Memorial Park

Memorial Park

Memorial Park is located across Washington Street, behind the Silas Clark House and the  Historical Society and Genealogical Society Museum and Library. A Lutheran burying ground in the early part of the 19th century, it was neglected in the latter part of that century until the 1920s when interest in the "old graveyard" was revived. Since that time, it has been cleaned up and improved, providing an area honoring the early settlers and veterans of the County.

The land which now comprises Memorial Park was first surveyed in May 1774 for Thomas and John Penn. It was part of a 267-acre tract they called Colforgie. About a year later, the land was sold to Rev. John Smith of Bart Township, Lancaster County. Twenty years after that, it was sold to Indiana County pioneer John Conrad Reis [Rice], a blacksmith and a Revolutionary War veteran.

Soon after John Rice's wife Philipena Dickey died in Lancaster County, he and his two sons made their way west to Westmoreland County where they asked directions to Colforgie. They were told it was farther up Two Lick Creek, and traveled as far as Campbell's Mills. There, they were warned of recent Indian hostilities, and stayed there, south of the Conemaugh River until the greatest danger had passed. So, the following spring, in 1795, they settled in the southeast part of present-day Indiana, an area south of what is now Washington Street, including Mack Park.

John and his two sons, Philip and Conrad, eventually built a 22-by-24 foot cabin on this plot of land. Philip and Conrad were the first blacksmiths in the area and tradition says that their shop was located where Horace Mann School now stands. Around 1798, seeking a place to worship, Conrad opened up his barn for residents to use for Lutheran services which were held by Rev. J. Michael Steek of Greensburg.
It was soon after, in 1804, after Indiana had been chosen as the County Seat, that Conrad Rice donated 2 acres and 4 perches of land "for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Indiana to be appropriated in two equal parts, one part or moyity [sic.] whereof to be for the use and benefit of a German Lutheran congregation as a burial place, and whereon the erect a church for the use of said congregation; and the other part or moiety for the use and benefit of an English Presbyterian congregation to be used as a burial place, and whereon to erect a Church for the use of such Congregation." This agreement was recorded in Indiana County Deed Book #3, p. 195.

The portion of the land which was allotted to the Presbyterian congregation is now the site of Graystone Presbyterian and Calvary Presbyterian Churches, with a small graveyard located between the two buildings. A child, Amelia Shryock, was the first person buried there, in October 1808.

The portion of the land which was allotted to the Lutheran congregation was also used as a burial ground. Dr. Jonathan French, the first resident doctor in Indiana, was buried there on August 20, 1814, as was his wife Jane Campbell four years later. Conrad Rice himself was buried there in 1823, as are Daniel Stanard, Indiana's first resident attorney in 1867, and his first wife Mary (McAnulty) Stanard in 1824. Pioneers John Lydick and Peter Sutton were also buried there (or in Peter's case, his grave was moved there from the Old Presbyterian Churchyard). Surprisingly, there are about 33 known graves on the site, of which a list may be viewed online.

 


By the mid-nineteenth century, the old graveyard had become neglected and quite overgrown. It was noted by A.T. Moorhead in the Indiana Progress in 1899 that in the Underground Railroad, an "Indiana Station was amongst the tombstones in the 'old graveyard' near the residence of the late Judge Clark..." He also related the story of 1845 in which three fugitive slaves came to Indiana and "it must be remembered that they had rested all that day in the old graveyard near the residence of the late Judge Silas M. Clark, among the tombstones, secreted by the brush, without anything to eat." These three fugitives were Charlie Brown, Anthony Hollingsworth and Jared or Garrett Harris. Click here for more on the URR.

The graveyard must certainly have been overgrown and brushy at this point, since the Indiana Weekly Register reported in 1853 that it had a "wild appearance and dilapidated condition." It was apparently covered with elder bushes and briars and the fence surrounding it was falling apart. Ten years later, it was noted that both this cemetery and the one between the Presbyterian churches was appalling, showing no respect for the dead.

Finally, in 1875, the Borough Council passed an ordinance prohibiting any further burials in what was often called the "Lutheran Graveyard." This seemed to further decrease traffic around the cemetery, and in 1877 it was noted as a cow pasture. The remaining graves from the Presbyterian graveyard had been moved down to this one, and many of the stones here were fallen over and broken. Residents often called it Skeleton Park.

More than 40 years passed before anything further was done about the old graveyard. Then, in September 1923, the Mothers of Democracy were granted permission by Borough resolution, to erect a soldier's memorial there. They enlisted the aid of the local post of the American Legion, and a committee of Legionnaires was formed to help with this project. They were:

Alexander M. Stewart (Jimmy Stewart's father)
Steele Ober
A.F. Blessing
Samuel Wolf
Harry Campbell
Edgar Walker
George K. Clark, and
Richard W. Watson

According to Zaida Weaver, whose husband W. Clair Weaver was one of the monument's strong supporters, the Legion raised $2,000 to be put toward the soldiers' monument. The project was one which found much community support, save with the Lutheran community. The Farmers Bank donated the granite column, 26-feet high and 11-feet in diameter, which had formerly been located at the bank's entrance. Vernon Taylor donated the life-size doughboy statue which sits atop the monument.

