Central Park garden

The Vasbinder Fountain in downtown Mansfield's Central Park.

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1800s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. The books are available from Lintern for $25 a set, tax and shipping included. Each book is about 120 pages written for intermediate readers (4th grade) with local illustrations. Volume I is Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II is Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III is Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV is Mr. Gamble Starts a School. Volume V is Jacob Blows his Horn. Volume VI is Cassie Fights the WarVolume VII is Emilene Adopts Her Family. Volume VIII is David Dances the Bases.

The attention Natalie had hoped to receive from the table decorations she had made for her Mother’s dinner was rather overshadowed by the attention she had just received outside.

Still, once all the comments had been made by the little dinner party, which began as relief that Natalie was safe, then evolved into quips and jokes about the sight of half of her wardrobe hanging throughout the tree and being a few feathers short of a full coat, then Natalie’s families and friends turned their comments to the hard work she had done on the dinner table and showing her excitement for the improvements on Central Park.

“If our fountain looks this nice, I will be happy,” Miss Vasbinder said. David nodded.

“Might trouble Cassie if they use her kitchen pans, though,” Marty said.

“Not if I get a new set because if it,” Mother laughed.

“I think we will have our own supply of brass for the fountain,” Miss Vasbinder said, “And Mr. Wolff will do the stone work, although I like these pebbles. Maybe we can incorporate these in the design.”

“Did you get enough money?” Natalie asked.

“Do you have some for us, or did all your coins fall out of your pockets up there in the tree?” Papa asked.

Natalie blushed.

Never going to live it down.

“We have plenty of money, Dear,” Mama said. “Your Papa and others did a good job of asking people for donations. We get to move ahead on our project.”

“This is a celebration meal,” Miss Vasbinder said. “And a planning meeting for our next step.”

Natalie listened intently to all the plans and ideas, and tried to stay quiet while the adults talked, knowing that it was not her place to say much, and that she had already made enough of a commotion, but she wondered if she should speak up.

I have ideas, too. If I don’t say them, how will anyone know?

“May I say something?” she found herself breaking in, hoping it was a lull in the conversation.

“What? Why of course, Dear Girl. We love to hear what you have to say,” Miss Vasbinder said.

“Would the schoolchildren in Mansfield be able to help in the improvements, working on something, taking part in the ceremony, singing perhaps? Could there be something in the improvements that benefit them? To remind them that this park is for old and young as well?”

“Why yes, what a good idea,” Miss Vasbinder said. “The whole park is for everyone, of course, but some things will be especially for children, perhaps, such as….”

“A place for a swing, or a slide, or a climbing place. Or picnic tables. Or benches, or a stage.”

Miss Vasbinder and Mama glanced long at each other.

“That is quite a list. Yes, some of that will fit just fine, although maybe not by the time the fountain is in, but soon after. And certainly, the schoolchildren should be involved in the project, and their teachers already know something about it,” Miss Vasbinder said.

“I know I don’t go to school in Mansfield, but could I ask my friends at my school to help?”

“I didn’t even think of you going to a country school. Of course you may, dear. School will be out soon, can you still get them involved?”

You bet I can!

Natalie was up and off to school even earlier than usual the next Monday. She rode Chestnut along the Olivesburg Road, over the Ashland Railroad line to her school, a two-room building that housed primary students on one side and secondary on the other.

Natalie was nearing the end of her primary years.

About 15 students attended her side, with about a dozen more on the secondary side.

Miss Osbun was the teacher for both sides. She had been a student there just a couple of years earlier. That, plus the fact she was related to about a half dozen of the students, made it difficult for her to maintain order, although if things became bad enough, a parent or two was called in and the students quickly began behaving better.

Natalie raised her hand during a history lesson.

“Yes, Natalie.”

“The Mansfield people are going to fix up the square, and I would like us to help,” she said.

“Well, that is a nice thought, but what does it have to do with President Jackson and the electoral college?” she replied. “That is what the lesson is about.”

“Yes, Miss Osbun. I know President Jackson was the seventh president and that he should have been the sixth president but John Quincy Adams was given it by Congress, but lots of special things are going to be done at the Square. My grandparents and the Vasbinders and others are working on it,” she said.

“Well and good, Natalie, but again, the electoral college.”

“Yes, Miss Osbun, but could I ask the class to help?”

“I suppose you already have, but we will not address if further until you tell me who is now our president and who from Mansfield could have been president?”

“That’s easy. President Garfield was elected, and everyone was surprised that he was even the candidate, because the Republicans expected to nominate General Grant again, or Senator Sherman from Mansfield. My Papa served in his Brigade in the war!”

“I suppose if you know that much already, young lady, you might as well talk to the class about your little park project.”

I suppose I will.