What's in a Name? The History Behind HARMON PARK

by | Sep 1, 2006 | Community, Features

Over the past couple of years, I have added a new name to my repertoire of titles. No longer am I just “mom” to my kids, “honey” to my husband, “best substitute teacher ever” — hey, I can only report what students say — or “crazy woman yelling at ballgames.” (I am embarrassed to say I did earn that one.)
I am also now branded as the “skateboard lady”.
To clear up any confusion let me clarify: I DO NOT skateboard. I earned this title helping the City of Russellville procure funds to build a skateboard park. Never is my wildest dreams did I think I would have become a skateboard advocate.
My guys started out playing traditional sports but somewhere along the way skateboarding consumed the lives of my two youngest. Next thing I knew, my driveway had been turned into a mini skateboard park. Before long I was in charge of a city-wide campaign to raise funds for a skate park.
We have, with the help of so many, reached our goal. The City of Russellville will have a skateboard park for recreational use in 2007.
I have learned so much about myself and our community through this process. On good days, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and thanksgiving. On bad days, I was either in bed crying my eyes out or ranting and raving things not fit to print God would do a hundred little miracles for me. There would be money from people who hadn’t even been asked. People whom I respected would say something hateful and mean and it would crush me. Why do we focus on the negative when there is much more that is positive?
Anyway, back to the skateboard park.
I have lived in our wonderful community almost 17 years. Through this fund-raising process I have discovered something about our city that many old-timers don’t even know. It’s a wonderful piece of history that our town seems to have forgotten.
In the summer of 2004, I was informed the Recreation and Parks Department had chosen Harmon Park for the location of the city’s skateboard park. I asked, “Where is that?”
When they told me, my response was the same response that others gave me when I told them: “I didn’t know that was a city park.” More importantly, no one seemed to know that the park even had a name.
And when I say no one, not even members of the Chamber of Commerce were aware the park had a name. A descendant of William E. Harmon’s called to check on the park many years ago only to be told the city didn’t have a “Harmon Park.”
Luckily, someone figured out we did have a Harmon Park because the Harmon Foundation donated $2,000 toward the construction of the new skateboard park.
On March 13, 1925, New York philanthropist and Real Estate businessman, William E. Harmon and his wife Katharine, purchased land in Russellville for $500 from W.J. and Lizzie White. They also purchased land from Annie M. Russell and Alberta Ganner for $1,500.
A year later on March 26, 1926, William and Katharine Harmon conveyed this land to the City of Russellville, Arkansas, for only $1. Subject to the condition that this land is used in perpetuity for playground and recreation purposes.
Some of Harmon Park was sold in a conversion plan which resulted in the 12th Street Park next to Sequoyah Elementary School.
Who was William Elmer Harmon?
He was born near Lebanon, Ohio, in March 1862. He and his younger brother Clifford Harmon, a great aviator, worked for their uncle, Charles Wood, who was in the Real Estate business.
Together the boys developed a subdivision in 1887. William E. Harmon is credited with conceiving the idea of cheap homeownership for lower middle class citizens. He sold lots for $1 down and modest monthly payments of $.50 to $1 on tracts of land. The partial-payment plan for home ownership had begun.
William E. Harmon is credited with developing much of Brooklyn and Staten Island. In 1900, the Wood, Harmon Company was acclaimed the largest real estate operation in the world. In 1935 Harmon was described in “Architectural Forum” as “one of the greatest and most humane sellers of real estate in the history of the land.”
William E. Harmon believed that doing well for him self was a means to do good for others. The Harmon Foundation was established in 1922 with an emphasis on “inspirational and tangible help for young people.” The first Harmon Park was given to Lebanon, Ohio, in 1912.
Later William E. Harmon established a national and worldwide program for parks called “Harmon Playgrounds.” A total of 119 facilities were established in 34 states by 1926. Russellville was one of those facilities.
William E. Harmon did some of his philanthropic works under the pseudonym of “Jedediah Tingle,” the name of his maternal great-grandfather. The identity of Jedediah Tingle was kept a secret until Harmon’s death. It was important to William E. Harmon to discover ordinary people doing exceptional tasks and let them know that he was grateful for their efforts.
The Harmon Foundation is most recognized and remembered for the promotion of African American art and achievements. It is closely tied to the Harlem Renaissance which began in the 1920’s. The Foundation sponsored exhibitions for African American Art from 1928 thru 1967.
Eighty years ago William E. Harmon expressed his desire to help young people and provide a place of recreation by giving Harmon Park to Russellville. This gift forever ties us to a great man in American History and today that gift is still affecting the lives of children in our community.
Harmon was a man concerned with the physical, social and spiritual health of those less fortunate than himself. God is still using the life of William E. Harmon to bless many communities around the world.
May God bless our efforts and may the results of what we do now reap blessings that are immeasurable in the next 80 years.

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