History of Brightwood Park
Brightwood Park was acquired by the town of Westfield in the 1960's with funding of about $120,000 from NJ Green Acres grants. Acquisition of the Brightwood section - surrounded by Madison Avenue, Prospect St, Brightwood Ave and the Scotch Plains boundary, cost about $250,000.
Most of the land was originally purchased from the Pearsalls family, who called the land "Bright Woods", but some of the land was acquired through eminent domain.
Before it was a park, it was a neighborhood
The Brightwood area was once a center of African American society in NJ.
After the end of the civil war, many improverished families settled in the "Big Woods" section of Westfield, building a small neighborhood that was eventually nurtured by the vibrant social life at the Shady Rest Golf Course, the first African American owned and operated country club in the United States.
To augment the land purchased from Pearsalls, the town acquired and then demolished the homes in the area. Most of these homes were owned by African Americans. The seizure of the properties from this community to form Brightwood is a testament to the racism of the time, although there were protests at the time to these actions by community members.
Remains of some of these homes can still be visible in Brightwood Park. Learn more about this community on History Walks, led by Rob Lombard.
More: 1061 Fanwood Avenue
"What do I feel about leaving my home after 30 years? What I feel don't mean anything"
1964: Westfield Families Forced to Move to Create Brightwood Park
Several news articles from the time described the eviction and the old neighborhood of Liberty Avenue. . See for example, "Sadness Comes to the Big Woods" in the Courier News article from April 13, 1964
From the article by Maureen Rickard:
The "Big Woods" dwellers don't appear to have any definite plans for the future, and relocation of the families is something about which the Town Council has yet to determine policy.
But some homes are rented as well as owned. And rental property, especially for the Negroes who make up the majority of the section's residents, is hard to find in Westfield and could mean a 100 percent increase in rent.
The first impression of a visitor to the prospective park is frequently this: The contrast of the poverty in the "Big Woods" to the prosperity of the rest of Wesfield is so marked that creation of a park could do nothing but improve the area.
The impression is tempered, though, after you talk to the people and realize that the progress of the park, although perhaps necessary, is going to bring some sadness.
The wilderness like appearance of the "Big Woods" is in marked contrast to the spacious, high-priced homes on Prospect St., homes you must drive by on your way to the roads in the proposed park area. Still, many of the "Big Woods" people take pride in their homes.
Also see the Brightwood Park section in: History of the African American Experience in Westfield
Adding Ponds, Trails and Addressing the Ecology of the Park
In 1978, two ponds were created, along with a network of nature trails.
In a study in 1980, over 350 species of plants were identified.
In 2008, a partnership with the Rahway River Association contributed a study Brightwood Park, threats to the ecosystem, and a plan for it's restoration and stewardship. Here is the plan. Ultimately the restoration effort was not successful. See the Ecology section for more information on current work to restore the park.