Cape garden spot may turn into battleground

Monday, May 15, 2006

Members of the May Greene Garden Association are concerned about the future of their green space. They're worried it will be transformed into a parking lot if the Cape Girardeau County Commission acquires the federal building on Broadway.

"We're just hoping for the best. We have invested so much time and effort over the many years that it's become very dear to our hearts," said association member Rosemary Logan. "We're hoping and praying that it will stay the way it is."

To date, county commissioners have been tight-lipped on the future of 20-yard-wide square of garden that sits on federal property at the corner of Themis and Fountain streets. They say any speculation is idle because the county has yet to close the deal with the General Services Administration needed to transfer ownership of the building.

"We're still studying it as far as how it would fit into the county plans, so in that vein we still have not figured out everything we would do if we get the building," said Commissioner Jay Purcell.

If acquired, the building would be the new home of county courts and other county offices currently in the Common Pleas Courthouse on Lorimier Street. The Common Pleas Courthouse would then be available for transformation into a museum of regional history.

The limited available parking at the federal building is fueling fears that the county may seek to expand the current lot. In that case the May Greene Garden would be prime territory.

"I will say that parking is a big issue. It's one of the big concerns we have about the property and we will have to examine all our options," Purcell said.

That type of talk has set off garden devotees.

"If there is any noise about turning it into a parking lot there will be a hue and a cry from the community, I guarantee that," said Bill Port, co-president of the association.

Port also said the association will not accept a substitute for its garden.

"It loses all of its significance if it's moved to another location, and right now it is a little piece of the history of Cape Girardeau. I think it loses every bit of significance if it's anywhere else," he said.

Community members already fended off an attempt in 1987 by the GSA to pave over the space.

The garden sits at the historic location of the May Greene House, an antebellum home once inhabited by one of Cape Girardeau's founding families. After the Civil War, Judge George Greene presided as the third judge on the Common Pleas Court and May Greene, his daughter, was a teacher in the city's schools for 53 years.

The estate was known for its abundant redbud trees and irises, both of which are kept in the garden today.

"It's been a labor of love for many people for many years," Logan said. "The idea has always been to resurrect the garden in May Greene's memory and do it in the style she did it."

The home was sold at federal auction in 1963 to First Federal Savings and Loan Co. for $23,100. The home was razed the next year.

The May Greene Garden Association was formed in 1988 in an effort to continue Greene's legacy of community service and tend to a peaceful downtown park.

335-6611, extension 245

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