By Barbara Emery Moseley
Julius O. “J. O.” Frost was a wealthy grain merchant, breeder of prize cattle and swine, breeder of fancy fowl and an extensive landowner in Vernon.
In 1895, J. O. opened “Central Park” — an amusement center — at the center of town, located on land now used by Vernon Hall, Vernon Green and Vernon Birches. It had its own railroad flag stop about opposite the Vernon Union Church.
Next to Central Park he owned the Whithed House, a large building that included the family home, the post office, and a store. At the store one could find sewing and knitting supplies, chewing tobacco, patent medicines and kerosene for lamps.
Among the store’s most popular items was whole salted codfish. The residents of West Road were such loyal customers, it became known as “Codfish Alley,” a name no doubt conjured up by some wags clustered around the cracker barrel.
By virtue of having its own flag stop, the Park attracted hundreds of city people to the country. Many came with their own band, for dancing. Factories often had their own bands; locally the Estey Organ factory had one — it composed marches for the Estey Guards each year.
Vernon’s Central Park attracted workers from the Springfield (Mass.) Armory, and its band could use the large pavilion. There were gazebos placed to enjoy the river view, a “zoo” of some of J. O.’s unusual breeds, a version of what today is called a zipline, a replica of Lincoln’s log cabin birthplace, white wooden swings with two slatted seats facing each other. Its advertising also noted “iced water available at intervals,” and “lover’s lanes.”
In the northern end of town was Oak Grove Park, in the area of today’s library and part of the nearby Miller Farm. The large oak at the junction of Route 142 and Gov. Hunt Road is, I believe, an oak remaining from that Park.
The Lincoln log cabin at Central Park rotted away, leaving only its chimney standing. That was recently removed by the management of the Vernon Green Nursing Home as part of a landscaping project.