Presidents In The Woods

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The sculptor and his sons cleared the grounds around the statues and built picnic tables, dug horseshoe pits, and put a ball field in the ridge-top clearing. They even built a speaker’s platform and bleachers in the natural hillside amphitheater. On the day the last statue was dedicated—of Warren G. Harding, on June 12, 1927—newspapers reported that 3,640 cars passed through the park—as always, free of charge.

IN 1931 THE PARK WAS FORMALLY dedicated by Ohio’s governor, Vic Donahey. “He has enlarged the tradition of our country,” Donahey wrote of Baughman in the memorial booklet published for the occasion. Congressman C. Ellis Moore wrote, “Most of us would have passed by these stones, but Brice Baughman saw in them the opportunity to make some of our great men and soldiers live in the minds and hearts of our people.”

In the late 1940s the sculptor’s wife finally persuaded him to move off the hill and into Dresden. The park then fell into disrepair, a process that accelerated after Baughman died in 1954.

The sons eventually sold the land to a family that reopened the park as a campground in 1969. A decade later it was sold to Crossroads Ministry, a program for delinquent boys. The ministry built a lodge, restored some of the buildings, and cleaned the grounds, but they also destroyed a bas-relief torso of a bare-breasted Indian woman. In 1992 the two ministers who ran the program had a falling out and sold the park to Randall.

Randall hoped to reopen Baughman Park as a campground, but health problems led him to sell the land, reluctantly, to Dave Longaberger. The statues of Presidents and generals, the carvings of birds and animals, all looking south toward the valley, their view now obscured by the trees that have grown since Brice Baughman died, wait to see what comes next.