SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — In the past week, two different readers have asked about the historic gazebo within Maple Park Cemetery at 300 W. Grand St. in Springfield.
The eight-sided gazebo, designated an historic site by City Council in 1974, for several weeks has been roped off to block entry. The rope barrier carries the ominous warning: “Danger. Do Not Enter.”
What’s going on? ask Dale McCoy and Spike Anderson, both of Springfield.
“What is up with all the yellow tape and caution signs around the newly rebuilt gazebo? Sure would hate to see it have to be torn down,” Anderson wrote.
First, it’s yellow rope, not yellow tape.
Rest assured, the gazebo is not a crime scene.
Second, it’s not going to be torn down.
After all, this is one of the city’s most popular locations for photos. None other than former News-Leader photographer Dean Curtis, a member of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame, wrote in this paper in December of 2013:
“Looking for the perfect place to take that holiday family photo? I suggest the gazebo at Maple Park Cemetery.
“The Victorian-style structure is now decked out in holiday finery … You would be taking your photo at a local historical spot as well. According to a marker inside the gazebo, the structure was ‘built as a bandstand and shelter for public speakers.'”
For years, the gazebo was in need of repair, says Patti Penny, president of the Maple Park Cemetery Association board.
She tells me a donor stepped forward a few years ago; those repairs were finished in 2018.
Hooray! Time to celebrate.
But at that celebration in October 2018, Penny and others discovered cracks in the gazebo that indicated it was not structurally sound.
“There had been some errors made in the original restoration,” she says.
It took a while to find the right person to do the repair work, she says. The association hired Mike L. Fallin, of Willard.
Fallin has been at work on the gazebo for weeks. For a while, there were braces within the gazebo.
When I was there Thursday, there was scaffolding.
“He has it stabilized,” Penny says. “We will be filling in the cracks and painting it. Hopefully, it will be finished by the end of October.
“He just didn’t want people traipsing through there,” she says.
A beautiful place for fall colors
The gazebo floor is concrete, and the wooden frame is capped with an onion-shaped dome.
The cemetery dates to 1876. It covers about 65 acres, bordered by Grand Street on the North; Jefferson Avenue on the east; and Campbell Avenue on the west. The southern border aligns loosely with Meadowmere Street, if it were extended to the east.
The grounds and its many maple trees are a haven for walkers and joggers and those who love fall colors.
I often run there.
At one point, it was called the “Maple Shade Cemetery.”
“Every now and then there is a little wedding” in the gazebo, says Karleen Bright, cemetery superintendent.
“It’s also a site for senior pictures,” she says. “And I’ve seen Bible study groups there.”
The same donor has agreed to foot the bill for the repairs to the renovation, says Penny. She would not name the donor.
But the nonprofit can always use financial help, Bright tells me.
At long last, the “donation” button on the association’s website will be working in the near future, Bright says. (I checked it Thursday afternoon and it seemed to be functioning.)
The website is https://mapleparkcemetery.wixsite.com/cemetery.
The exact year the gazebo was constructed is a mystery.
Here at the News-Leader, we have a manila folder of old photos and stories about the gazebo. The best source appears to be a 10-page scholarly paper. I say scholarly because it has footnotes and a bibliography.
Unfortunately, it is not dated and the author is not listed.
Was it once on fairgrounds property?
The scholarly paper politely debunks a news story written by legendary News-Leader columnist Lucille Morris Upton in July 1955. Upton was trying to track down the date when the gazebo was built and interviewed a source who told her the gazebo predated the cemetery.
The source told Upton that the tract of land was originally the old Greene County fairgrounds and the “little white pavilion” is reputed to have been the bandstand at the fairgrounds. Also, Upton said, there was once a racetrack on the property.
But there is no record of that land ever being the fairgrounds.
According to the scholarly paper, numerous other named sources who were involved in the cemetery association believe the gazebo was built either at the same time or soon after the property became a cemetery in 1876.
News-Leader photographer Nate Papes wrote about the gazebo in 2014.
As I said, photographers love the gazebo.
He wrote that Maple Park Cemetery is not the city’s oldest — that honor goes to Hazelwood Cemetery — but it does have a rich history.
“Springfield’s original city cemetery at the Northeast corner of Campbell Avenue and State Street was ordered closed in 1863 after it was badly damaged during the Civil War’s Battle of Springfield.
“This prompted the opening of Hazelwood Cemetery in 1867.
“Hazelwood Cemetery, at 1942 E. Seminole St., was considered too far out in the country so a group of businessmen sought to establish a cemetery closer to town.
“The gazebo is decorated for the holidays every year.
“Many prominent figures are buried in Maple Park Cemetery. The most notable is Davis Tutt, who was killed by Wild Bill Hickok on the square on July 21, 1865.”
Interestingly, Penny told me that she had always heard the gazebo was not actually part of the cemetery.
While on the phone with me, she double-checked with Bright, cemetery superintendent, and Penny said she was mistaken.
Yet, in searching old newspapers online for this story, I came across a photo and caption of a woman who won a prize for her painting of the gazebo.
The photo ran in the Springfield Leader and Press in September 1971.
The caption reads, in part:
“In 1875, the Maple Park Association dedicated the circle area, on which the gazebo is located, to the city of Springfield.”
Wouldn’t that be an odd wrinkle if the gazebo is not actually on cemetery property?
These are the views of News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been at the paper seven years, and over his career has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 417-836-1253, email@example.com, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65806.