LYNN — David Pruitt is 77 years old, but when he walks down a set of stone steps just off Great Woods Road he time travels back to adolescent days spent playing baseball with his friends.
“This area is just really special, almost sacred. The happiest I think I’ve been in my life is here,” said Pruitt.
Pruitt lived as a boy on Holly Avenue and youthful days not spent in school or church were devoted to playing baseball on the expanse of land just inside Lynn Woods beyond Park Road where the basketball court and playground are now located.
Dubbed “up top” by neighborhood kids, the ballfield bordered a sunken stretch of ground the kids nicknamed “down bottom” that was home to a dirt basketball court. Fun and games reigned supreme on summer days.
“We’d come here right after breakfast and play ball, go home for lunch and come back. It was fun. We laughed a lot and kidded around a lot,” Pruitt said.
An English High School Class of 1959 graduate, Pruitt initially tried his hand at ministry before going into teaching. He taught at Walpole High School for 28 years, lived in Randolph and eventually moved up to Haverhill, N.H., within sight of the Vermont border.
Visits to Lynn to see his late parents, Roger and Helen, often included a swing by his old Lynn Woods stomping ground in Lynn. In 2000 he decided to give back to the place that had provided him so many good memories. He was happy to see the city, Friends of Lynn Woods, Wyoma Little League and organizations as well as individuals had spruced up the 2,200-acre Woods — except for one little corner just off Park Road.
The old dirt basketball court had been all but obliterated by weed infestation and trees. Over the years, dumpers had pulled off Great Woods Road and tossed trash, including concrete debris, over the stone walls into “down bottom.” Pruitt decided to show his old haunt a little love.
He pulled up weeds and hacked down trees. He piled the debris in a corner where the stone walls met, covered it with dirt and landscaped the corner with stone he hauled from New Hampshire. What initially began as a tidying-up project turned into a serious hobby, with Pruitt driving the three hours from his home to Lynn up to a dozen times a year.
Neighbors and people frequenting the Woods like Lynn house painter Rob Ryan began to notice the dumping spot’s transformation into a sunken park. Ryan spotted Pruitt working one day and pitched in to help him.
“Twelve years later, I’m still helping him,” he said.
The transformation occurred within sight of Park Road resident Patty Lauria’s backyard and she praised Pruitt for setting a positive example for neighborhood youth. Her husband, Paul, helped build Scherrer Clubhouse at Lynn Woods Field and he gladly loaned tools to Pruitt to spare him the burden of hauling equipment down from New Hampshire.
“We’ve had quite a rapport over the years. You never see a labor of love like that. He just goes and goes and goes,” Paul Lauria said.
Working with Ryan, or sometimes alone, Pruitt built a low stone wall along one edge of the park and encircled the more mature trees he left standing with a rock wall. Woods Ranger Dan Small said Pruitt and Ryan are among a small but dedicated band of Woods lovers who do all they can to improve one of Lynn’s natural wonders. The group includes Tom Wall, who Small said picks up trash around the Woods and keeps the Great Woods Road entrance immaculate.
Small said the area Pruitt landscaped was once known as Piggery Pond.
“There’s a story that a woman was buried there,” Small said.
Pruitt’s love for Lynn Woods hasn’t been lost on his wife, Anna-Lisa, and their two sons: They threw him a 70th birthday party in the sunken park.
“Lynn is still home. I have a great love for Lynn,” Pruitt said.