Saturday, July 11, 2015

Heritage Park: The heart of Junction City

Heritage Park: The heart of Junction City 

As this past weekend wrapped up and another successful Sundown Salute in Junction City, many of you were fortunate enough to spend some time in Heritage Park. The town center that is now known as Heritage Park has its beginnings tied with the founding of the city.  Heritage Park has had some tremendous transformations over the years but it has always been a gathering place for the community and a place of tremendous prestige. 

In 1858, when the city was laid out, it was decided that the corner of 6th and Washington would be a likely site for a city park. When the original town site was surveyed in early 1858, the empty block was not given a block number and instead was only described as “City Park.” There wasn’t much to the park at first as it was just and empty grass lot as many looked at the city park as an “overlooked homestead plot.” This soon changed as an early settler known as “General” Knox planted and tended the first trees and cleared the first paths in the park. Knox would water the trees and had tremendous pride in created a park in the total sense of the word. There was a movement to name the City Park after Knox, which fell flat before the city commission.

Although the park had been planted and organized, many still saw the park as a place where one could homestead and call their own. In June of 1864, a Mr. S.M. Stickler was brought before the court for having appropriated the city park to use as his own cattle yard, and was duly fined $10.  Because of the trouble Mr. Stickler had brought the city, a white fence was built around the park. The fence seemed to have little effect as the problem of appropriating the park continued throughout the 1800’s. In the late 1860s, a Mr. H.P. Hynes, decided that the park was land that belonged to anyone who wished to claim it. The citizens of the early pioneer town were much amazed one morning when they found a shanty and some sheds erected on the park and Mr. Hynes was in possession of the homestead. His “home” included a shanty house, a pig pen, and a chicken coop. The excitement was intense but short lived, as Mr. Hynes, and his hastily erected dwelling were promptly removed into the street by irate citizens. As a result of this incident, it was long believed that city statutes had been put in place prohibiting the constriction of any edifice with a roof in the city park. However, this long-held misconception was laid to rest in the 1950s when the current city attorney carefully searched the local law book to find that no such ordinance ever existed.

            The first “legitimate” building built in the park was a bandstand that was erected in 1878. This was a simple bandstand as it was made entirely of wood. Besides some reports of concerts on the bandstand between 1880 and 1890, there are no pictures or documentation of the original bandstand. A second bandstand was built in 1911 and stood for 62 years until it was razed in 1973. The bandstand that currently sits at Heritage Park was built in 1996 after the re-establishment of a “municipal band” in the early 1990s. Along with a new bandstand, the city park received a new name in the 1980. Before 1988, the city park was known as Upton Park. The name change to Heritage Park was made official in 1988, when the city Commission voted to change the park’s name from Upton Park to Heritage Park, due in part from a city wider essay contest which was won by local Geri Hoffman.

Perhaps what Heritage Park is most known for is the majestic monuments that lay within the park. These monuments honor and remember soldiers who have fought and lost their lives in some of the most important American wars in history. Here is a brief description of some of the more recognizable monuments at Heritage Park.  The Civil War Arch at the northeast entrance of the park came to be in 1898. Standing on the top of the monument is a Union soldier with two cannons, one on each side. On the southeast corner, a monument erected by the American war Mothers was erected to dedicated the “Geary County War Veterans. This monument dates back to 1928. The maple tree, on the southwest corner of the park, is a living memorial to those who fought in the Vietnam and Korean War, which was erected on July 4, 1985.

            The interesting history of Heritage Park gives Junction City some character and it reflects the history of the town, as it has evolved from a pioneer town to an emerging town in the 21st century.  The ever-changing park has earned the reputation of being the “heart” of the city in a physical and metaphorical sense.

This picture was taken in 1912 with the second incarnation of the bandstand that was built in 1911. This was originally a postcard.