by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
The Corunna 4th of July Celebration is once again going to take place in McCurdy Park, though this year marks Corunna’s sesquicentennial, making the holiday event even more significant. This is particularly true when considering the history of the prominent park – which was a gift. As was headlined in the Corunna Journal, an early local newspaper, Hugh McCurdy (left) and his wife, Emma, donated 34 acres of their property to Corunna as a Christmas gift on December 21, 1899. Yes, a Christmas gift. The McCurdy couple continued to reside in their house in the middle of what became the park after gardeners and designers were invited to convert the property. Hugh McCurdy, a Scottish immigrant who moved to Michigan with his parents, and as a lifelong Democrat, went on to become a Shiawassee County prosecutor, probate judge and even a state senator, passing away in 1908. He was also a devoted Mason, achieving the highest honor of eminent grand master of the Grand Encampment Knights Templar of the U.S. Living in Corunna, McCurdy eventually became so invested in his hometown that he and his wife decided to gift their property to the public – and it is available to the public to this day. The McCurdy couple are buried at the nearby Pine Tree Cemetery, just across the Shiawassee River from the park.
At the time of the gift, McCurdy believed that Corunna and Owosso were quite likely to be consolidated, so the deed for the park outlines that the city of Corunna and its sister city of Owosso were to be allowed unrestricted use of the grounds, as long as the park property was maintained. The gift was then valued at $10,000, though by modern standards, it would be difficult to assign a value.
Early features of the park included wide paths (wide enough for three carriages), various kinds of trees, a fountain and the early Casino (community building), a large rustic structure that burned in 1930, but then was rebuilt, though the Casino today – the Corunna Community Center – does not resemble its predecessor. A river channel was carved through the property, separating a portion of the land into an area named Diana Island. A bridge allowed park visitors access to Diana Island. Part of the park also had a section fenced off for wild animals, particularly an area to protect deer. Then from around 1917 to the 1960s, a pen in the park became the home to a number of bears – and there are a large number of stories still told about the bears in McCurdy Park.
Another report from the Corunna Journal states, “Ten thousand people from surrounding towns would come there (McCurdy Park) for the Fourth of July celebrations at the turn of the century.” Beyond that, the park was the location of the Shiawassee County Fair for over 50 years and the site for numerous semi-pro baseball games. One little known fact is that Earl Rapp, who went on to play baseball for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, New York Giants, St. Louis Browns and Washington Senators, was born in Corunna in 1921. His family eventually moved to Swedesboro, NJ.
The 2019 Corunna 4th of July celebration will actually begin with a free concert on Wednesday, July 3 at the Entertainment Center Pavilion and will be followed by an abbreviated fireworks presentation. Special events will be held throughout Thursday, July 4, including the parade at 11 a.m. and an enlarged fireworks celebration at dusk. The Corunna Historical Village will be open to visitors and includes historic memorabilia from throughout the county – even items that belonged to Hugh McCurdy.
Continuing the spirit of McCurdy’s gift of the park, the community is welcome to attend the festivities – and enjoy the unique sesquicentennial celebration.