Grangebel Park was created in a “different time,” said Riverhead town historian Georgette Case.
It was built in the late 1800s by county Judge Timothy Griffing, who transformed his family’s land along the Peconic River into the park. The Griffing homestead off Main Street overlooked the stately park, which has always been open to the public, Ms. Case said.
Grangebel was likely the first park ever built in Riverhead, she said, and it was designed for a purpose expressly different from that of modern parks, which often have ballfields and soccer pitches and playgrounds. They’re designed for recreation, first and foremost.
From the beginning, however, Grangebel Park has been for relaxing, Ms. Case said.
“I remember a picture that I have of my grandmother and my father at Grangebel Park on a picnic,” she said. “Time was different then and people would just take picnics. They would take an evening stroll. Now everyone’s too busy to do those things.”
The park is named after Judge Griffing’s three daughters: Grace, Angeline and Mabel. It was designed with gardens and scenic views and dams were installed to widen the nearby Peconic River.
In 1892, Judge Griffing had a 100-foot wooden tower constructed on the property, according to Thomas Stark’s book, “Riverhead: The Halcyon Years.” The tower housed water tanks for Riverhead’s water system, as well as a grist mill on the ground floor.
Modeled after a French castle, the tower also featured a 25-foot observatory at its peak, which was a “popular location to view downtown Riverhead and take photographs,” Mr. Stark wrote.
Grangebel Park’s beauty attracted national and even international attention.
In 1900, the judge received a medal from the Exposition Universelle, a Paris world fair, after sending pictures of his “handsome park and home at Riverhead,” according to a history of his graduating class at Yale University.
Judge Griffing died in 1924 and left the park to his heirs. The upper portion of his tower was torn down in 1931 due to its deteriorating condition, according to Mr. Stark.
In 1948, the Griffing children donated the park to the town. At an official ceremony the following year, the judge’s son Robert formally dedicated Grangebel Park to Riverhead Town “with the hope that they will cherish, enjoy and love it as we have in the past,” according to a story in the June 2, 1949, edition of the County Review.
Joseph Kelly, Riverhead Town supervisor at the time, was quoted as saying that “generations unborn will arise and enjoy its benefits.”
Immediately after the park was donated, the tower was completely demolished, according to Mr. Stark. Ms. Case said the town later subdivided the park near Main Street for the use of local businesses, slowly chipping away at the tranquil refuge Judge Griffing had created.
Recently, the park was cleaned up after years of neglect. Tim Griffing, a great-grandson and namesake of Judge Griffing, now runs his hardware store directly across the street from his family’s former land.
He said his father was born on the Griffing homestead, overlooking the park the family built and ultimately gave to the people of Riverhead.
“I’m very proud of it,” he said.
Photos all courtesy of the Griffing family.