Jimmy Stewart told Floyd Miller of McCall's magazine about the dispute with the Lutherans over the building of the monument. Much of his story is also related by Faith Noble in her interview with Alex Stewart and Clair Weaver. The Lutheran congregation had planned to sell the trees in the graveyard for lumber and then sell the land itself. In 1923, they were just finishing up building the new church at the corner of Church and Sixth Streets. Alex Stewart had spearheaded the project to put the monument up, and had gotten his employees from the hardware store to dig the foundation for the monument. [Noble notes that it was volunteer veterans who dug the foundation]. It seems that overnight, a number of men from the Lutheran church came and re-filled the hole. The next day, foundation was dug again, and again overnight re-filled. Eventually, they managed to get the cement poured, and the cycle of digging and re-filling ceased.

Progress was then halted again on the day Stewart was to raise the column of the monument. A group of Lutherans apparently marched around the corner of the armory to the monument site and presented him with a court order prohibiting the erection of the column claiming it was a "threat to life and limb." They then departed. As Jimmy Stewart related it, "There was sadness on Dad's face as he watched them go, sadness over the fallibility of the Lutherans and of the court. However, he resolutely downed this emotion, turned to his waiting employees and said crisply, 'Okay, boys, put her up.' Up she went and up she stayed."
Later, Dr. Daniel Ritter provided the memorial tablet which was formally dedicated May 30, 1925. The delay from 1923 was necessary while the court case was decided over whether or not Conrad Rice had legitimately donated the land to the Commissioners to use, or to the Lutheran Church. The dedication of the monument was part of a full day's program in observance of Memorial Day in 1925. It included a presentation of the monument by Juliet White Watson, an acceptance speech by Borough Council President James W. Mack, Esq., and an address by John S. Fisher. A full description of the day's events and participants may be viewed here.

By 1928, however, it was noted that except for the monument, the remainder of the old graveyard was in very sorry shape. Forgotten and neglected, it was weed-filled, and the center of the cemetery was sunken below street level. Clair Weaver, who was Commander of the American Legion post here in 1927, proposed a repair and beautification project, hoping to recover the park from it's neglect. It had become a loitering place for drunks and a place for teenagers to go to be alone. Weaver asked the Borough Council to donate $1,500 toward the project, and the Legion would raise and donate the remaining $4,000 needed. This was approved by the Borough. Murphy's store was being build downtown, and Weaver arranged to get the excess dirt brought over to fill in the lot. Veterans volunteered to do the work and put in 400 loads of dirt here, carefully digging out the old tombstones as they went, cleaning them and laying them flat on top of the graves. In once case, a tree had to be dynamited out of its place, and in the process, the men discovered that the roots surrounded a casket. Opening it, they found a soldier's uniform button inside, quickly transferred the contents to a new casket and re-buried it.

No further dramatic changes were made to the park until 1957 when the bandstand/speaker's stand was built, again a project endorsed by the Mothers of Democracy. In addition, over the years, three more tablets have been added around the base of the monument, commemorating Indiana County veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed markers honoring the Revolutionary War veterans buried in the park:

Conrad Rice
John Lydick
Jacob Giles Hicks
Peter Sutton, and
Gawin Adams

Hicks, Sutton, and Adams were originally buried in the old Presbyterian Churchyard (between where Graystone and Calvary Presbyterian Churches now stand), and had been moved down to what was the Lutheran Graveyard at some point in the past.

In 1984, the Jaycees provided landscaping and a new roof on the bandstand. The roof was designed by James H. Shaffer and Associates of Indiana, and built by students at the Indiana Vocational-Technical School under Charles Thompson's supervision. Penelec provided lighting, and three local nurseries, Canale's in Shelocta, Musser's north of Indiana, and Pikes Peak in Penn Run, provided the landscaping materials. Also noted as contributors to the project were mason Bernard Beer of Indiana; Silvio Corte and Corte Masonry Supplies, Indiana; Sherwin-Williams Paint, Indiana; the National Guard Armory; plasterer Robert Long, Creekside; Edward Patterson of the Indiana County Parks and Recreation Commission; the Indiana Gazette; and Hugh McKee of Indiana.

Today, Memorial Park is pleasant and well-maintained, thanks to the efforts of many local volunteers. As the Historical Society looks to new uses for the Armory, both for its own needs, and as a resource to the Indiana community, it forms a solid part of an area of great local history.
 

Additional information about the park and the doughboy statue is provided on the Indiana County Parks & Trails website.