UPPER JAY — The idea for a public park here washed away with Irene.
Once home to the Land of Make Believe theme park, the 3.5-acre stretch of riverfront that curled around the Ausable River was meant to become a tribute to its creator and legendary craftsman Arto Monaco.
Designs for the proposed walking park, drawn in March 2011, included stunning features, remnants of the artist’s work with heritage markers and features celebrating his life and talent.
The historic, two-story children’s fairytale castle stood largely intact until Irene slammed the region. The castle had been a central draw to the children’s play park, a local attraction here from 1954 until 1979. But flooding damaged the structure beyond repair.
JUST NOT VIABLE
On Aug. 28, 2011, Irene also washed away much of the theme park’s land, which the Arto Monaco Historical Society had purchased with a vision to reclaim and give to the Town of Jay as Make Believe Park.
“Before Irene, we had been feeling very optimistic,” Historical Society President Anne Mackinnon said. “We purchased much of Arto’s work from the family estate, and some of the collection was accepted into the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester and the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.”
Museum pieces were conveyed before the storm and are safely ensconced amid archives.
Preserved to history, Mackinnon said, are most of Monaco’s draft design drawings, the child-sized stagecoach and Make Believe cars and many sets of the wooden toys he made at Monaco Toy Factory, across the road from the Land of Make Believe.
“Then we had begun looking to create the park. We were doing really well with raising money,” Mackinnon said in an interview nearly a year after Irene.
“But floodwater inundated the storage building. When we opened it, we found there were still some nice pieces left, so we went in and got those out and stored them someplace safe.
“But what we realized was that it just wasn’t viable for the town to think about taking the park. They were already concerned, before Irene, about having enough resources to support it.”
And the Historical Society could not sustain recovery costs.
“We just realized that the effort was going to be too much for us,” Mackinnon said.
“Cleaning it up would be too difficult, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, surprisingly, a couple of people have approached us about buying and using the land for agricultural purposes. There is one potential buyer with means and equipment for cleaning up the property.
“We are encouraged that people have an alternative vision for a use of the land that could be a very, very good thing.”
Arto Monaco’s wife, Gladys, was forced to relocate from her home on the Land of Make Believe site in hasty evacuation as water from the Ausable River rose last August.
She lived with a sister-in-law in Saranac Lake a short time before being resettled at Will Rogers Institute.
Mrs. Monaco died Oct. 16, 2011. She was 100 years old.
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