Some things are easily agreed upon. Parks. Beauty. Patriotism.
Other things aren’t as easily agreed upon. Money. Timing. Priorities.
Philosophically, David Balmer, a concerned citizen, and Jo Ellen Litz, a Lebanon County commissioner, see eye-to-eye on a great many things. But there are a few minor specific details that they vary on.
The subject is Monument Park.
Litz and Balmer can’t quite agree on the whens, the hows and the how muchs. But what they can agree on is that Monument Park is due for a little sprucing up.
Situated between Eighth and Spruce Streets, at Lehman Street in Lebanon, Monument Park is a historic green space, an oasis if you will, amidst the concrete, iron and macadam of the city’s northside. One of the oldest parks locally, Monument Park is located in the city of Lebanon, but owned and maintained by the County.
“I think it needs to be completely overhauled,” said Balmer, a Lebanon native who attends St. Mark’s United Church of Christ, which borders the park on the north. “The monument needs to be restored. The grass is all weeded up. There are no flowers. It’s just everything is sitting there for years. It’s neglected. It needs to be looked at and restored to its original intent.”
“It’s in the middle of the city, on the northside,” said Litz. “So many people like that there’s a green space in the city. It gets used hard. We have to make sure we have security cameras there. I think the period lighting is an excellent idea. We have to figure out how to clean the monument in some way. We want to keep the antiqueness and ambiance of the park, but not go overboard. We have to think about it. It has to be a group decision.”
Balmer contends that the monument itself, a 30-foot tall marble structure, needs to be rebuilt. A couple of years ago, Balmer and the civic group ‘The Monument Park Project’ commissioned a monument restorer from the Philadelphia area to estimate the cost of totally restoring and cleaning the monument, and the restorer came back with a price of $150,000.
Balmer would also like to see information signs and historical markers installed, stumps and dead trees removed, bushes, shrubs and greenery planted, the lighting improved and painting performed, among other things. Currently, inmates from the Lebanon County Correctional facility shovel snow and cut grass at Monument Park.
“The $150,000 estimate didn’t sound quite right,” said Litz. “Every time we do things, we have to put it out to bid. We’d like to use local labor. We’re almost afraid to pressure wash it, but we haven’t ruled it out.”
“It just needs to be improved,” said Balmer. “Some of the trees are dead. I do believe last summer that they did cut some of the trees down. It was really ugly looking. Most people just drive by and don’t look at it.”
Through his involvement at St. Mark’s, Balmer became interested in Monument Park, did some research on it and compiled a list of objectives for improving the park. In October of 2019, Balmer approached the Lebanon County commissioners with proposals on how to improve Monument Park.
Six months later, the on-going COVID-19 crisis gripped Lebanon County and the rest of the world.
“We’re making progress, but it’s slow. It’s going to take some time,” said Litz. “I like the old lighting that they wanted us to install. When the group first came to us, they talked about writing grants. It didn’t get very far. Then when COVID-19 hit, it took priority.
“It’s a matter of finding the right advisors on how it should be done,” added Litz. “I think we can use some tourism dollars for it. But grants would help out more.”
“They told us that if we want to do something at the park that we had to create a non-profit organization,” said Balmer, 72, of the county commissioners. “They said, ‘We’ll support you if you do all this.’ But we didn’t do anything. We need someone who knows how to do fund-raising. I was starting to have meetings, but then the virus came along and it kind of squashed the whole thing. We were starting to get things together before the virus hit. We really haven’t done anything since March.”
Monument Park, which was founded more than 150 years ago, features a fenced-in marble monument commemorating more than 1,020 local residents’ service to the Union Army in the Civil War, flanked by a flagpole and surrounded by sidewalks leading up to it. The park also consists of four Civil War-era cannons, four sets of 25 cannon balls, trees, lights, benches and trash cans.
“I was at an Easter egg hunt held by the church in the park,” said Balmer. “I had not been there in years and I started walking and looking around. I thought, ‘this park should be cleaned up’. As I did some research, I found that there was a lot of history with the park, surrounding the Civil War. I went to the church council and I told them, ‘if we’re doing things over there, I think we should consider making it a little better.’ But it really didn’t go anywhere.”
“Some of the things suggested I think were good things,” said Litz. “I know there were some suggestions for a surveillance system, and that’s moving forward. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, and the city police are in charge of enforcement. We want to preserve the monument for generations to come. It’s so historic.”
During the Civil War, the area that Monument Park now occupies was home to Camp Coleman, training grounds for the Pennsylvania 93rd regiment. For nearly four years, the 93rd regiment, made up of mostly Lebanon County-area residents, fought honorably in 26 major Civil War battles, with the Union armies of the Potomac and Shenandoah.
In 1867, the Pennsylvania Legislature established a commission to erect a monument to that service at the site. Three years later, the deed to the land was turned over to the Lebanon County commissioners, who were charged with maintaining the grounds.
“It’s historically significant because of both the Colemans and the Civil War,” said Litz. “It honors and reflects upon the service of the local soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War. It’s a very special place. For Lebanon County, it’s very unique. It’s something that has to be maintained for the future. Sometimes, people have different ideas about what that entails.
“One of my philosophies is ‘Is it going to matter tomorrow’,” continued Litz. “If it’s going to matter, then it’s going to stand the test of time. That park in the city has a place in the county. We have to honor the past, look to the future and do it right. It’s a matter of education and teaching what that park is about.”
“History tells us about our past and where we came from,” said Balmer. “I like the history of the park. There’s a lot of history there. It’s a nice city park.
“I think whenever we get over this virus stuff, there may be interest in it again,” Balmer continued. “You need to have some businesses get involved. I think it’s something that, if you get it known, you’ll see people who are interested in it.”
One of the things history has taught us is that we get more accomplished when we work together.
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