There are a number of directions from which the story of Liberty Park can be approached, and every one of them evokes inspiring views of people during the Great Depression who were committed to the well-being of their children and willing to make the effort to prove it.
This photo essay focuses on just two elements of the tale: 1) Why the park was built; and 2) How the little saplings planted in 1936 tell the story most elegantly of a community’s faith in the future.
1) The New Americans
The whole idea of Liberty Park was dreamed up by people who lived on the northeast side of the city, in the Syndicate, Lincoln Heights, and East Mansfield. In 1934, those neighborhoods were designated as the Fifth Ward, and most of the people who lived there were recently arrived on American shores from the Old Country.
They were immigrants.
The label “immigrant” sounds like not-quite-really American. But that’s not how they felt at all—they were New Americans who were thrilled at the prospect of building a new life and a new neighborhood, and a new way to be free and experience the powerful blessing of Liberty for All.
As they were settling into their new life, they came to recognize that the Mansfield city park system was clear on the other side of town, where picnic folks were not exactly thrilled to see them. They didn’t complain to the city government, or fight for their rights, or try to shoulder their way in where they weren’t welcome—instead they embraced their new freedom as Americans, and decided to build their own park.
And they did a terrific job of it. They started from zero, and with true American pluck and inexhaustible human ingenuity they created a vibrant garden of green where their children could be nurtured in the wise ways of beauty and sport and nature.
They made arrangements for their park to include a swimming pool—which turned out to be the first municipal pool in Mansfield—and then, as cheerful new enthusiasts of Democracy, they welcomed everyone from every neighborhood in town to enjoy it with them.
This is the genius of Liberty Park: the power of community.
2) The Witness Trees
When does an ordinary piece of farm land become a park? When there are trees.
It is the trees that sanctify the acreage with shade and the solemn safety of their guardian presence. Their long passage through time overlooks the racing short lives of one generation after the next, to provide something of constancy in the winds of time.
They anchor our fleeting existence, and provide roots for neighborhoods.
The trees mean something at Liberty Park. It was a large, well-watered piece of useful cropland before it was dedicated as a public space for recreation, but it didn’t become a true refuge until the trees took their stature.
They stand in memory of all the New Americans with purpose and vision.
Images in this photo essay come from the Richland County Museum, the Mansfield City Engineer’s Department, Sherman Room of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, Will Harmon, Vic Day & Anne Sabri, and the Mark Hertzler Collection.