A patch of green space in Portland’s Libbytown neighborhood could once again be designated as a city park this week.

The Thomas family sold the small, grassy triangle between Congress and Lowell streets to the city for just $1 in 1913 with the vision of creating a community park. Now, descendants of the family along with a small group of neighborhood activists are working to restore the area as Thomas Park and give it protected status.

Portland City Council is expected to vote on the matter Monday. It’s a long time coming for the Libbytown residents who have been seeking the designation for over a year.

Right now, there’s not much to see. The triangular lot is scattered with some tall shade trees, but there are no paths or benches. Just a simple stretch of grass. It’s just across the street from the shuttered Denny’s where the state plans to build a roundabout.

The group will also present a preliminary redesign concept to City Council on Monday, though there is no vote scheduled on that part of the plan.

“I see the vision as a potential for what that park could be,” said Emma Scudder, chair of the Libbytown Neighborhood Association.


Scudder said she lives nearby and imagines herself using the space someday.

“I really appreciate that the city has a lot of small green spaces, and I think this is one of them,” she said. “Even if it’s small, I think it’s important. It’s a place I can go and meet up with a friend or bring my kid.”

Carol Schiller, who lives in Portland and has worked on similar projects, has been working with a landscape architect on a design concept that includes public sidewalks, benches, art, ornamental metal fencing, a lawn for events and a bike-share facility.

“Look at all the money the city is putting into a waterfront park. Well, that’s great for people who get off a cruise ship, but these pocket parks, these are for our residents who pay our taxes. It’s important for them to have a neighborhood space to have a little picnic, have a wedding or a concert,” Schiller said.

She estimated renovations could cost between $50,000 to $75,000, and that funding could come from a private donor or be wrapped into nearby projects, like the Libbytown Safety and Accessibility Project, which has sought federal funding to make pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure changes to the area.

Scudder said that when it does come time to make concrete design decisions, she’d like the input of neighbors.


The Thomas family was prominent in Portland in the 1800s, Schiller said. Their home on the corner of India and Congress streets was a safe house on the underground railroad. Elias Thomas says his ancestors entertained guests like Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, but they also opened their home to people living on the street who needed a hot meal.

When they donated the land, they wrote into the deed that it should be used as either open land, a public park or a playground.

Elias Thomas grew up in Portland and said he remembers driving by the park with his dad as a kid.

“He’d stop and remind us that this park was given to the city by my great-great-grandfather. It was nice to see that there was something set aside for people to enjoy,” Thomas said .

“That’s a great example, and it’s really inspiring,” he added.

Thomas plans to attend the City Council meeting on Monday along with his daughter and grandson. He said he is proud that his family’s legacy of generosity will be preserved.

If the council decides to restore the name and status of the park, it could not be repurposed for housing or other building projects in the future.

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