New Beginnings for Old Friends Cemetery Park

Landscape Architecture

New Beginnings for Old Friends Cemetery Park

Westfield, Indiana became a city in 2008 and immediately embarked on its first master plan called the Grand Junction. Completed and adopted by the City Council in 2009, the Grand Junction’s ultimate aspiration is to become “the place to be,” a destination place for residents of Westfield. The recommended first piece of the plan, the “Park and Plaza,” is quickly becoming the recognizable heart and center of Westfield, as envisioned.

The plan contains new tree-lined streets, two streams, two trails, a grand lawn targeted to hold 3,000 people, an arts park, a performance venue building, a children’s nature play area, an outdoor theater area, and a festival street. The festival street is planned as a programmed space and will accommodate specific activities such as farmers’ markets, cultural festivals, holiday bazaars, seasonal ice skating, etc.

The vision of the Grand Junction is that it becomes a catalyst that will spur major economic development, building on investments that have already been made in its anticipation, thereby increasing the assessed value of the tax base. This includes an apartment complex just two blocks away, a green street project with adjacent trail connecting neighborhoods to the south of the Grand Junction Park and Plaza, and Old Friends Cemetery Park.

Is it a park? Is it a cemetery? Well, it’s a park AND it’s a cemetery. One block from downtown, in the heart of the City of Westfield, was a grassy plot named Martha Doan Memorial Garden, in commemoration of this important citizen of Westfield who was the first woman in America to earn a Ph.D. in Science and later became Professor and Dean of several colleges throughout America. Our research revealed that the grassy plot was actually the first cemetery in town, with the last burial taking place in 1886. The 2-acre plot had been the subject of several Eagle Scout projects that “cleaned it” by removing the headstones to the rear of the property. As a result, when the design team started the project, gravesite locations were not known.

Our approach to the redesign entailed bringing the 1834 Quaker settlement’s original cemetery back to life in the form of a garden and trailhead for the first piece of the Midland Trace Trail. During the design process it was renamed Old Friends Cemetery Park to reflect its history more accurately.

Because headstones were previously removed, it was nearly impossible to identify gravesite locations. We performed a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey to find anomalies in the soil, which would reveal the grave sites but, ultimately, decided to forego the conventional spread footing approach for site walls in favor of grade beams no more than six inches in existing grade with helical piers drilled into the ground at locations missing known GPR anomalies. Given the nature of the project, the water line for the drinking fountain was bored following the same method, and irrigation was dug by hand no more than six inches into existing grade to minimize disturbance and be more respectful to the site. Gravesites greatly influenced the design and placement of park amenities that include crushed granite pathways, water lines, granite boulder walls, granite steps, a brick plaza along the trail side featuring a limestone seat wall, bike standards, as well as a people-pet water fountain. Interpretive signs feature people and stories that uniquely follow a theme of the eight founding principles of the Town.

Old Friends Cemetery Park is now of great interest to the State of Indiana, particularly because it brings to light a rich Underground Railroad, slave, and abolitionist history. The interpretive aspect of the park is unique and educational. It is now a stop on the Underground Railroad tour and has become a recognizable resource for Quaker abolitionist settlements. Browning Day is proud to have turned a forgotten piece of property into a local landmark, seizing the opportunity to bring back a major piece of a town’s past and weave a significant fragment of American history into the fabric of the park.

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