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Local Column

Schrader: Waterman pioneer monument's future uncertain

A bronze plaque recognizing Waterman area founders and pioneers is located on the back side of the 15-foot rock monument when approached from Hickory Street in the 400 block.
A bronze plaque recognizing Waterman area founders and pioneers is located on the back side of the 15-foot rock monument when approached from Hickory Street in the 400 block.

Many people moving to Waterman in the past 50 years or so may not know there is a large monument in town dedicated to the founders and pioneers of the Waterman area.

It has stood in the same place since 1931, when Dr. Paul Greeley decided to recognize early trailblazers who settled this area. Situated halfway between Elm and Hickory streets, the 15-foot, massive pyramid of boulders cemented together, some weighing an estimated 2 tons, was erected on his property with a plaque on the Elm Street side.

Since then, the lot on Elm has been sold and a house blocks the view of the monument. People driving along the 400 block of Hickory Street may notice a small For Sale sign advertising the two 90-foot lots that the Sawyer family wants to sell, but it is difficult to see the monument far to the back of the lots.

Paul Sawyer, whose late father Mahlon Sawyer acquired the property from the Greeley family, said they have maintained the lots for more than a half century, often with the help of neighbors who planted flowers and edged around the rockpile. At one time there was a little windmill, flowers and shrubs, a row of trees planted by Greeley’s father, Hiram Greeley, plus two quaint bridges, a fountain and small waterfall. This I learned from the book “Wigwams to Moon Footprints” written by the late Sara Buerer Mendez.

The bronze plaque reads: “Erected to the Founders and Builders of this community whose rugged spirit and sterling character are here typified.” Below is the year 1931.

Talking with Sawyer and others in the community I learned that Kirk’s Garage supplied the big wrecker, driven by Delbert Smiley, to erect the massive pyramid, using some sort of ramp to get the higher boulders in place.

Now the future of the monument is uncertain as the two residential lots, if sold and housing built, would completely obliterate any views of it.

Checking recent real estate transactions, lots in Waterman are selling for $20,000 to $25,000, depending on size and availability of utility hookups.

I think it would be a matter of civic pride that the monument be preserved and the two lots fronting on Hickory be maintained as a park. I could even envision a row of historical tablets along a paved path recognizing pioneers from that area – people such as Tom Roberts Sr. (founder of DeKalb Ag), Clayton Kirkpatrick Jr. (editor and then-publisher of the Chicago Tribune), the Eakle Family and their USS Illinois float, beloved teacher Bernice Kitner Kirkus, Henry Rose (who invented a type of barbed wire even before the three barbed-wire barons from DeKalb), Howard Kauffmann and his turkey empire, Greeley, a local doctor who was also a rear admiral, MC, U.S. Naval Reserve, and countless more.

The DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society could help the Waterman Area Heritage Society fund the markers. Then each year another one could be added, thus educating the young people visiting the park about their forebears.

If a company as civic-minded as Monsanto was willing to purchase the property for the village, they could be offered naming rights so it would be known as Monsanto Pioneer Park!

The columnist can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His past columns can be found on his website at www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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