La Bella Fontana

Report from Bellefonte PA, by Helen Fontana Bechdel

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Park is a treasure

Talleyrand Park, with its traditional design and established landscaping, may look to the first-time visitor as if it has always been there.

But in fact, leveling of the derelict buildings that stood on the site took place only 34 years ago, the first step in a project that overcame countless obstacles to become the place of beauty it is today.

The park design was approved by the borough in 1975. The gazebo was completed in 1976, the sculpture garden in 1983 and the playground in 1993. An expansion of the park onto property owned by the American Philatelic Society is under way.

Entering the park by the train station, visitors see a brick promenade leading to a pergola over which wistaria vines are starting to climb. Shrubbery and trees are set in formal designs based on gardening booklets and women's journals from the late 18th century.

To the left is the gazebo, functioning as a bandstand, wedding chapel and speaker's platform.

Beyond that, Spring Creek offers ducks and trout equal opportunity to compete for food as the water gushes toward Milesburg. On High Street Bridge in the late afternoon, I watch trout gather as a little boy throws food to them.

David Morrell, author of "First Blood," spoke at Penn State several years ago and explained that the setting of the novel -- Madison, Ky., -- is actually Bellefonte. I am standing where Rambo (named after the apple, by the way) notices the glass fish-food dispenser welded to the railing and wonders what the big gold fish is below.

Many individuals and organizations contributed to the park project, but the Talleyrand Park Citizens' Committee probably was the most persistent in its determination to bring its vision to reality. Among their 25 or so members, Mary Miai was a passionate and persuasive supporter. A weeping cherry tree has been planted in the park in her memory.

Artifacts and relics play an important part in the historically named Talleyrand Park. The fountain on the brick walkway was once in front of the courthouse. The wrought-iron fence that surrounds George Gray Barnard's head of Lincoln came from the Brockerhoff Mansion. And at the far end of the sculpture garden, a granite watering trough reads, "Presented to James A. Beaver 1910."

But the park is really about people. Three artists were at work when I visited recently, and children were whooping it up on the playground. The only way I could leave was by promising myself I would be back soon.

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