LIVINGSTON, NJ — With the final touches of the highly anticipated renovation project at Littell People's Park now complete, members of Livingston’s governing body officially declared the playground open to the public by hosting a commemorative ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the occasion.
“I'm very pleased to announce that the playground renovations at Littell People's Park are completed and kids can now enjoy countless hours of fun at the park,” said Mayor Al Anthony. “We installed several benches as well. The work really came out great and has been getting rave reviews by our residents.”
Anthony thanked his fellow township council members for voting to fund this project, Township Manager Barry Lewis for overseeing it and Township Engineer Jeanette Harduby and the Livingston Department of Public Works (DPW) for “getting the work done.”
In the midst of the excitement surrounding the grand reopening, however, the restored popularity of the playground also served as a reminder of the common misconception about its name.
For decades, many residents and visitors have pronounced the name of the playground as “Little” People’s Park when in actuality, both the park and the adjacent pond are named “Littell” after the family that owned the plot of land on which they both sit.
Township employees Russ Jones and Renee Resky agreed that the Littell family owned a large parcel of farmland that spanned from Hillside Avenue to Memorial Park (which includes all land from the pond to the gazebo at the Oval). They also both noted that the pond was previously much larger than its current size, but neither could determine when or how the park had originated.
To this day, there is still some confusion surrounding the land and how the playground came to be, but one thing remains clear: the Littell family’s ties to Livingston reach much further than Memorial Park.
In response to inquiries by TAPinto Livingston, Resky was able to locate a 1988 edition of “The West Essex Tribune” in which a reporter confirmed the property owners as brothers George and John Littell. The brothers are referred to in a 1939 book found at the Livingston Public Library entitled “Livingston, the Story of a Community.”
The book further states that George Littell and his wife lived on the property together in what was known as the Ward-Littell house, which was one of the few dwellings on Hillside Avenue at a time when Livingston had fewer than 5,000 residents.
A descendant of the Ward family, George’s wife also had strong ties to Livingston, as the Ward family home is now known in Livingston as the Force Homestead.
According to the Livingston Historical Society, the Force Homestead was built in 1745 by Theophelous Ward and later bought by Samuel Force in 1777. It has since been preserved as a museum and is currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1964, two years after the Township of Livingston purchased the homestead, members of the Livingston Historical Society started the repair and restoration of the interior of the home—taking great care that only original materials were used. Over the years, many supporters have donated period pieces that are displayed in the home today.
One of the pieces currently on display is a musket that the author of the 1988 Tribune article noted could have been the one used by George Littell’s ancestor, Captain Eliakim Littell, in “the ambush of a Tory company near his home.”
At the time of that publication, the Tribune was able to track down Marie Littell, who lived on Hillside Avenue as the widow of George Littell’s son, Robert Littell. Marie explained in the article that her father-in-law operated a gravel pit that provided the initial paving material for Hillside Avenue, which was a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression.
Today, the Littell family’s name lives on through the pond and the playground, which will now be enjoyed by local families for many years to come thanks to the recent renovations.
The Township of Livingston delegated funding for a restoration project as part of the 2018 capital budget, and the Livingston DPW completed the removal of the existing playground equipment in January 2019 in order to keep costs down.
Upgrades include new equipment, surfacing, curbing and fencing as well as benches so that parents and caretakers can relax while watching the little ones. The new play area offers a section for two-to five-year-old children and another for five-to-12 year olds.
The playground is located on Wahler Road between the tennis courts and Mervyn V.T Haines Pool.