Filed Under Wartime

Liberty Row

Trees have always been planted as symbolic gestures. Greater Cleveland – and Cleveland Heights particularly – is an excellent example. In fact, this was one of the very first regions to coordinate a living memorial to soldiers who gave their lives in the First World War.

Following the Armistice on November 11, 1918, American Legion posts, garden clubs, school children, communities and families around the country planted trees, usually as part of dignified ceremonies. That very month, the Board Chairman of the American Forests Association, Charles Lathrop Pack, called for "a new form of monument - a memorial that lives." Greater Clevelanders lost little time. They mobilized to such a forceful extent that by Memorial Day 1919, the planting of a long chain of "Liberty Oaks" was already underway.

Under the leadership of Cleveland City Councilman Jerry Zmunt, Cleveland Director of Parks and Public Property Floyd E. Waite, and City Forester Harry C. Hyatt, a path was selected. On July 15, 1918, Ordinance 47590 was passed, "relative to changing North Park Boulevard, running through Ambler Park, Rockefeller Park and Shaker Heights Park from Cedar to Center (Warrensville) Road to 'Liberty Row.'"

Planting and casting began shortly thereafter, and by May of 1919 a dedication ceremony was held. Concurrent with the event, a poem by W. R. Rose was printed in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. It concluded:

The little trees that line the way, Sad symbols of a nation's pride, Are etched against the wintry gray—Oh let them live for those who died!

Almost 100 years later, a surprising number of North Park's Liberty Oaks and plaques are intact. You can also see quite a few along Shelburne Road in Shaker Heights, southeast of Shelburne's intersection with North Park near Horseshoe Lake. Unfortunately, the trees and plaques along Martin Luther Drive have fared less well, often succumbing to theft and sudden encounters with out-of-control automobiles. Nevertheless, the spirit of the Oaks and the majesty they bring to the area is uncompromised. For many years, the American Legion Glenville Post 130 decorated the plaques. On patriotic holidays, flags are still placed by at least some of the remaining markers.

Images

Joseph H. Stier This plaque sits below a liberty oak tree on South Park Boulevard in Shaker Heights. In recent years, volunteers have decorated the plaques to commemorate Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Creator: John Diurba
Oaks on North Park Blvd, Cleveland Heights "Liberty Row" is a nine-mile string of white oaks running from Gordon Park along Martin Luther King Boulevard (first known as "Lower Boulevard" and then "Liberty Boulevard") up North Park Boulevard along the Doan Brook watershed and nearly to Warrensville Center Road along numerous Shaker Heights streets. Altogether, about 850 trees were planted, each with a round, engraved bronze plaque embedded in a cement base. Even today, almost a century after their installation, many of the trees and tablets survive. Creator: Chris Roy
Frank Kennedy The plaque bearing the name of Frank P. Kennedy can be found beneath a liberty oak on North Park Boulevard in Cleveland Heights. Kennedy was killed in fighting at Festubert, France on December 22, 1915. He was 29 years old. As the date of his death would suggest, Kennedy actually served in the English Army. A local newspaper reported that Kennedy's brother lived on the city's east side. Given that Frank P. Kennedy was honored with a plaque on Liberty Row, it can be surmised that he, too, once lived in Cleveland. Creator: Chris Roy
Memorial Day, 1919 This cartoon appeared on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Memorial Day, 1919. The front page also described the memorial services being held that day, including those taking place along Liberty Row. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Lost to History? This plaque on North Park Boulevard is missing the last name of the soldier it once honored. Thankfully, a list of the soldiers' names was compiled not long after the plaques were installed in 1919. An investigation of this list reveals that the full name once displayed was Jason E. Henry. Creator: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Blank Plaque The name on this plaque on North Park Boulevard has been wiped clean over the years. Unfortunately, many more plaques have been completely lost, either stolen by thieves or buried by shifting land patterns. Creator: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Location

Metadata

Chris Roy, “Liberty Row,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 27, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/473.