The Borough of Somerville installed a new sign on Monday, October 10 to officially recognize the park at 122 Veterans Memorial Drive East as the Henry P. Vander Veer Memorial Park. “This sign honors a request made 100 years ago by Mini C. Kenyon Vander Veer,” said Marge Sullivan, member of the Historic Advisory Committee. Mrs. Vander Veer donated a large tract of property to the Borough and requested that a portion be dedicated as a memorial park for her late husband Henry P. Vander Veer.
Volunteers from the Historic Advisory Committee found a news article reporting Mrs. Vander Veer’s generous gift, as they culled through back issues of local newspapers earlier this year, according to Sullivan. “We worked with the Recreation Committee to correct this long oversight and honor Mrs. Vander Veer’s wish,” Sullivan said.
The Vander Veers were prominent members of the Somerville business and social community. Somerville’s elementary school and a street in the eastern portion of Somerville are named after the Vander Veer family.
The donated tract included all the property from the railroad easement to East Main Street between Peters Brook and Hamilton Street. It included all property along Veterans’ Memorial Drive as well as Meadow Street, which did not exist then, according to Sullivan. Mrs. Vander Veer, sister to the Borough’s first mayor, specified that a portion of the donated property running along Peters Brook from the Central Railroad right of way to East Main Street be dedicated as a memorial park for her late husband, who died in 1907. The remainder of the property could be used by the Borough for other purposes.
The Borough accepted the land in April 1921 and developed the recreational facilities over the years, using it for various ball fields, tennis courts, a pickleball court, and a now defunct skateboard park. It is now a part of the Peters Brook Greenway. The Vander Veer name appeared on old borough maps, but a sign was never erected.
Due to its location behind the Somerville Fire Department, the park was until recently known as Firehouse Field. “To avoid confusion with events at Van Derveer Elementary School, the Borough will refer to the park as Memorial Park,” explained Kathy Gerndt, Director of the Somerville Recreation Department.