Morrisville residents fight to keep Williamson Park


In a lawsuit filed in Bucks County Orphan Court, residents say the borough has a legal obligation to keep the park for public use and that developing it would violate Pennsylvania’s Dedicated Properties and Data Act .

This law states that public parks cannot be sold unless they are no longer convenient to use or the community is unable to use them, according to team lawyer Samuel Stretton. A hearing is scheduled for February 1.

In an interview, Stretton said the borough recently partnered with the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority to prove the park was ‘scrambled’ or unusable, a strategy that would help the GDR claim the park for the project. He said the GDR took photos of the land surrounding the park, private properties outside the park boundaries, to claim the park was run down.

“There is no proof of this at all. It’s not rotten. It’s a wonderful park, and it’s just a ride, ”said Stretton. “We intend to stop him, and they have no basis to do so. If they want to play this game, then I think they’re going to be embarrassed in court.

Williamson Park, with its baseball and football fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, picnic areas, and play equipment, is located along the Delaware River in Morrisville, Pa. ( Emma Lee / WHYY)

In warmer weather, said Rice, Morrisville gathers at Williamson Park. The borough offers concerts, free library events for children and Easter egg hunts. People picnic, fly kites, watch migrating birds, and enjoy scenic views along the Delaware River (Trenton is on the other side). When it snows, children go sledding there.

The park’s baseball fields were home to the 1955 Little League World Series champions. Some of them still live in cities.

Morrisville at the 1955 Little League World Series, which the team won. (Courtesy of Morrisville Little League)

“If they did that it would change the soul of Morrisville,” said resident Debby Colgan. “It would change our character. We want to be an authentic city. We want to express who we are.

“What they are planning is a fake downtown area, and that will erase the history of Morrisville and the people of Morrisville,” Colgan said. “It is not representative of this community.

Morrisville resident Debby Colgan. (Emma Lee / WHYY)

Part of the park’s history designates it for public use. In 1885, Edna Vansant and Andrew K. Rowan, a descendant of Joseph Bonaparte, The separated brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, gave part of the land in a trusted three churches in Trenton.

In 1938, Henry Williamson donated to the Borough of Morrisville to purchase the land. After the donation, Morrisville signed a lease with the three churches of Trenton. The plots purchased with funds from Williamson’s will and the church grounds became Williamson Park. In 1939 Morrisville entered into a 99-year agreement to keep the properties together under the name Williamson Park.

Not just a place to play

Last Friday was a snowy day in Morrisville and surrounding towns. In the afternoon, children and parents sledged in Williamson Park.

Children sled down the sea wall that separates Williamson Park from the Delaware River in Morrisville. (Emma Lee / WHYY)

Evie Hans, 14, was with a group of friends from Yardley. She said Morrisville hill was more beautiful than her town hill.

“They should keep it,” Hans said. “It’s such a unique place for Morrisville because there isn’t a lot for the kids to do here.”

Jamilla Stafford watches her daughter sled at Williamson Park in Morrisville. She said she loved having the park here for the sake of her daughter. (Emma Lee / WHYY)

But some in the Morrisville community, like Brian Merrill, believe the proposed development is slow in coming.

“It’s taking the area that’s underutilized and revitalizing it,” Merrill said.

Brian Merrill gives his daughter a helping hand on the toboggan run at Williamson Park in Morrisville. He said he believed that developing apartments and retail in the park would be good for the city. (Emma Lee / WHYY)

Colgan is concerned about the long term environmental impact to lose the park.

“The park, whether you use it or not, works for you. It has value for everyone here, ”she said.

Williamson Park is prone to flooding. In some of the more notable floods, in 1955, 2005 and 2006, the water rose at least three feet there.

Rice, now retired, worked as a hydrologist for the US Geological Survey and the New Jersey Water Science Center. He described the park as a bowl.

“There’s no natural outlet for it all, so it’s filling up,” Rice said. “For the sole reason of the flood, [the development] has no sense. I do not understand.

Residents canoe in Williamson Park during the 2005 flood. (Courtesy of Save Williamson Park)

The increased pavement the development would bring would increase flood runoff and “raise that water level by several feet,” Rice said, which could lead to increased flooding for residential neighbors in the park.

Nancy Sherlock, member of the Morrisville borough council, represents the park district.

“People have spoken,” said Sherlock, who surveyed his parish and found that an overwhelming majority was against development.

Some of the people supporting him believe development would help lower taxes, she said.

“What they don’t understand is… it doesn’t. It might put a temporary brake on them if it ever came to fruition, but it won’t be a godsend, ”Sherlock said. “It won’t be enough and it won’t be sustainable.”

She said the city is in desperate need of a school district merger, not development on the park.


Comments are closed.