Glimpses of the Past
People, Places, and Things in Letchworth Park History

Law Enforcement in Parks
The Development of the Park Police at Letchworth Park

Patrolman Don Gibson
Letchworth Park

Preservation of our Parks is an important and ongoing obligation of the Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation. To that end there exists in the Laws of the State of New York a provision that charges the Office of Parks Recreation, and Historic Preservation with the responsibility to establish and enforce Rules and Regulations for the use of our parks. Visitors will find them posted in printed form throughout all of the parks and recreation facilities in New York.

We have been fortunate to interview Donald Gibson who began his career with New York State Parks while still a member of the armed services on "convalescent leave" toward the end of World War II in October of 1945. He retired as a Park Patrolman in 1976 after a distinguished career that began as a member of the Labor crew in Letchworth State Park. On that crew he experienced the resurgence of the park after the extreme slow down that happened while the entire country was absorbed with the winning of the war. He recalls that when he first began work the crew was burdened with very old equipment and a small workforce. In 1946 he was on the crew that saved valuable records when the park office burned by personally closing the fireproof vault door in the office. At that time the office was in a residence on the Trout Pond road known as the McCarthy house. He was appointed as a Park Caretaker in 1948 and, as was the custom at the time, he was given a residence and he and his wife took on the responsibility of rental of park cabins. Most of his work continued on the labor crew on such things as construction of Lower Falls Restaurant while his wife carried out the very important cabin reservation program at very little pay.

The old conservation law in the late 40's did allow for the appointment of Park Rangers and Don received such an appointment when it became apparent that park use was growing rapidly during the post-war period and patrons required direction and, on many occasions, instruction on right and wrong ways to use the park. Because of the autonomy of the original Park Commissions there existed the inequity of Park Rangers doing work that in other Commissions was being done by Park Patrolmen at better pay. Don worked through the system to change that unfair situation. By the time he was appointed Park Patrolman he had gone through Basic, Intermediate and Advanced police training. He recalls in the early days that Letchworth police cars were hand me downs from other regions and as such were practically worn out. The first new police car was a l955 Chevrolet and from then on cars were new and regular police cars. Don was the man who discovered the grinding stones from the old grist mill in Gibsonville and persevered until they were rescued from the weeds on the bank of Silver Lake Outlet where it travels through what was once the hamlet of Gibsonville. Those stones are now part of the base of the flagpole terrace at the Gordon W. Harvey Pool development at the north end of the park. For this, Don credits former park Landscape Architect, Fred Short as the man with imagination enough to incorporate the stones into a worthwhile park feature. In view of the very few remnants of the old Village that are found in the park Don feels a more conspicuous use might have been better but is still happy to have been the one to find and pursue preservation of the unique objects.

By the end of the 1950's the Park Patrol was up to a full strength of six men with a Sergeant in charge of the force. Unionization took place during the early 60's as it did with all public employee groups. Don was still working at that time so was involved in the changes that took place so he saw the end of old abuses of rules where some Commissions held to lower standards for their enforcement of rules. Todays Park Police are peace officers in every sense of the word and have full authority as such whether in the park or not.

Tom Breslin

Also see a 1962 newspaper article on the Park Police.


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