Battell Park Rock Garden: What you can do to help save this historic landmark

Battell Park, one of the oldest parks in Mishawaka has become even more popular through the years after improvements like the river walk, or the bandshell, but there's an extraordinary garden hidden inside the park in dire need of restoration.

Restoration is key for an 80-year-old park, and in a perfect world when something needs to be revamped, the city would jump right on it and fix it.

Unfortunately, It's the cost that always seems to get in the way, but one man in Mishawaka may have a solution.

“We've got 29 really great park properties. Battell Park is our oldest park, it's a historic park and I got a great tour from our interim superintendent on, walking through the rock garden, and I noticed right away, that it was both beautiful, it was one of the largest rock gardens in the state of Indiana that is intact and its also in need of a lot of repair,” explains Mishawaka Parks and Recreation Superintendent, Terry Zeller.

Battell Park as a whole was restored in the 60's, then again in the 90's when Jeff Rea was the Director of Economic and Community Development.

“1994 in particular, what was happening was the bandshell was really in disrepair. The, you know, it was subject to vandalism, the lights weren't on in particular, the tuck pointing on the bricks and stuff were starting to crack and so the first real effort was, how do we stabilize and restore the bandshell,” says Rea. “Over the years of different things, the tennis courts were upgraded, a new splash pad was added. The soldiers and sailors monument there was in disrepair, the base had started to deteriorate it needed to be replaced”.

What about the rock garden?

“So, some cosmetic things were done there. I think there were some different groups that had adopted different pieces that we tried to do some plantings there, we tried to do some strategic repair, we tried to get some water flowing in there again and try to get some lights up there so it didn't become, sort of, a popular hang out where things that shouldn't be happening were happening and such,” Rea continues.

That was the extent of it because of the dollar amount.

“In fact, the estimates I remember seeing in the 1990s were an excess of $200,000,” says Rea.

On top of that, you can't just hire anyone for the job.

“The concrete mix has to be right, the type of stone has to be right, the way that it is put together has to be right, and if something has to be deconstructed and reconstructed, then it has to be understood how it was built in the first place so it can be restored to its original integrity,” explains Zeller.

But, Zeller believes he may have a solution to help restore the rock garden. Zeller became the Mishawaka Parks and Rec Superintendent in 2011. After a year he says he started pushing for a new park foundation. He says it's a group of people that file for non-profit status and incorporate. Their purpose would be to help acquire land, write grants, and even fundraise.

“I think its a fundamental step that has to be taken, and right now, I am trying to gauge interest in the community to find out how many people are actually interested in getting together with a park foundation and I am starting to talk to the groups that have expressed interest,” adds Zeller.

The river walk is one of those things that have helped create more interest in the rock garden.

“From Mishawaka Avenue you really don't understand, sort of, the beauty of the rock garden in particular just because you cant really see it because of the vegetation that has grown up around it, but if you are walking the river walk though, you really get a taste of it or an introduction to it and I think that certainly, awareness helps more than anything else,” says Rea.

It's that interest that will help raise money to save this park special enough to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“If we kept it up and working right and everything like that, the way it was originally designed, you know, I think it would be simply a wonderful addition to the town's publicity,” says Mishawaka Penn-Harris Public Library Director, David Eisen.

“We will continue this as long as I am here. I want to see it, I would love to see it restored,” adds Mishawaka Garden Club President, Ann Lesar.

If you want to help restore the rock garden, or want to be a part of the park foundation, please email Terry Zeller at tzeller@mishawaka.in.gov.


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