When Clifford Park was dedicated in 1896, it featured 86 acres of undeveloped land and a prominent main gate with two 6-foot stone pillars and an ornate wrought iron archway with the park’s name on it.

The land and its gates were a gift to the City of Biddeford from the Clifford Family, whose sole request was that there always be signage on the property identifying the park in their memory.

Nearly 120 years later, the fancy gate has long since been replaced with a simple chain link fence and little is known about the Clifford family, who had the foresight to gift the land to the city.

But an effort is being made to change that.

Catherine Glynn, a Heart of Biddeford Adopt-A-Park trail steward for Clifford Park; Dana Peck, former president of the Biddeford Mills Museum; and Biddeford Recreation Department officials are overseeing a campaign to install new signs at the city’s largest park.

Peck, owner of Maine Architectural Ironworks, was commissioned to design the new gateway and is donating his labor for the job. But the group is seeking public support to raise $2,000 in material costs to complete the work.

Peck said that while the group could easily seek a business donation for the project, it seems more appropriate to reach out to community members.

“Since this is a community park, we really wanted the people to make the investment on this one,” said Peck.

Located on Pool Street, Clifford Park once was a popular spot for generations of mill laborers, whose families gathered there on weekends following a 60-hour work week.

In its heyday (1890s-1920s), the park boasted a performance grandstand and at least two ballparks. But, by 1940, the venue’s popularity waned, its deteriorating attractions were removed and, eventually, the space was reclaimed by the natural landscape.

22 MILES OF HIKING TRAILS

People are rediscovering the park that now offers 140 acres of woods, streams and recreational facilities, 22 miles of hiking trails and a waterfall. Modern ammenites include tennis, pickleball and basketball courts, a playground, skate park, horseshoe pits, picnic areas and seasonal restrooms.

Glynn discovered the park after moving to the area a few years ago.

“We had no idea there was such a large trail system in Biddeford,” said Glynn, who recalled being rewarded with a view of the ocean after hiking to a high point on the property.

Glynn later became a park steward, along with a group of other individuals who regularly pick up litter, groom the trails and landscape and alert officials about vandalsim or potentially dangerous conditions there.

“This park is an amazing resource that needs to be identified and we want to do it justice,” said Glynn, who also is intrigued with the Clifford family history. “We’d like to find out who they were and how they came to leave this land to the city. We feel like we’ve just started to scratch the surface in our research.”

Replicating the park’s original gate and archway wasn’t feasible, as the height would have impeded firetrucks and other emergency vehicles from entering the property.

Peck’s proposed alternative was a pillar-height, wrought iron gate that swings open and includes the “Clifford Park” name at its center. Blacksmith Joel Tripp will create the hand- forged letters with technology that was used in the 1800s to lend authenticity.

Fundraising efforts are off to a good start, thanks to groups like the Biddeford High School Class of 1967, which already has raised nearly one-third of the needed money.

Glynn said donations of any amount are welcome through the Heart of Biddeford downtown revitilization group, which is a fiscal sponsor for the effort.

Checks should be made out to the “Heart of Biddeford” and mailed to: 205 Main St., Biddeford, ME 04005, with “Clifford Park” noted in the memo line.

The new gate is expected to be completed and installed in April. Hopes are to offer a guided park hike as part of the celebration.