Memorial Park: So Small but Full of History

Located directly behind the Historical Society is a unique little park that has a lot of history behind it. Memorial Park is the smallest of the Indiana County Parks. The site was originally surveyed in 1774 and was the site of a church cemetery. If you visit the park today, many of those graves are still located in the park. Some of the notable people buried in the park: John Lydick (Revolutionary War soldier and pioneer), Dr. Jonathan French (first resident doctor in Indiana), and Daniel Stanard (Indiana’s first resident attorney). The deceased continued to be interred in Memorial Park until 1875, at which time the Indiana Borough Council passed an ordinance prohibiting further burials at the graveyard.

During the 1850s and 1860s, the cemetery fell into disrepair, tombstones had fallen over and the site served as a stop on the Underground Railroad in which runaway slaves would hade among the overgrowth and tombstones.

In 1845, there were three fugitive slaves that came to Indiana. They rested all day in the old graveyard, hiding among the tombstones, brush, and without anything to eat. The three fugitives were Charlie Brown, Anthony Hollingsworth and Jared or Garrett Harris. (See another blog post outlining the trial of Anthony Hollingsworth).

By 1877, the cemetery was noted as a cow pasture and was known by residents as Skeleton Park.

In the center of the park is one of the most noteworthy objects in the park (besides the graves) and that is the doughboy statue. The statue was erected and dedicated on Memorial Day 1925. The story behind the erection of the statue is a unique one and filled with conflict.

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Doughboy Statute in Memorial Park

The history of the statue began in 1923 when the American Legion committee was organized, which included Alex Stewart (father of James Stewart), Steele Ober, A.F. Blessing, Samuel Wolfe, Harry Campbell, George K. Clark, Edgar Walker, and Richard Watson.

The original plan for the land, owned by the Lutheran church, was to sell the trees to help finance the building of a church on another part of the property. The local veterans however, opposed the idea of selling the land and building the church on the rest, so they mounted a campaign to erect a memorial on the property. Alex Stewart was the driving force behind this campaign. In 1922 the Farmers’ Bank donated the tall pedestal to the Mothers of Democracy and an individual made a gift of the Doughboy sculpture.

The Mothers of Democracy along with the American Legion and Alex Stewart (the monument committee chairman) became involved to erect the monument. Alex, his son Jimmy, and a group of Stewart’s interested associates began digging a hole for the pedestal’s foundation. A group from the church, concerned that the erection of the memorial would reduce the price they could get for the land, filled in the hole. So, the next day, the committee group once again dug the hole, followed by the church group filling it back in again. This time, the church group erected a fence along with a “NO TRESPASSING” sign around the property. This did not discourage Stewart and his group, Stewart invited both groups to the site and when all were assembled, cut the fence, crossed the area and defied anyone to do anything about it. The stories differ as to whether Alex spent time in jail, and if so, how much. The story has a happy ending, that Indiana bought the land the Doughboy was erected where Stewart and his associates had wanted it to be placed.

The purpose of doughboy statues was to honor veterans from World War I. The official title of the statue of the statue is the “Spirit of the American Doughboy” because the local committee wanted to honor all veterans of previous wars, choosing the more general name.