New memorial, eternal flame coming to Kannapolis Veterans Park

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 27, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — On Memorial Day 2013, veterans will be honored with a new memorial in the heart of Kannapolis.
Veterans Park, at the intersection of North Main Street and First Street, is adjacent to the N.C. Research Campus and First Baptist Church.
Twelve years ago on Memorial Day, the former Town Park was renamed in honor of those who served their country in the armed forces.
Gary Mills, director of Kannapolis Parks and Recreation, said the coming year will see a host of improvements, including new landscaping, new monuments and a memorial to those who lost their lives in the armed forces.
“We have great pride in our veterans from Kannapolis. We want to honor them accordingly,” Mills said.
In a recent interview, Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer — an Air Force veteran who served in the Korean War — called Veterans Park “hallowed ground.”
Today, a broad swath of grass cuts an arc between the decades-old trees in the park and the red brick and pillars of First Baptist.
That grass marks the path of what was Lake Circle Drive, the private road leading into the gate of Cannon Mills.
Once land transfers from the church and Castle & Cooke, developer of the Research Campus, are complete, that grassy avenue will become home to new monuments, fountains and an eternal flame, Mills said.
Around that flame, engraved panels will list the names of all of the service members from Kannapolis who died in the line of duty.
In the months ahead, the city will work with local historians and citizens to identify those whose names will be listed there, Mills said.
Around that memorial will be a red-brick walkway, where Mills said people will be able to purchase bricks engraved with messages in memory or in honor of their loved ones.
“There’ll be a very intimate feel in the interior of the park, especially in and around the eternal flame,” Mills said.
There will be benches nearby for those who want to pause and reflect, he said.
Elsewhere, the concrete sundial at the front of the park will be fully restored.
One of the park’s most recognizable features, the 35-year-old sundial is suffering from cracks in its base and face.
“We’re going to take it apart and put it back together,” Mills said.
The current flagpole will be replaced by multiple flagpoles centered on the corner of North Main and First, where new brick seat walls will flank the entry and walkway.
The Veterans Park gazebo, built with the aid of the American Legion, will be extensively remodeled.
Mills said the roof will be entirely replaced and pillars will be removed from the side that faces into the park so it can be used as a stage for performances.
Finally, new shrubbery and landscaping, new benches and tables with chessboards built into their tops will be installed throughout the current park.
The original Town Park compass rose monument, placed by Cannon Mills, will be preserved.
The cost of the project will be about $1.8 million, Mills said.
The renovations are part of the improvements funded through Certificates of Participation in partnership with Cabarrus County, in what was originally known as the tax increment financing plan, or TIF.
Mills said the bids for renovating Veterans Park came in lower than expected. He anticipates the winning bid will be awarded in the near future.
Also, surplus funds from the Loop Road pedestrian tunnel project will be used to help fund improvements at Veterans Park.
Mills couldn’t state how much savings there would be, saying that numbers have not yet come in from the N.C. Department of Transportation.
With the new memorial and improvements, Mills said Veterans Park will become more of a destination for visitors.
This year, he said, the Thursdays on Main lunchtime entertainment series in the park has been very well attended.
Last week, Mills said, “We probably had over 200, a decent crowd for a Thursday lunch.”
Other plans for the future include the potential for evening entertainment, similar to what Concord does with its Union Street Live series.
Construction is slated to take about 10 months, with the potential for other improvements to happen concurrently – among them, new crosswalk lights and traffic signal masts at the intersection of North Main and First streets.
With the new memorial, Veterans Park is returning to its roots.
In 1943, according to historian Norris Dearmon, the Beaver-Pittman American Legion Post built a replica of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon in the park.
Listed on it were the names of servicemen who lived within a mile of the YMCA at Cannon Mills. The town wasn’t incorporated at that time.
The wooden memorial was eventually removed due to decay, but in 2009, a listing of the names was located.
Mills said the new memorial will provide a lasting and visible reminder of the sacrifices of Kannapolis’ men and women in uniform.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.