Dreams usually precede realities and vision, and foresight is the forerunner of actualities.

Oren J. Hogan, Chairman
Veterans Park Committee
April 16, 1946

Park History

The Hardin County Veterans Memorial Park District was created on July 30, 1946, by order of Judge Joseph E. Lady upon the petition of Elmer E. Kaylor of Cessna Township. The petition asked that the district “include all cities, villages, towns, and townships of Hardin County, or such cities, villages, towns, or townships in Hardin County as the Probate Court may determine for such a park district.” The petition was supported by the signature of hundreds of Hardin County residents.

As created, the Veterans Park District includes all of Buck, Cessna, Goshen, Lynn, Pleasant, and Washington Townships, including the City of Kenton. The first three park commissioners appointed by Judge Lady were John R. Hastings, Hugh W. Kaylor, and Frank D. Price.

The Park

The gift of 96.48 acres of land from the Home Association Post #20 (Amvets), land which the Amvets had purchased for $25,000.00 from the Kenton Recreation Area Inc., in July, 1946, made the park a possibility. The land was previously farmed, had few trees, and had a natural spring on the property. Bert Finnell, along with several private citizens in the area, decided to buy the land and make it into a privately owned golf course. They also built the clubhouse which is still in use today. Since the 1920’s, the seven and later nine hole privately owned golf course (Spring Grove Golf Club) had been in operation on approximately 69 acres of this gifted land. The first caretaker for Spring Grove was Tom Jester. It is reported that, after the infamous John Dillinger escaped from the Allen County Jail, Lima, Ohio, on October 12, 1933, his escape route included a stop at Jester’s house on the golf course. During the 30’s and 40’s several area young men worked there as caddies including John Jester and Judge Burke Smith. When the depression, hit the owners struggled to keep the golf course running.

The original concept for a public park (in addition to the golf course) included development of approximately 27 acres of the land. “Dreams” included ideas such as a veteran’s hall, swimming pool, tennis, croquet, and shuffleboard courts, ball grounds, roller rink, and picnic grounds. Also, discussed were a camp and lake for girls, a boy’s camp and lake, as well as cottages along the Scioto River near the supposed “historical” site of frontiersman Simon Kenton’s Camp. These plans may explain the unofficial name for the large pond “Boy Scout Lake.”

In October, 1947, the park commissioners agreed to sell approximately 5 acres of park land to the City of Kenton for the construction and maintenance of a public swimming pool which was constructed for approximately $100,000.00. The pool remained open to the public between 1951 and 1995. (Judge James Rapp was a lifeguard in 1968 and 1969.) The pool was demolished in 1997 and the 5 acres reverted back to the park district along with an additional 1.5 acres of land that one included the Point Restaurant owned by Ted Breidenbach, Lawrence and Elma Osborn and other. Many will remember that County Engineer (later Kenton Mayor) Clay Flynn re-routed the intersection of state route 309 and the Hepburn Road in order to reduce accidents.

The park commissioners employed the “golf course manager, golf club and park attendant, and greens keeper,” Harry Graham, Sr., until 1953 when the commissioners leased the 69 acres of the golf course and its equipment to the Memorial Park Golf Club, Inc. Excepted from the lease were the “tenant house and barn leased to the Scioto Saddle Club” and the “Club House and roadway thereto.” Subsequent lease(s) continue this business operation of the golf course by a separate not for profit corporation.

The clubhouse (next to the pro-shop) has been operated by the Memorial Park Clubhouse Association since 1954.

A fourth entity, the Hardin County Golf Foundation purchased land on both sides of the Scioto River in 1991, in order to expand the golf course to 18 holes. It is anticipated that this land will eventually be deeded to the park district.

Major improvements to the park started in 2003 with the excavation of a smaller pond next the park entrance and the grading of a sports field. A new shelter house was placed at the north end of “Boy Scout Lake” in 2008. The first half of a paved walking path was completed in 2009 along with the construction of a dog park.

The dream continues to become realities we look forward to updating this history.

James S. Rapp,
Unofficial Historian