By Hank Nuwer
Wonder no more.
The idea to create a Union City public park out of hay fields began in the midst of the Great Depression. A group of visionaries clamored for a recreational area with public bathing and swimming pools, plus tennis courts and ball diamonds.
In 1936, local officials accompanied members of the state conservation department to the pond area for inspection. The Aug. 27, 1936, headline in the now-defunct Union City evening paper was “State Officials Enthusiastic About [Proposed Park’s] Possibilities.”
Consequently, that same year the city purchased a 7-acre tract of land with ice pond and signed an option on 15 adjacent acres. Officials implored citizens to donate the $3,000 to complete the additional purchase.
Then in 1940, Dr. Robert Reid, chair of an organized park solicitation board, arranged sale for 81 acres of what had been the Grimes farm west of the city’s corporation limit. The $7,000 price tag came from pledges.
$3,000 of that pledged total came from retired Bartonia grocer and farmer George W. Harter and his second wife Abbie. (He married her after the death of his first wife, the former Rosa Macy).
George was born and reared in Randolph County. The couple owned a modest residence on Oak Street, Union City, Ind.
George was highly regarded as a civic benefactor. He served as a director of the Union Loan & Trust Company, He also was a Randolph County council member, Randolph County commissioner. I.O.O.F. lodge member, and a Methodist.
This inspired the solicitation board to give the park-in-progress a name. Hands down, the city’s choice was Harter Park.
Right away, an additional fund drive was started to collect $5,000 for the park’s improvements, maintenance and equipment. In 1941, months before the U.S. was thrown into World War II, the city hired a landscape architect. Horseback riding also began in 1941 on improved bridle paths along the wooded section of the park.
The ice pond, depending on the winter temperature, attracted high school sweethearts, children on wobbling legs, and spectators wrapped in scarves like mummies. All referred to it as the Old Sol Young pond in honor of an early citizen who excavated it for the public’s use.
Boys shoveled the snow aside to play spirited hockey games much the way today’s boys enjoy soccer matches in Harter Park.
Often in February, the area received a warming thaw. After another freeze came, the pond’s surface was pure glass and came alive with the whir of ice skates.
George W. Harter saw the park’s opening before dying, age 82, on May 8, 1942.
Despite the war, and the departure of men and women needed to serve, a spectacular Labor Day event occurred at Harter Park in 1942. The sponsor was the Wa-Jac Conservation Club. There were games with war stamps as prizes.
The biggest ever Fourth of July celebration occurred in 1947. It was the brainchild of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the park board.
Whoo, whoo! 2022 is the Diamond Jubilee of that initial extravaganza.
The 1947 Independence Day featured a parade through the business district, a band concert and spectacular Jaycees fireworks show. Locals decorated cars and floats for the parade.
Thousands of neighbors from both sides of Stateline flooded the park on blankets and folding chairs.
A Union City tradition was born.
The next year, on July 5, 1948, the city repeated the celebration.
Excited officials cut the ribbon to the new pride of Union City, a swimming pool.
The pool made quite the splash! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Of course, this year, the city owes thanks to Union City Mayor Chad Spence and an army of dedicated Randolph County persons who have made the Christmas celebration so spectacular.
My personal favorite is the lighted tank courtesy of Dave Lenkensdorfer. That’s my choice because my late dad drove a Sherman tank nicknamed “Lucky” in General George Patton’s Hell on Wheels outfit all years of World War II.
But what’s not to love with a 48-foot pixel holiday tree and this year’s surprise, a delightful ruby-red covered bridge.
There’s still time to visit the Gift Shop vendors and enjoy the laser light show. The creativity of so many families and their light displays is a real boost to the Christmas spirit.
Finally, there’s one person left to thank. Here’s a few bars of Auld Lang Syne dedicated to the memory of George W. Harter.
His determination to obtain farmland for a park for the people deserves a lifted glass.
Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.