By DAVID GREEN
The drawing of the layout carries this title: “Expansion Program, Normal Parks & Recreation Centre, Fayette, Ohio, 1941.”
The origin of the plan is probably lost in history. Tom Spiess made a copy of the document owned by the late Vivien Ford, and he recalls her saying that it was drawn by a man from Michigan State or the University of Michigan.
Picnic tables were to be scattered throughout Normal Grove and a cooking oven was to be set up.
The east side of the Grove is marked as “wild shrubbery,” and older Fayette residents remember the entire area as a thick, unkempt woodlot filled with brambles.
The Grove wasn’t opened up to its present state until many years later. Woody Hibbard remembers school kids running into the woods during recess to gather beechnuts. The little nuts would be taken back to the classroom and chewed—at least until the teacher put an end to it.
The 1941 plan offered recreational opportunities for a broad segment of the community. Starting from the west side, the plan called for a pair of shuffleboard courts and horseshoe pits.
Next comes a handball court, then a larger area for tennis and S.K.A.T.I.N.G. (spelled with periods after each letter).
Five playing areas came next: roque, croquet, basketball, badminton and volleyball.
That first game might raise an eyebrow or two. What is roque?
The game is described as an American variant of croquet. Remove the “c” and the “t” from croquet and you’re left with roque.
Backyard croquet players push wickets or arches into the grass to create a course. Roque was played on a surface of hard sand or clay, with the arches set permanently in place. A wall surrounded the court so balls would carom back into play.
Roque has faded from the American landscape, but in 1904, the game replaced croquet in the Olympics.
The park plan shows a Legion Memorial with a flag pole east of the playing courts, near the present location of the swimming pool.
A drive was to encircle the old water pumping station and the area included a five-hole practice golf course. The distances between holes are listed at 70 yards, 58 yards, 64 yards, 85 yards and 48 yards.
The Russell Gardens are laid out near the pump house, but perhaps no one knows who Russell was?
Trees were to be planted along the top of the ridge south of the school parking lot. Ball fields and a running track were to be built in the low area east of Eagle Street.
The plan was a comprehensive one, but apparently few funds were ever directed toward construction. Eventually, a tennis court was built close to where the plan suggested, in conjunction with the local Grange, and the running track and new ball diamonds were constructed.
When Woody Hibbard was in high school, baseball was played in the southwest corner of the existing park, where the running track is now located. There wasn’t much hope of catching a foul ball down the first base line, he said, not with Spring Creek running along the edge of the field.
The land beyond the outfield was once a swampy area, but Kathy Fix reports that Joe Marks was hired in the late 1930s to haul in soil and level the ground.
That made it easier to chase long balls, like the one smacked by a kid from Archbold with the last name of Slaughter.
He was known as a super athlete, Woody says, and the day he sent the ball flying out toward the Grove, it looked like Slaughter had a sure home run.
Fayette outfielder Ivan Ford chased it down and whipped the ball toward home plate. The throw was a one-hopper that came right to Woody’s catcher’s mitt.
Slaughter, who had been taking his time rounding the bases, slid into Woody’s mitt and was called out.
He got up wondering where that ball came from.
Woody left town for a few years—World War II and a job in North Carolina—and when he moved back home, the park had changed. The Grove was cleaned out and kids were playing ball on a new diamond.
There was no place for badminton and roquet, and the little golf course was still only a design drawn on paper.
Fifty years later, the Grove features a shelter house, picnic tables and playground equipment. Three ball diamonds are in use, while the swimming pool, shuffleboard courts and tennis courts are not.
Maintenance and upgrades are scheduled at the park as funds permit, but the grandeur of the 1941 proposal isn’t likely to ever be seen.