World War I memorial park rediscovered in Kirksville

The plot of land is found on Hope Street in Kirksville. (KTVO/Ashley Hoak)

Saturday, November 11 is Veterans Day - a day that honors those that fought for our freedom.

Although Veterans Day honors all of America's veterans from every conflict, it's celebrated on the anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I in 1918.

A memorial to Heartland veterans from 'The Great War' has faded to an overgrown plot of land in Kirksville.

Two point nine acres - that's roughly the size of Bowcock Park, an area that many don't know exists.

The plot of land is found on Hope Street in Kirksville. At one time, the area was a park dedicated to soldiers in Adair County. Now, it is overgrown.

Some would say the location of the park is in an economically depressed area of Kirksville - which is why there is now a hope of giving it new life.

Kirksville Assistant City Manager Ashley Young recently presented the idea of restoring the park during a city budget planning meeting in September.

"Not only would it be another fitting memorial for those who served and died in the service of the United States in the Western Front in World War I, but also because it's in a part of Kirksville that doesn't have a small neighborhood park of this kind."

Young says the park honoring World War I veterans of Adair County was created by a man named James Bowcock.

"James Bowcock, who owned the property, had decided after many years of working in Kirksville - he was nicknamed the "Ice King" of Kirksville because he was the only ice sales man in town and he decided he wanted a park."

The "Ice King" is remembered for his witty personality and friendliness to everyone - as well as for his giving nature.

That's why he wanted to do something to remember local soldiers.

Bowcock wrote about his project in his book titled "A History of Kirksville."

An excerpt reads: "I told my wife I was going to have me a park. My intentions was to have a tree named for each boy that was killed."

In total, 35 catalpa trees were planted in the park.

Those trees included a picture of the individual soldier as well as a small plaque.

For years, the catalpa trees flowered and surrounded a small pond situated in the north part of the park.

Young says although the park is found in city limits, it was never cared for by the City of Kirksville.

"This park was never actually owned by the city. It was always a private park and over the years, the mothers of the soldiers who died in World War I actually maintained the park along with James Bowcock."

As the years went on, mothers of the deceased soldiers passed away as did James Bowcock in 1940.

Due to no one frequently caring for the park for decades, it has fallen into a state of disrepair and has become overgrown.

That's why city staffers recently discussed the possibility of purchasing Bowcock Park.

Young says the idea would be to return the park to its former glory as a tribute to those who gave their lives in service to our country.

"Next year is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which we in the United States celebrate as Veterans Day. We felt that Bowcock Park, the restoration of Bowcock Park, which was really the first war memorial for World War I in our community would be a fitting project for the 100th anniversary and the Centennial of Armistice Day."

City staffers say they will keep the discussion of possibly purchasing the park open during the coming months.

Young adds that the restoration of the park could also be something a number of community organizations could work on together.

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