History of Talleyrand Park, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
Photo 1. View of Talleyrand Park from High Street. Photo credit: J. Dunne.
The history of Talleyrand Park is a story of remarkable community involvement in a project usually left to local government. In 1964, plans for a downtown park in Bellefonte were discussed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But, it was not until 1971 that the site was cleared of deteriorating buildings and grass and trees were planted, and the park was named for the French diplomat, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, who allegedly visited Bellefonte in the 1790’s.
In 1974, Bellefonte Borough Council, facing financial problems in park development, discussed selling the land to a box store. That pronouncement galvanized 25 newcomers and long-time residents to form the all-volunteer Talleyrand Park Committee and approach Council with an offer to help with fundraising and design development of the languishing park. Robert Fisher and several members of the Park Committee developed the overall design of the park, including the most prominent features, such as the Gazebo and sculpture garden.
Photo 2. The original park plan developed by Robert Fisher in 1975.
A collaboration between the Committee and local bricklayers, school groups, civic clubs, industry, and the Borough from 1975 to 2000 led to the construction of the Gazebo in time for the 200th celebration of our nation in 1976. Then, a donation of land from Gulf Oil Corporation resulted in the Sculpture Garden and the installation in it of a 1917 bust of Lincoln by Bellefonte born sculptor George Gray Barnard. A Pennsylvania Conservation Corps grant for disadvantaged youth and a PA Department of Environmental Resources award, provided funds for the development of the Sculpture Garden, laying of the bricks for the raceway cover, construction of the foot and suspension bridges, restrooms, and extensive landscaping with memorial trees. The Playground and the Governors’ Memorial at High Street were funded by local industry and a civic club.
Photo 3. The Gazebo was constructed in 1976. Photo credit: T. Fisher
Photo 4. Bust of Lincoln was sculpted by Bellefonte native George Gray Barnard.
Beginning in 2000, several projects were completed including the Borough’s new extension of the park to the south, which now houses the Edible and Pollinator Gardens and a Victorian style fountain honoring a former mayor. The Borough also provided new equipment for the playground, and the Talleyrand Park Committee obtained grants for an extension of the stonewall behind the Gazebo, stabilization of the banks on both sides of Spring Creek, and a new sidewalk from High Street. For many years the Bellefonte Garden Club has planted the urns and flower boxes in the park.
In 2012, a historic fountain that stood in front of the Court House from 1893 until 1971 was tracked down by a Talleyrand Park Committee member and found in pieces near Snow Shoe. Unable to be restored as a working fountain, it was reassembled and located in the Sculpture Garden, calling attention to the need for preservation of historic artifacts that show changes in a community and reveal such knowledge as, in this case, the creativity of 19th century iron makers.
Funded by an interested individual, the move in 2016 of a historic Railroad Freight House across High Street to Talleyrand Park will give the park a canoe and kayak museum and provide a good example of historic preservation and adaptive re-use of such buildings. The museum is expected to open to the public in 2020.
Photo 5. Repaired fountain with the pergola in the background. Photo credit: R. Carline
Although the park is considered complete and is at this time not accepting additional objects, the Committee is still in existence and is still fundraising and donating to and working with Bellefonte Borough in maintenance, landscaping, and restoration issues.
True Fisher and her husband Robert Fisher were instrumental in organizing the Talleyrand Park Committee. Robert taught art at Penn State and was an internationally known sculptor of suspended works. True remains active with the Talleyrand Park Committee.