Stephens Park Through the Years
Taken from an article in a 1976 Edition of the Macon Chronicle-Herald - By Sandy Coons
The donation of Rustic Park property by Russell Waller to the city recalls the gift to the city of Stephens Park by I.C. Stephens, a Macon clothier in the late nineteenth century.
Isaac Stephens, the son of Gordon C. and Sallie Crocket Stephens, was born January 8, 1839 in Kentucky. In 1884 the family came to Missouri, locating in Macon County.
He attended school in Mexico and Macon High School at Bloomington. After graduation he taught three terms of school. After this he started his career in the clothing business as a clerk for a store in Macon City owned by Goldsberry and McQuie.
STEPHENS PROSPERS IN BUSINESS
Stephens stayed with the firm five years and decided to try the business on his own. After five years of business he formed a co-partnership with his former employer, E.S. Goldsberry and the firm was called Goldsberry and Stephens. This partnership dissolved after 20 months. Stephens continued in business alone dealing in clothing, hats, caps and gentlemen's furnishings. For a 10 month period Mr. Hail ran the dry goods store. The business was sold to Mr. Hail and Mr. Baker in 1883.
Stephens had married Anna Cravens of Randolph County. They had 11 children and five lived past birth and childhood: Owen Gordon, Mollie Kiett, Lulie Pearl, Leima and Howard Wendall. His clothing business was the leading house in its line in Macon according to The 1884 History of Macon County. Stephens died December 30, 1892.
GIFT TO MACON CITY IN 1886
The park was given to the city on September 6, 1886. The transfer of deed was filed with Recorder John H. Griffen with the following description and stipulations:
"All of Block one hundred and forty-eight (148) in the City of Macon, known as Pratt's Grove, provided however that the above described premises are conveyed to the City of Macon with the express understanding that the same shall be for the benefit of the people of Macon City, to be used and enjoyed forever as a public park, the same to be held and kept in good order with a reasonable amount of improvements made thereon from year to year so that the said park may be for pleasure, comfort and enjoyment of the citizens of Macon. Provided further that at no time nor on any occasions shall the sale or use of intoxicating liquors and beverages be permitted on the said premises. In the event any of the above provisions are not complied with by the party of the second part (city), the said premises shall revert to the party of the first part or to his heirs."
The oldest daughter of Isaac and Anna Stephens, Mellie Knott, married Dr. W.H. Miller of Macon. Their only child was the late Howard Miller of Macon. His wife, Rachel, a member of the Macon Park Board and Macon County Historical Society, took an active interest in the upkeep of the park and visited it daily while walking her dog. An interesting detail is that the mayor of Macon at the time the park was given to the city - and who sent a thank you to I.C. Stephens - was Sidney G. Brock, great uncle of Mrs. Howard Miller.
SITE OF BLEES ACADEMY MOCK BATTLES
The park covers about 20 acres and once had a large lake for swimming, fishing and ice skating. In the early days of the Blees Military Academy when Major M. Von Binzer was commandant, there was a sham battle between the cadets and members of the National Guard of Kirksville under the command of Colonel J.E. Reiger. The 20,000 people who assembled on that occasion did not know that many years later Colonel Reiger would be leading those same troops in actual battle on the western front in France. According to the recollection of some people, William Jennings Bryan spoke that day. Stephens Park was part of the battleground.
EROSION CAMP HEADQUARTERS
In 1933 Charles Fower, acting mayor, and Major Charles L. Maxwell of the erosion camp party were discussing the selection of Stephens Park in Macon as the site for the camp. Expected to attend were about 30 men from Macon, Linn, Schuyler and Scotland Counties. Stephens Park would be the general headquarters with offices, tents, tool houses and other necessary buildings.
Macon was chosen because of its access to two highways and railroads, to patrol and highway headquarters and for its facilities for light and water.
The purpose of the erosion camp was to allow work to be done in the Chariton River Valley where a considerable drainage development had been done, which was in need of maintenance work for the canal. Also improvements were needed to insure the safety of the large steel bridges crossing the canal and the Chariton River. The work was expected to include many branches. Work would be done to insure the channel keeping its course and to prevent the water overflowing onto the land. Many trees had fallen in the canals and streams, impeding the river's course.
The park was used during the Chautauqua days when a big tent was erected and afternoon and evening entertainment was scheduled for a full week. For a great many years the Holiness Church of North Missouri used the park for their annual camp meetings. Later the large lake was drained, but the city built a smaller lake which remains today. Once the park contained a bandstand for concerts. The Boy Scouts have used the park for many of their activities and in recent years brought two boxcars onto the property for Boy Scout use.
THE PARK TODAY
Mrs. Steward Miller says she has been pleased by the recent improvements to the park by the Park Board, considering the board’s small budget. The caretaker, Glenn Orbin, does a wonderful job, she adds. Available for use at the park are picnic tables and benches, basketball equipment, slides and barbeque grills. Mrs. Miller said much undergrowth has been cleared and the road to the park graveled. The Kiwanis Club erected a sign with the park's name in 1973. On her walks in the park Mrs. Miller often sees the basketball equipment in use by children, and church groups and family picnics are often evident in the park on Pearl Street.