INSPIRED BY HISTORY: With a nod to area’s railroad heritage, city opens new park downtown


The centerpiece of the new park is a stage that will host concerts and other events starting next summer. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Greenfield’s new Depot Street Park is now open to the public, with construction nearly complete after months of construction delays.

The park is located along the Pennsy Trail and next to Greenfield’s historic grain elevator. It is one of the projects funded by Indiana’s Stellar Communities program in the Health and Heritage Region, which includes Greenfield. Communities chosen for the program can receive up to $15 in grants over the course of five years.

“The park will be open after Thursday (December 9), but we hope to have it totally complete before Christmas,” Greenfield planning director Joan Fitzwater said.

Depot Street Park features an amphitheater where musical performances and other events can be held, plus picnic tables and public art paying tribute to the city’s history as a railroad destination.

“We have actually railways embedded throughout the design,” Fitzwater said.

It will also feature a statue of local artist Will Vawter, tying it into the future Riley Literary Trail that is planned to pass through the park.

The park might not see much use during the winter, but a grand opening is planned for June 18, 2022, when the summer concert series to be hosted at the park, “Live at the Rails,” will kick off.

“The park has been under construction all summer,” Fitzwater said. “It is about three months beyond schedule because we had some issues with some underground utilities and electric utilities kind of conflicting with each other.”

Because of the work on the park, local business owners also took over and renovated the grain elevator to open a new restaurant, which Fitzwater said is the first true renovation of a grain elevator in the state of Indiana. Libby’s Ice Cream also opened a new location near the park.

“That’s really proof that municipal investments do spur private investments and can be very worthwhile,” Fitzwater said.

Many design elements at Depot Street Park are inspired by the location’s history as a railway depot.

“We have a lot of rail tracks running through the park, we have a series of panels that’s the gears, metal panel art, we have picnic tables that are rolling on railroad tracks,” Fitzwater said. “It’s been a lot of fun designing the amenities and making sure we pay attention to the historic heritage of the site.

The park construction has also led to the renovation of Depot Street, the last brick street in Greenfield. The city will use bricks taken from State Street during its own reconstruction this year to help repair Depot Street. The city also will auction some off to help fund concerts in Depot Street Park.

The Greenfield City Council has already agreed to fund two initial years of concerts at the park’s amphitheater. Fitzwater said the city is consulting with Tony Seiler, owner of Greenfield Music Center, on programming for the concerts.

Final cost for the Depot Street Park project came in at around $2.04 million, an increase of 4.1% from the initial bid awarded due to the need for additional sewer work and the increased cost of materials.

The Health and Heritage Stellar region is composed of Hancock County, the city of Greenfield, and the towns of Fortville and Shirley. The Hancock County Community Foundation has also been involved in developing plans for the project. The Stellar team has also worked on projects with Greenfield Main Street and other nonprofit organizations.

Fitzwater said it’s more difficult than you would expect to spend $15 million.

“It’s really a lot of planning and a lot of effort,” she said.

Stellar efforts so far have included providing funding to Talitha Koum Women’s Recovery House to hire additional staff and increase program capacity, matching local dollars to mitigate the cost of construction projects, and filming videos to promote local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds also helped create Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen, the new event space in Greenfield attached to the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum.

Other Stellar projects in progress include an inclusive playground located near Greenfield Central Junior High School, a space for children with disabilities to play, which is nearly complete.

“We got this idea from reaching out to the community and asking what they needed and what was missing for them, and we were kind of blown away by how many people said there is no place for handicapped children to play in this community,” Fitzwater said.

Stellar is also helping to fund the construction of the Brandywine Trail in Greenfield and Shirley’s new Heritage Trail.

Shirley Clerk-Treasurer Teresa Hester said Stellar has been a great program to work with for the small town. Its new trail will allow pedestrians to travel along a path that encompasses Shirley’s historic location, like its own former railroad depot and the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House. It ends at the town’s Shirley Park.

“We wanted to add an additional softball field and redo the tennis courts, but those were not able to happen because of the pricing and the way the bids came in, but we need the drainage and everything in, so that could be a future project,” Hester said.