Brand Park’s rich history dates back to the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Newtown, led by General John Sullivan. In 1779, veteran Michael Sly moved from Pennsylvania with his wife and ten children and became one of the earliest and most prominent settlers of Elmira.
In 1792, Sly purchased 162 acres of land, expanding his property to nearly 975 acres by 1793. Though much of the Sly family moved back to Pennsylvania, his son John, wife Polly and thirteen children returned to Elmira and built a large Greek Revival home that remained on the corner of Madison Avenue and Sly Street until 1961.
In 1856, John’s daughter Catherine Sly inherited her father’s property and began selling much of the land. Many of the streets in this area were named after descendants of the Sly family such as: Catherine St; (Catherine Sly), Spaulding St. (Kate S. Spaulding), Robinson St. (David C. Robinson, Mayor of Elmira), and Baldwin St. (John S. Baldwin).
John Brand Sr., a prominent Maple Avenue resident, was one of the purchasers of the land inherited by Catherine. In the 1850’s, Brand Sr. began planting and harvesting tobacco. In 1873 he established a tobacco leaf business partnering with his son, John Brand Jr. A majority of the land where Brand Park resides was utilized for the growing of the tobacco business and was call Riverside Park and “The Buttonwoods” after a large stand of buttonwood (sycamore) trees.
In 1890, John Brand Jr. and wife Clara built the large blue Queen Anne Style home that sits on the corner of what is now Maple Avenue and Catherine Street. Designed by architects Otis Dockstader and John Considine, this property is listed on the Nation Register for Historic Places (Ref. #10000024).
In 1901, John Brand Jr. donated 22 acres of his land to the City of Elmira. At one time, the park contained beautiful flower gardens, fountains, walking trails, a picnic pavilion and a bandstand to hold concerts in the park.
In the 1920s, the Lions Club raised $17,000 to build the Brand Park Pool (it was rebuilt in 1949 after the flood of 1946). Unfortunately, after numerous natural disasters (flood of 1946, hurricane of 1954 and the flood of 1972,) and lack of funding, Brand Park fell on hard times.
As time passed, the park lost much of the luster of its historical relevance to the city of Elmira. In 1976, local business owners Harold & Winnie Watts purchased and established their real estate business, Watts Real Estate at 352 Maple Avenue. Seeing the natural beauty and historical significance of the area, Harold and Winnie soon purchased and restored several properties on Maple Avenue that included the John Brand Jr. home at 351 Maple Avenue and promoted local business with specialty shops Maple Avenue Antiques and The Side Porch.
With their love for community, local business and history, Harold and Winnie embarked on a revitalization of Brand Park enlisting the help of their neighbors Mark and Julie Delgrosso (The Christmas House), Dan Hurley (Bradley Farms), Vicki Rachel (Antique Revival), Cy Haverly, numerous volunteers and home owners to bring the area back to prominence.
Harold and Winnie’s tireless efforts would lead to the creation of the Maple Avenue Task Force in the 1990’s. This task force was instrumental, with the help of the city, Community Development and residents, the park bandstand was built. Riverside Elementary School, First Time Home Buyers and the Garden Club created a flower garden in the park and The Christmas House, Maple Avenue Antiques and Antique Revival have lined Maple Avenue with flower barrels to add a touch of beauty.
Annual Activities have become a mainstay of Brand Park during the summer months, which include the Olde Tyme Summer Festival (est. 1994) and the weekly Summer Concert Series (est. 2002).
To ensure the maintenance and continued improvement of the hard work performed by the Maple Avenue Task Force, the Brand Park Beautification Committee was formed with Harold Watts as the Chairman (retired 2017).
Since its inception, the Brand Park Beautification Committee has been significant in developing the park to include a brick path and pathway lanterns. Perennial flowers have been planted, and a pavilion has been constructed with handicap accessibility for the elderly. Harold and Winnie Watts have been the driving force in returning Brand Park to the prominent picturesque community park of the past.