In June of this year, the Cape Girardeau City Council voted to rename Common Pleas Courthouse Park as Ivers Square, recognizing former slaves James and Harriet Ivers.
According to research by Denise Lincoln, an authority on Cape Girardeau's black Civil War soldiers, James Ivers enlisted in the Union Army on June 18, 1863. He died of consumption on Oct. 1, 1863, while serving at Helena, Arkansas.
His widow, Harriet Ivers, purchased a home at the southwest corner of Middle Street and Jefferson Avenue in 1876 from James McClean, the son of a slaveholder who once owned her.
The history of Ivers Square dates back to the very beginnings of this community. The city's founder, Louis Lorimier, gave four acres of land there for a seat of justice in 1805. Through the years, the park has seen its ups and down, as well as additions and subtractions. I recently ran across a Missourian article published in 1967 that included the earliest photograph of the west side of the park that I have ever seen.
Published Sept. 7, 1967.
In Courthouse Park
OLD PHOTO REVIVES MEMORY OF CALABOOSE, MARKET
By JUDITH ANN CROW
Missourian staff writer.
Only those whose memory stretches back further than 1909 will recall the buildings to the left and right of Common Pleas Courthouse in this picture. The view is from Lorimier Street, looking east, and the photograph was used in the April 14, 1909, issue of The Daily Republican (which became The Missourian in 1918).
The old photograph was made from a negative sent to Homer George, Cape Girardeau pharmacist, by a friend at the University of Florida. Mr. George said two of the negatives were found in a file case there, but it was not known how they got there.
Already when the picture was published (in 1909), the old market house (seen at the right) was being removed. It had been built in 1852, and had been the gathering place for farmers and gardeners and housewives more than half a century. Slaves had been sold from the auction block to its north. Vegetables, fruits, eggs and grain (and presumably livestock, too) had been exchanged in and near the building for money or for other produce.
With the growth of the town, however, and the development of different merchandising procedures, the market house fell into disuse, and became a catch-all storage place for city fire equipment and rubbish, tools, and scraps, and as a fuel house.
Marked for immediate razing also was the old city jail (seen at the left) built in 1856. It had long been of little use to the city, with all but the most trivial offenders being taken to the county ail at Jackson. Horse-drawn fire wagons, old-timers say, made their runs from the big double doors seen facing west.
To accommodate both the fire department and the city jail, a new building had been built on Independence Street, at the junction of the boundaries of Cape Girardeau's four wards.
At the time the picture was published, the story accompanying it indicates, it was planned to place "a fine band pagoda" where the market house stood, and "a memorial monument and public drinking fountain erected by the Women's Relief Corps, in memory of the soldiers of the Civil War," on the site of the old jail.
As matters developed later, the Memorial Fountain was erected a bit to the south of the jail site, where its splashing waters still bring delight to Cape Girardeau's citizens, young and old. The bandstand, now vine-grown and used only as a "magic place" for the young, was built near the rear, to the east and north, of the jail site.
Instead of a market for produce, the old market site is now occupied by an "idea market" -- the public library, another result of long and agonized fund-raising efforts of the women of the community. Their determination that the city should be kept clean and attractive, which was largely responsible for the razing of the two old eyesores, was exceeded only by their determination that the city should have a library.
The memorial fountain mentioned in the article was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1911. It originally honored Union Army soldiers, but was later re-dedicated to the dead on both sides of the conflict. A Confederate monument joined it in 1995, moved to Ivers Square from the Morgan Oak Plaza, where it first greeted travelers exiting the old Mississippi River traffic bridge in 1931.
The square's bandstand was used for the first time on Aug. 27, 1913. The gazebo, site of many a Municipal Band concert and wedding over the years, was refurbished and reconstructed several times, including a major rebuild in 1961. It continued to house the boys in the band until the current band shell opened in Capaha Park in 1957.
The Cape Girardeau Public Library was constructed as a Carnegie Library in 1922. It became the Common Pleas Annex, housing county government offices, after the current public library was erected in 1980.
A sundial was placed next to the library in 1938 as a memorial to William F.D. Batjer, president of the Cape Girardeau Rotary Club, who was killed in a car accident on Dec. 28, 1937.
The last major addition to Ivers Square was the Vietnam Memorial, which was dedicated on July 4, 2006. It was erected by a local Vietnam veterans organization, VietNow.