into asking their mom to bring me.

Several times Diane would have a softball game.  Oh yeah…..Champion had so many employees that they even had their own baseball and softball leagues for the kids.  We’d watch a little game, play a little putt-putt and do a little creeking at Four Mile Creek which bordered the 46 acre park.  Rich’s favorite activity was the putt-putt and as I recall, he’d usually win.  My Thompson Park days remain a very cherished set of memories for me to this day.

My favorite memory from those escapades involves a bit of dirt!  Now don’t get excited, I’m not about to drag anyone through the mud, this is a friendly blog.  No, no ‘dragging’.  “Stumbling”, however, well that’s another matter.

I drove out with Diane, Tommy and Rich in the backseat of the Mathews’ station wagon, Mary (Mathew mom), at the wheel, Diane in the front passenger seat.  Occasionally Bill (the dad) would drive us all but on this day it was Mary.

Time for a spur-of-the-moment memory.
These were the days of everyone knowing each others’ names in the neighborhood.  We kids thought it was funny to call each of the parents by their first names and the parents seemed to get a kick out of it.  There was Kate & Russ (Big Russ, we called him), Bill & Mary, Red & Margie and the list went on and on.  Mary was a good sport and seemed to be a really good Catholic mother.  (After 40 years, we still have the electric mixer she gave us for our wedding; American made and still running strong).  I even recall a rare “adult” conversation she and I had about child rearing.  She had 9 children and confessed that she’d like to have another but thought she was too old.  I had a lot of respect for Mary Mathews, not only for raising a strong family, but also because she never addressed me as the little kid that I was.

 

Anyway, Diane was playing a softball game on the day for this story.  We three boys headed off that day for the creek that bordered the park.  Our intention was as it always was; to simply to ‘see what we could see’, maybe trap a crawdad or two.  ‘Creeking’ was always a fun pastime for us Prytania kids.  We spent many an hour in the local waters, exploring.  We thought we had chosen a safe path down the embankment, but the ground ended up being a bit too slippery.  Rich’s foot went into a muddy spot, briefly trapping him long enough to fall forward, hands first into the water and mud.  Tommy and I were cracking up at that! One thing led to another and we all ended up wet and dirty.

They even had cabins

Afterwards, we sobered up.  Mary seemed cool but she was still a ‘mom’ – we all know how dangerous moms can get when they see dirty kids who might possibly need cleaning up after, (and of course there was the risk of getting Bill involved).  We decided to clean ourselves as best we could in the water, hoping to be dry by the time Mary would be driving us home.  We climbed back up the hill, (more carefully than the climb down), and made our way over to the putt-putt course.  We knew we had time left and were hoping we’d be dry by the time Diane’s game ended.  We did…dry out, that is.

Oh yeah, we were dry alright…and we had gotten our clothes relatively free of the mud.  But the smell?….Let’s just say though that Mary Mathews had us all roll down the windows for the ride home that day.

Harmless fun.  Don’t we all miss harmless fun?

Pick up basketball and baseball and football games, playing kick the can far into the summer nights, creeking, making up our own neighborhood games like Purse (link), freeze tag, riding our banana seat bikes, playing four square in the alley…..and going to the good old company-owned family activity park.

 

Like all of you out there reading this, we thought childhood would last forever.  At some point during our lives, we all reached the same conclusion; that eventually it all goes away.  Just like the company-owned family park, everything eventually dies…everything except our love and our favorite memories.

 

These days the bleachers are bare, the ball-fields covered in grass

 

While growing up on Prytania, we kids were never short of imagination, never short of ideas for activities or exploration….never short of the need for a good bath.

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2 comments on “Thompson Park – Do You Remember the Company-Owned Family Park?

  1. Rick says:

    My dad worked at Champion and I played 5 years of baseball at Thompson Park. It was a magical place, even more so to me than you conveyed in your loving description above. The entrance shed where the man (always a man) would see Dad’s employee credentials (a windshield sticker?), count the occupants of the car, ticking off the number with his hand-counter, and waving us through, me usually scared at the prospect of facing a pitcher that evening who was probably going to strike me out…the majestic sycamore trees towering over us, shedding their bark in strange, evocative patterns…the concession stand where you could get a brainfreeze-inducing Sno-cone (lime was my preferred flavor)…the bridge over the pond where cousin Randy and I would stand and spit into the water, watching the fish rise and snatch at what had hit the surface…the dugouts and other wooden structures coated with so many layers of green leaded paint, peeling in the omnipresent river valley humidity that was so much a part of our summers…that heat paired with the smell of the foliage and the nearby creek, mixed with the acrid odor of charcoal fires…and the intermittent but predictably rhythmic clang of horseshoes…all a little piece of heaven.

    Sometimes on my return trips to Chicago I leave Ham-city via Rt 177 (Hamilton-Richmond Rd in the local parlance) and go past the park, wishing for just 10-20 minutes of time to go wander again…Alas.

    “And when we grow to be men and learn to live under other laws, what remains of that little park, filled with the shadows of childhood, magical, freezing, burning? What do we learn when we return to it and stroll with a sort of despair around the outside of its little wall of gray stone, marveling that in a space so small we should have founded a kingdom that to us had seemed infinite? What do we learn, except that in that infinity we shall never again set foot, and that it is into the game and not the park that we have lost the power to enter.” –Antoine St. Exupery

    Thanks for sharing, Rob.

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