Howard Elmer Park
Sayre History Reflected
Across the Decades
Howard Elmer Park is Sayre. It is located in the heart of Sayre Borough, the “keystone” of the Valley. Its memorials and bandstand along with its constant and varied usage convey much of the story of Sayre since the days of its founding.
Whereas other major players in Sayre’s history, such as the hospital and the railroad, have changed significantly over the years, the park has always been “the park.” Most residents of Sayre, living and departed, since the birth of the community, are very likely to have a recollection of Howard Elmer Park. It has been the most widely-viewed, largely unchanged entity in Sayre for more than 130 years. It was known by Howard Elmer, the founder of Sayre, in the later part of the 19th century. Hopefully it will be known over the centuries to come by future generations of Sayreites
The park was directly in front of the magnificent mansion built by Robert Asa Packer, which following his death became the home of the Robert Packer Hospital. Mr. Packer had been a leading industrialist and civic leader in early Sayre. The park had been developed on land owned by the Sayre Land Company and had evolved into being known as “City Park” by the late 1870s.
In 1894 the Land Company leased the area inside the streets of West Packer Avenue, Park Place, South Elmer Avenue and South Wilbur Avenue to the Borough of Sayre as a public park. A term of the lease was that it must always remain a properly-maintained public park or it would revert to the Sayre Land Company.
Initially know as “City Park,” by resolution of the Sayre Borough Council it was renamed Howard Elmer Park in 1911 to honor the town’s founder.
Throughout the subsequent decades, Howard Elmer Park has been witness to many events and activities of Sayre’s citizens that help chronicle their history. Also, it has become the home for several very prominent memorials.
In 1881, the nation experienced the loss of a second president to the gun of an assassin. As Sayre and the nation mourned, a tree was planted just south of the bandstand in memory of President James A. Garfield. It survived for many years but was lost in the elm blight of the 1950s.
In 1912 a cast-iron water fountain was donated by Mrs. Howard Elmer in memory of her husband and placed near the South Elmer Avenue entrance to the park. Originally it had four drinking outlets. Close to the ground were drinking pots for animals. In recent years several community-minded companies and their employees did restoration work, which has saved the fountain for the foreseeable future. The words “Howard Elmer Park” are visible on the north side of the fountain.
Immediately following the war, the World War I Doughboy Monument was dedicated in an impressive ceremony. The plaque on the front of the memorial lists the names of 12 Sayre servicemen whose “deeds are immortal - their memory shall never die.” Below the Doughboy and to his left is a plaque bearing the names of four fallen servicemen from South Waverly The soldier, in the traditional W.W. I uniform, has been facing South Elmer Avenue since 1919. A W.W. I cannon was placed on the ground to his front and left but was removed for its scrap metal value for use in World War II.
During and for several years after World War II, a large, white billboard with black lettering carried the names of Sayre servicemen serving in that war. Gold stars identified those making the supreme sacrifice. It also faced South Elmer Avenue and was adjacent to the water fountain.
In 1957 Dr. Donald Guthrie, longtime surgeon-in-chief of the Guthrie Clinic-Robert Packer Hospital, was honored by having the four streets surrounding the park named Guthrie Square in his honor. A plaque proclaiming this is attached to the granite boulder at the west end of the park, immediately in front of the medical facility.
The most recent memorials in the park were created at the time of Sayre’s year-long centennial celebration in 1991.
A tribute to Sayre’s one-time major industry - the Lehigh Valley Railroad - was placed near the South Elmer Avenue-West Packer Avenue corner in 1991. The black letters “LVRR” and the numbers “1904" had been salvaged from the huge railroad locomotive shop when it was demolished. The blocks of stone in the monument, including the date stones, came from two old Sayre bridges - the Packer Avenue Bridge and the Foot Bridge - both built over the railroad tracks of the Lehigh Valley Railroad in downtown Sayre.
Two additional plaques were added to the W.W.I Doughboy Monument. Below the Doughboy and to his right is a plaque “dedicated to veterans of all wars.” Below and to his back is a plaque dedicated to “those who gave their lives that we may live.” It lists 51 names for W.W. II, three names for the Korean Conflict and three names for the Vietnam War.
In the same year a small marker, flush to the ground and somewhat southwest of the water fountain, was placed by Sayre Epiphany School students along with a small shrub. This also was to commemorate Sayre’s centennial. The shrub is gone but the marker remains.
The final and most-noticed feature in Howard Elmer Park is the bandstand, largely unchanged since construction began in 1885. It has served as a platform for hundreds of concerts and events and has been in continuous prominence since its completion in 1886. In 1931 and again in 1986, the bandstand received extensive restoration work. Various bands, including the Lehigh Valley Railroad System Shops Band, the Moose Band and the Sayre High School Marching Band have presented concerts there on a regular basis. Currently a full schedule of summer concerts maintains this old tradition.
Other activities at the bandstand and within the park, across the calendar and over the decades, have included weddings, memorial services for individuals and for major national tragedies, Flag Day programs, ceremonies for Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Easter Egg hunts, political rallies, appearances by the governor and other elected officials, arts and crafts shows, Little Miss Sayre contests, farmers’ markets and many other events. Following Thanksgiving and until New Year’s Day, decorations to celebrate Christmas create a sea of colorful lights and holiday symbols in keeping with the festivities ending each year. This tradition has been sponsored by various organizations over the last half century. Santa Claus pays his official visit to Sayre each year with an evening stop at Howard Elmer Park’s bandstand. His helpers set up his throne on the bandstand from which he has greeted thousands of youngsters.
Throughout the year, but especially during the warmer months, people are frequently found relaxing, reading or eating lunches on the park’s many benches. Some feed the squirrels as the park’s many trees provide a home for them. A series of 10-foot-high Victorian posts and lamps provide just the right lighting for quiet evenings in the park. The lighted flag pole in front of the bandstand proudly displays Old Glory.
Taken as a whole, the park mirrors small town America.
Howard Elmer Park is the jewel of Sayre, a small green space in the midst of a busy little town. It is filled with memories from the distant past to the present day. It is now in the hands of its fifth generation of caretakers who have a long tradition to uphold.
James R. Nobles