This one’s going to be a little different. Mount Vernon is a very nice little town in the center of Knox County. The thing is that when I started researching places to visit in Knox County for this project, I didn’t find a whole lot of much interest. Yes, there is a history center, but it’s only open two hours a day! So I spread my net a little wider, and came up with a true gem of a find, but we’ll get to that in just a minute.
The missed opportunity
One of the things I did when looking for different points of interest in Knox County was dig through the wonderful site Find a Grave. While there were dozens of hits, most of them were for local politicians I’d never heard of. There were two names of interest…unfortunately, in the hustle of the day trying to see as much as possible (read back through the last couple posts to see what else we did that day), I missed one of my intended targets.
That target was the grave of Dan Emmitt. His biggest claim to fame is that he (most likely) wrote the song “Dixie.” There is some controversy on that point, but at worst he co-wrote it.
Originally meant as a satire of plantation life, “Dixie” was appropriated by the Southand changed to become a rallying cry for the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is said to have been one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite songs, and was even played during General Lee’s surrender. Eventually, the song regained some favor in the North.
Emmett died in 1904 at the age of 88 in Mount Vernon. There’s a lot to unpack about Emmett’s life, but I think for now I’ll save it for a future post once I have visited his grave site.
“Just pour me another cup of that crazy coffee”
About 6 miles Northeast of downtown Mount Vernon is an extremely small community called Amity. Just off the main road is a tiny little cemetery which houses the grave of comedian Paul Lynde.
Lynde was born in Mount Vernon in 1926. He started his career as a stand-up comedian, but was largely known for his roles on Bewitched as Uncle Arthur, and his over 700 episodes (many as the prized center square) of Hollywood Squares. Being the game show fan that I am, I can honestly say that Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly on Match Game really helped inspire the high level of snark that permeates my sense of humor.
Right next to Paul’s grave was an American flag. It turns out that one of Lynde’s older brothers, Coradon, was a Private in the 109th Infantry, and was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.
Just behind the Lynde plots was a grave marker that proves that dying doesn’t have to ruin your sense of humor.
Finally, we come to the star attraction of Mount Vernon…and it’s a park, just south of downtown. It’s not just any park. It’s a cross between local history and art that I have never seen before.
In 1976, the PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) plant in Mount Vernon closed down for good. The plant was notable for being the first sheet glass plant of its type in America. Unfortunately, after it closed, it just sat there, slowly rotting away. In the year 2000, some plans were put in motion to build a community park on some nearby land on which another closed business once stood. Eventually, the city was able to purchase the land from PPG, and the 250 acre Ariel-Foundation Park was opened officially on July 4, 2015.
There is a ton of stuff to do in this park, but by far the biggest highlights are The Ruins and the large public art pieces that are standing nearby.
The Ruins are, well, the ruins of the nearly 1 million square feet of factories that used to sit on this area. One of the buildings is being used as an event area.
Some parts of The Ruins look like they could have been Pink Floyd album covers.
The original clock building has been restored and is currently a small museum (sadly, it was closed the day we visited). The standout structure is the plant’s original smoke stack. Fully restored, a spiral staircase has been added to allow guests to climb up 140 feet. Sadly, again, this was being repaired the day we visited, so no aerial shots.
Dotting the rest of the park are various works of art, including rivers of glass…
…massive earthen terraces which can’t help but be compared to ancient Indian burial mounds at some level…
and art using girders from the plant, which had originally been used to build structures in the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago!
There are bike paths, lakes, and tons of other stuff to explore in this park, we only walked on a short path. There is a bunch more land north of the tree line you see in some of the pictures. I was really surprised by how awesome this park was. If you ever find yourself in Mount Vernon (or at the Velvet Factory just 10 miles south in Utica), you owe it to yourself to spend some time wandering around this outstanding site.
As a note, the map below shows the park as being north of a large lake, the part we visited is actually the southern part that is under construction in this view. You can see the shadow of the smoke stack.
Thanks for reading!