Baby Boomer Memories: Sampson Parkway - A Memorable Childhood Neighborhood

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Pittsfield's program to introduce trees into neighborhoods brought back memories of my own childhood neighborhood.

In the early 1950s my late grandmother, Sally Lenhoff, who lived on Sampson Parkway organized the homeowners on this newly developed street to chip in a few bucks to have two trees planted in front of their houses.

At the time, Sampson Parkway had about 30 occupied homes. In 2017, about 65 years later, the trees in front of the odd-numbered houses now tower over the yards and street. Across the street on the even-numbered side, only one tree has survived. No one ever expected the trees would grow big enough to interfere with the phone and electric wires and needed to be cut down. Gone are those trees that once provided a beautiful symmetry with the ones across the street.

Sampson Parkway was my neighborhood and the virtual playground for over 30 of us kids whose young parents bought their first home in this new post-World War II development. Nearly half the families had fathers who worked for the General Electric Co., and some of whom walked a mile and a half to and from work. As new homes were built further down the street, we played hide and seek in the construction areas, built forts, dug pits to seek gold, ran through the adjacent cornfields, picnicked on empty lots and played ball on the street's "big circle." Every summer we could easily find playmates on the street ready to join a pick-up game, ride bikes, hold a carnival, man a Kool-Aid stand, flip gum cards, play cowboys, or just share the latest fad or toy, e.g., a Davy Crockett hat, Hula Hoops, squirt guns, Mickey Mouse ears, Chatty Cathy dolls, etc.

In those early Baby Boom years our parents had little to fear for our safety. From about the ages of 7 to 13 (with minimum supervision), we played in the neighborhood with friends every weekend, daily after school and all summer. We knew when to be home for meals and to be in before it was dark. No cellphones or texting distracted us back then.

Like many neighborhoods, Sampson Parkway was great for kids. Only recently did I learn how the street got its name. As a youngster I thought it was named for the biblical figure that had his locks shorn by the beautiful Delilah. It turns out that it was actually named for Alden Sampson II, who moved to Pittsfield in 1900 with his bride, Lena Wyman.

Alden built a home on farmland off William Street that was owned by his mother. He opened a successful machine shop at age 24 and within two years Alden built a factory on Fourth Street to manufacture trucks and cars. His vehicles were so well built that it was said his company could have been a big competitor to General Motors. But in 1909 Alden sadly died of pneumonia at the young age of 31.

Lena operated the farm known as Westenhok Farm for 31 years, shutting it down in 1942 as the war presented many problems including lack of workers, material shortages and high costs for supplies. In 1945, John O'Brien, the owner of Crescent Creamery, bought and operated this 40-acre farm that is now where Canoe Meadows is located. The same year Rene Roberts, a Quebec born contractor, purchased a strip of land from the Sampson Estate for $25,000. It was Roberts who planned and developed Sampson Parkway on this parcel with 74 lots, and also built most of the houses on the street.

Although Roberts added a large grassy island in the center of the street, he did not include trees in his plans. The neighbors took this task on themselves and the city later added trees to the islands to create one of the more beautiful post-war developments in Pittsfield; a welcome addition to an already wonderful neighborhood for children.

Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at jesjmskali@aol.com.


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