Mt. Vernon Register-News

July 19, 2012

Why destroy a priceless treasure?


MT. VERNON — Editor:

The future of St. Mary’s Church, which sits across the brick street from the Appellate Courthouse and the recently installed statue of Abraham Lincoln depicted as a young lawyer who could not possibly have known during his trips to Mt. Vernon that in the decades to come he would hold a fractured nation together through a Civil War, break the vicious cycle of holding other men as slaves. It is also by Lincoln that the United States remained strong and grew as the world’s only superpower capable of ending a holocaust in the 1940s and averting a nuclear war in the  1960s. Children from other nations may not be able to speak a word of English, but show them a United States penny and they know immediately whose image is depicted. That man is, of course, the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.

We are truly blessed in Mt. Vernon to have a historic section of town dedicated to this hero among the world renowned Lincoln Trail. This is not by accident or happenstance. It is this way through planning and hard work and countless donations. But it may soon be destroyed, remaining only as a memory for those who have felt touched in a special way from having seen it.

St. Mary’s Church, the building which has been described as the most beautiful and solid building in Mt. Vernon, is scheduled for demolition. As it stands, the work of the master’s hands will be knocked over in less than a day for “progress.” Please take a moment to step back in time and ask why did the people build such an expensive building in 1922, an era of such hard times? The answer came to me last week as I read an old letter sent to me by a friend and Lincoln memorabilia collector.

The letter reads in part, “I was a young boy of only seven years when the neighbor family came by our house in their farm wagon and informed us that President Lincoln’s funeral train would be coming down the railroad tracks in about two hours. My mother rushed out to tell Dad and he quickly hitched the horse to the buggy as Mom put on her Sunday dress and grabbed Dad’s hat. With that we left for town, which was always an adventure in itself. This time the trip was equally sad for us as it was exciting (even for me at the age of seven). When we got near the depot we could see people lining up on both sides of the track. I was anxious to see the engine as we lived several miles from the nearest railroad track.

“Up until this time I had only seen one train and remember how the engine was dirty, black and did a lot of snorting as the smoke belched high into the sky. Finally, and after a long wait I could hear it coming in the distance and as it glided by, the bell slowly rang. I also remember how shiny and beautiful this train was compared to the earlier one I had seen. But one observation sticks in my mind to this very day. It even haunts my memory. I looked up at Mom and Dad and they were both sobbing. Something beyond a seven year olds basic understanding of life was happening here ... but what? I also remember later that night my mother started crying again and left the supper table. I did not understand it then, but as I grew older it inspired me to learn everything I could about the greatest man who ever walked this land. Years later when I helped design this church across the brick street from the Appellate Courthouse, it was to honor this great man. Abraham Lincoln is a saint to people of all nations and religions. Every school child knows or should know that we are free today because of Abraham Lincoln, and without him we may very well be speaking another language.”

Yet a few would rather see the monument they have built turned into a parking lot for cars. And unless our voices are heard and the wishes of future generations are taken into consideration this is exactly what will happen. But it is not too late, and I need your help! Write letters and let your opinion known by the powers that be. As a visitor to Mt. Vernon who has made a career of historic preservation recently said in a city meeting, “Why would the city grant a demolition permit for such a beautiful and historic building?” The response was a quick, “why not?” I am simply asking that we consider the countless reasons “why not” and save our most meaningful building for the future. With a relatively small investment the historic St. Mary’s Church in Mt. Vernon will be preserved for generations to come. The future residents of this area will thank you!

Percy Atkinson

Mt. Vernon