The 15-acre stretch along the banks of the Neponset River has long ridden the razor’s edge of becoming a dumping place for hazardous waste, home to gas tanks, a docking site for natural gas tankers, or adjacent to a proposed site of a stadium for the then-Boston Patriots.
On May 6, three years after the state dedicated $4.25 million in funding to transform the former Schaffer paper site in Port Norfolk into a passive state park, officials gathered in the newly named Senator Joseph Finnegan Park (he represented Dorchester in the House of Representatives and the State Senate during the Great Depression) to celebrate a family that has championed the land and the surrounding community for decades.
“When I was a kid growing up in Neponset, the names Finnegan, White, and Hunt were names that were well-respected,” said Port Norfolk Civic Association president John Lyons. “They were people who were active in the community, and active in the parish, and, ultimately, active in government. And they set very high standards.”
It was during those days that the park along the Neponset was conceived, he said as he recalled riding around on the T and staring at the Charles River esplanade. “We always thought we would never see anything that nice in Dorchester,” he said. “Now here we are today. It has actually happened.”
After three decades, the cleanup and rehabilitation of the area is complete, and another critical link is in place along the Neponset River trail that stretches from Castle Island to Hyde Park.
Gov. Charlie Baker presided over the park’s opening on Saturday, accompanied by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, Mayor Martin Walsh, Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Leo Roy, elected city and state officials, and neighborhood leaders.
Joseph Finnegan was born in Co. Mayo, Ireland, in 1898, joining a family of nine siblings. He moved to the United States in 1916 to live with two older siblings who had already made Massachusetts their home. “Thus began the typical story of immigrants who came to America at that time, and supported one another,” said Joseph’s son Steven, who shared the mission of his father, his brother John, and the rest of the family to preserve and protect the land for the park that was opened on Saturday.
Those at the opening toasted then-state representative Walsh, state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, state Rep. Dan Hunt, and City Councillor Frank Baker among others. Engaged citizens like Mary McCarthy, the Lyons family, Ben Tankle and his late wife Barbara, Mary Maloney and Freda Nolan worked tirelessly to see the project through, they said.