When Stephen Salisbury III donated the land for Institute Park in 1887, he had a specific idea for the usage of the park. It was his intention to create an area that could serve as an adjunct to a campus to the students of the Worcester Free Institute of Industrial Science, known today as Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), as well as a public park for all citizens of Worcester. Given as a gift to the city, there was no cost for purchase of the land and originally there was little cost on maintenance of the park as well. This was due to the fact that Mr. Salisbury held it as a stipulation that the city could have the land as long as he could supervise the physical changes and work done in the park. He undertook the financing of the creation of many of the structures, and limited the implementation of flowers and shrubbery to allow the most open space on which park visitors could roam. All this was done at his own expense. Repair and upkeep of the park was always necessary and Mr. Salisbury was always willing to fund such activities. Upon Mr. Salisbury’s death in 1905, full maintenance and upkeep of the land was passed to city’s parks commission.
The park began as a tract of 18 acres that had once been farmland and pasture. Salisbury took it upon himself to pay for the grading of the land and the construction of many paths that led to every corner of the park. Once completed, many structures were erected on the site. Among these were a boathouse, a tower, a bandstand, a bridge to one of the islands in Salisbury Pond, four gazebos, and Tremont Columns all financed by Mr. Salisbury. Of these, only three gazebos and both Tremont Columns still remain. In 1912, the park grew to a size of about 25 acres when the Worcester Art Museum donated a piece of land on the Grove Street side of Salisbury Pond. In 1964, most of that addition was given away to become the Grove Street Fire Department Headquarters. The rest of the addition is now residential area.
In 1892, Stephen Salisbury III oversaw construction of the Norse Tower. It was almost an exact replica of the Old Stone Windmill in Newport, Rhode Island. The Institute Park tower stood 30 feet high and 23 feet in diameter. The tower was only open for 15 years until a fence was built around it due to its deteriorating condition. It reopened in 1929 after the top 18 feet were torn down and reconstructed, but it was only able to stay open for 10 years because it once again became a hazard to the community.
In 1892, a 127 foot long 12 foot wide bridge was put in the park under direction of Stephen Salisbury III. The bridge connected the park to the island located in Salisbury Pond. The bridge stood there for 30 years until fire destroyed it in 1922.
In 1895, Salisbury bought two Doric Columns from Boston’s Tremont House during deconstruction and had them shipped to Worcester. He positioned the two granite columns at the two opposite boundaries of the park, at the corner of Salisbury and Humboldt and along Park Ave. Both still remain in their historical locations.
In 1954, the causeway at Grove Street was constructed. That action made it necessary to drain Salisbury Pond for four months. At that time, while the pond was drained, the bottom was cleaned of all the debris and garbage that had accumulated in the pond over the years.
In 1970, work began to try and clean up Salisbury Pond. Causes for pollution included: drainage from I-190, drainage from upstream industrial sites, occasional overflow of Worcester’s sanitary sewer system, and the increased presence of weeds and algae in the pond.
WPI students started the process by finding the sources of pollution. In 1972, the Salisbury Pond Task Force was created. They criticized the city government for not taking action, but the Task Force could not make a significant change. A group of WPI students joined the effort again in 1973, providing a detailed analysis of the condition of the pond and making recommendations that would improve the quality. Progress began in 1974 when the city enlisted the help of a Navy team to dredge the pond and get rid of polluted sediment in the pond bottom. The team was successful in removing 5000 cubic yards of sediment. However, another 15,000 cubic yards would need to be removed in order for the dredging to be effective. Without further dredging, the pond reverted back to its polluted condition. Significant progress has not been made since that time.
In 1951, Worcester residents Harry and Madelyn Levenson founded a concert series in Worcester’s Institute Park that continues to this day and is enjoyed by thousands of attendees each year. Performed by the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra (and predecessor ensembles), the concerts have been enjoyed by well over a million spectators and have become a summertime institution in Worcester. Inaugurated in 1951, the concerts’ initial sponsor was Wyman-Gordon Co. which in 1951 built the former wooden bandstand in the park (the bandstand was taken down in 1989 when the current structure was built). Originally entitled the Worcester Industrial Pops Concerts, the weekly programs (held primarily in July) were designed for the musical entertainment of area residents, particularly employees of many of the largest manufacturers in Worcester. In 1952, four leading Worcester companies at that time (Heald Machine Company, Morgan Construction Company, Norton Company, along with initial sponsor Wyman- Gordon Co.) expanded the concert series. The inaugural concert, held in September, 1951, attracted over 3,000 people and was deemed a huge success. Over the years, the highly popular concerts series has entertained three generations of Worcester-area families to the joys of admission-free outdoor symphonic performances, all under the stars in Institute Park.
In 1989, the first phase of a new bandstand was built for summer concerts held in Institute Park. The project began as a gift of $100,000 by Nathan Sneiderman, a Worcester resident and president of Bigelow Waste Co. The plans called for three phases of construction, including a backstage area with dressing rooms and rest rooms and an acoustically designed roof and state-of-the-art light and sound system. To date, the last two phases remain uncompleted.