Lafayette Park in Gardner Massaschusetts and the Spanish American War Memorial

By Windsor C. Robinson


General:

This article provides an account of the founding of Lafayette Park, in Gardner, Massachusetts, and the erection of a Spanish American War monument.

The Article:

Asa Greenwood owned the land that would become Lafayette Park in the 1880's and it is said, "it was (his) intention.... to have this triangular plot of land for a beauty spot." Mr. Greenwood demonstrated his desire to keep the land open by buying the triangular plot from Octave Normandie, owner of the land, for $32 dollars when Mr. Normandie indicated he wished to put a barn on this site. With the construction of the building, later to be called the Commercial house, it was Mr. Greenwood's aim that this triangular piece of land never be built upon. [The Commercial house was located approximately on the site of the Shell gasoline station to the west of this park location at the junction of West and Parker streets.] However the deed never indicated this hope. Alexis Grennon bought the land from Mr. Greenwood for $75 who again stipulated, but did not include in the deed, his determination to have the area remain an open space. Mr. Greenwood's intention was never achieved. Octave Normandie began the Commercial House in 1883 but with his death in 1884 the project was left unfinished. In 1884 Alexis Grennon bought the property and finished the Commercial House, then called St. Lawrence Hall, this opened in June of 1885. Shortly after this the so called "Flatiron" building was built on the triangle of land. Thus it remained with Nichols Street running between the two buildings until 1909. On 10 February of that year a fire did considerable damage to the building. At the March Town business meeting, held 6 March 1909, Article 24 read "To see what sum of money the Town will appropriate for the purchase of the triangular piece of land bounded by West, Nichols and Parker streets." It was voted to secure $2,500 dollars for the purchase of the land. This money was not needed. The deed between Phillip Grammont, owner of the land, and the Inhabitants of the Town Gardner states, "in consideration of One Dollar and other valuable considerations...." the land was transferred to the town. Mr. Grammont made one stipulation for this plot of land containing 9.98 square rods (2717.1 sq. ft.) and measuring 6 rods 16 links (109.56 ft.) by 3 rods (49.5 ft.) by 6 rods and 15 links (108.9 ft.). He specified that:

"That this conveyance is made upon the express condition that the aforesaid premises shall be forever kept open, used and maintained for public park and  public grounds."
 At this early date the idea of having the Spanish-American War Memorial on this site was being suggested. The Flatiron building had been the residence of Walter J. Ethier, also known as Walter J. Hickey, who died at Montauk Point, Long Island on 29 August 1898. From the Gardner News of 3 March 1909 states:
  "...it was from the Flatiron block that he went to enlist for service in Co. F, 2d Massachusetts volunteers, and it was into the same block that his body was brought."
 The Flatiron building, weighing approximately 60 tons, had to be moved to make way for the park The process began in February of 1909. The building was moved to Oriole Street where it was fitted up for 6 tenements. At the time the Flatiron building was being moved the Park Commissioners were at work making the site into the park they envisioned. The Gardner News of 9 April 1909 states:
 "The vacant lot adds greatly to the appearance of that section, particularly the Commercial house, which looms up larger that ever."
 At the end of April the cellar hole was almost filled in and the work of grading the future park was about to begin. This was completed in the middle of May. The fill used was "clean rubbish" delivered by the town teams to the site. The park was seeded and ready for whatever use the Inhabitants of Gardner wished to use it.

 The Town now owned the land but as yet had not decided what to do with it. Nor had they decided what name it should have. The problem remained dormant for approximately two years. Then in May 1911 the Park Commissioners called for suggestions for naming the park. The first names mentioned were of people who first settled the area. Such as Robichaud park, Barthel square and Robillard common. It was also suggested that it be named for Dr. David Parker, Parker Park, who had Parker Hill, Parker Street and Parker Pond named for him. Someone even advanced the idea of calling it the "Flatiron" park. None of these were accepted. It was suggested the names of "...noted French-speaking historians..." be used. This brought the following ideas, Marquette park (Jacques Marquette), La Salle park (Robert Cavalier Sieur de la Salle), Lafayette park (Marquis De Lafayette). Other names were Rochambeau, Chartier, Champlain, Hennepin, Richelieu and Laurier. At a meeting in the St. Jean Baptiste hall on 7 May 1911 the names of Lafayette, Rochambeau and La Salle were selected to be presented to the Park Commissioners. The idea to have a statue on the site was also discussed and:

"The French-speaking citizens are...of the opinion that a statue in memory of Lafayette, Marquette or some other famous Franco-American patriot would be particularly pleasing..."
 The Park commissioners decided:
"At the request of many of the French-speaking citizens of Gardner living in the vicinity of Parker, West, Oak and Nichols streets...to name the lot,....Lafayette park, in remembrance of the Marquis de Lafayette...
 The article also pointed out that "...the first soldier to die during the Spanish-American war lived in the house which formerly stood on the site...and was a French-American citizen of the town." This was the aforementioned Walter J. Ethier.

 At this time Captain Albert L. Potter, adjutant of the Sherman Hoar Camp U. S. W. V., officially submitted the idea for a Spanish-American War Monument for the park to the Park Commissioners

 During the deliberations by the Park Commission the Sherman Hoar Camp U. S. W. V applied, through their Congressman William H. Wilder for one of the 1,200 tablets being cast from metal taken from the Battleship Maine by the John Williams Company of New York for the government. The bronze tablet arrived in Gardner in August 1913 and was placed on display in Garland’s Pharmacy’s window.
 

 

To the left is the bronze tablet made from metal from the Battleship MAINE. On the Right is the dedication plaque on the monument .

 Two years passed before the Commission gave their consent for a Spanish-American War monument to be placed at Lafayette Park. The appearance of the monument is described as follows:

"The statue will represent a Volunteer Soldier, equipped as at the time of the Spanish War, and will be of bronze seven feet tall on a base of Barre granite, also about seven feet in height, making the monument about fourteen feet in height. The monument will face toward West Gardner Square. On one side of the base will be a memorial tablet made from bronze taken from the ill fated battleship "Maine," and on the reverse side will be a suitably inscribed tablet telling for whom the monument is erected.
The sculptor of the statue was H. M. Mossman of Chicopee. This appears to be the proposal that was accepted by the Monument Committee of the Sherman Hoar Camp U. S. W. V. A year later, July 1915 the granite foundation was being put in place. It was supplied by J. C. Sargent who oversaw its installation On the base are the two tablets, one facing the square (east) is made from bronze from the battleship Maine, while the one facing away (west) describes to whom the monument is dedicated. The dedication of the monument took place on 14 August 1915.


 Bibliography:

The Gardner News, 3 March 1909, p. 1.; 7 April, 1909, p. 1; 9 April, 1909 p. 4; 22, April, 1909, p. 1; 21 August, 1909, p. 4; 8 May, 1911, p.1; 10 May, 1911, p.1; 13 May, 1911, p. 4; 18 May, 1911; 20 May, 1911, p.1; 25 Ausgust, 1913, p. 1; 20 July, 1914; 25 August, 1914, p.1; 21 July, 1915, p 5; 14 August, 1915, p 1,2,3.

The Gardner News, Illustrated Centennial Edition, 27 June 1885, p. 5.

Town Repot 1909 p. 16.

Worcester Registry of Deeds Book 1909 page 29.

Photos courtesy of Windsor Robinson.


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