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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: The unsung hero of Marion's Central Park years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

This lean-to at Washington (now Roosevelt) and Denver Sts. was probably Marion's first greenhouse — a part-time business operated by pioneering Record printing foreman Dan Lindsay, whose experience with landscaping helped transform Marion's Central Park into what it is today.

Marion’s history is replete with honored names whose contributions are almost mythic in nature. However, as often happens with mythic tales, true heroes’ names can be forgotten.

Take, for example, the origin of the Marion’s signature feature, Central Park.

Site of the first encampment in 1860 by pioneering members of the Billings, Griffith, and Shreve families, it was preserved as largely undeveloped land for many years by Levi Billings (1835-1898), who had joined his uncle’s family here in 1864.

Kept as a mostly vacant public space, albeit with a still-existing fountain and fish pond added in 1884, the land was retained by Billings for nearly 30 years.

Then, in 1894, at the repeated urging of Record editor and later governor E.W. Hoch (1849-1925), Levi sold the land to the city for the relatively meager sum of $1,000 (less than $30,000 in today’s buying power).

To most people steeped in Marion lore, that’s the end of the park’s origin legend. In fact, it’s only the beginning.

The park as we know it today owes much of its legacy to another man, Dan Lindsay (1854-1915).

Lindsay and Hoch had started out together at the frighteningly named Transylvania printing office in Lexington, Kentucky, where Hoch was a journeyman and Lindsay his apprentice.

After Hoch moved to Marion County and purchased the Marion County Record, he urged Lindsay to relocate here and serve as foreman of what was at the time the Record’s poorly equipped printing department.

Starting in 1876, Lindsay held the position for the 31 years as the Record developed a deserved reputation for what Hoch termed “typographic beauty.”

Lindsay wasn’t just a printer, however. Like Hoch, he became active in local politics, serving as city clerk, city councilman, mayor, and — importantly — park commissioner, starting soon after the city purchased from Billings what had been little more than a wilderness area.

“As park commissioner, Mr. Lindsay made our park a veritable thing of beauty at a time when the town was not as appreciative as now of things aesthetic,” Hoch wrote upon Lindsay’s death in 1915, “and we owe much of the park’s present attractiveness to this pioneer with a vision.”

Part of that vision included gardens. Lindsay was the perfect man for the job.

Although printing was his vocation, in his spare time he also operated what probably was Marion’s first greenhouse.

Working out of a lean-to at his 1880 home — the town’s first brick home, since demolished, at Washington (now Roosevelt) and Denver Sts. — he advertised flowers, plants, bulbs, and other landscaping features in the Record.

As a public offshoot of his home-based business, he served until well into the 1900s both as park commissioner and city clerk.

For a salary of just $16.33 a month (about $500 in today’s buying power), he transformed the park into something other than just a wilderness.

Under his watch, carefully groomed flower beds, now mainly filled in, were installed to flank and adorn the old fountain and fish pond.

In 1907, with Hoch beginning his second term as Kansas governor, hard times struck both the Record (which after Hoch’s tenure merged with the rival Headlight) and Lindsay (who after a sheriff’s sale of his property moved to Wichita to take a better paying job at a printing plant there).

He died eight years later of pernicious anemia. Despite having a family of eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood, his legacy in the community was largely forgotten, overshadowed by the larger-than-life figures of Hoch, Billings, and later park advocates, like Mayor Charley Brooker (1853-1954), whose name has now been added to the park’s.

Yet without Lindsay’s vision to improve natural aesthetics, the park might not have become much more than a semi-cleared area that, prior to his tenure, was in the news mainly when it was overgrown with weeds and littered with trash.

Last modified Oct. 9, 2019

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