My 5th great-grandfather, Nathan Hawkins, fled his newly-purchased homestead for Wayne County, Indiana during the War of 1812 with his wife and children, and he built a one-room log cabin on his brother-in-law’s land that still stands today. Nathan built the oldest wagon in Wayne County, was “noted for his strength, tradition saying he could lift as much as four men” and has hundreds of descendants living throughout the United States. It was while searching for newspaper articles on my ancestor, though, that I found the other Nathan Hawkins–and like his cousin, he has quite the story to tell.
Nathan Hawkins was born on April 15, 1808 in Wayne County, Indiana to John and Lydia (Comer) Hawkins. His parents were members of the Society of Friends; as a young man, John was granted a certificate to join the Cane Creek Monthly Meeting in Union County, South Carolina, and Lydia was the acting secretary of the Monthly Meeting at the time of his arrival. In 1805, John and Lydia transferred to Wayne County in the north, and they started a new homestead and farm there. Nathan was born on that farm a few years later, and he met his own wife in the meeting house they joined, marrying Sarah Wright on January 1, 1830 in front of their friends and neighbors.
Nathan and Sarah purchased a tract of land in Wayne County, and all of their ten children–William (b. 1831), Eliza (b. 1832), Lydia (b. 1834), John (b. 1836), Henry (b. 1838), Eli (b. 1841), Jane (b. 1843), Allen (b. 1846), Charles (b. 1849) and George (b. 1852) were born in the house on the hillside. In 1856, Nathan built a three-story sawmill on the land; it was powered by an overshot water wheel and sat adjacent to the spring that cut through the Hawkins’ homestead. The Palladium-Item’s “Our History Scrapbook”–a local newspaper column–described it as “one of the best sawmills in the area…noted for quality work done.” I guess I’ll take their word for it.
Nathan closed the sawmill and sold the family’s land to John F. Miller in 1880; the Palladium-Item tells the story: “The farm in 1885 consisted of a few small fields. The remainder was a stand of trees, such as poplar, oak, walnut, maple and beech. The fine large oaks and poplars have gone by the way of woodman’s ax, but there still remain a few oak and some beech, elm and maple. The ground was hilly and full of glens, in which were springs and a dense undergrowth of various kinds. John F. Miller saw the possibilities of the site for a fine playground. He made overtures for its purchase from Mr. Hawkins.”
“Mr. Hawkins declined at first to sell, saying he had lived there all his life, it was his home, and he proposed to die there. Finally his family induced him to sell [for $35,000]…Miller was a great lover of nature and had the vision to see the possibilities which this tract offered. He proceeded at once to develop it. He opened up a few drives and developed the springs by driving iron pipes into the ground so that the water would overflow and be accessible. He planted many trees including the catalpa grove…The public was invited to visit the grounds. During the five years that Miller owned them, they became popular.” And he called it Glen Miller Park.
After five years, Miller sold the park to the city of Richmond, and it was reopened to the public on June 6, 1885. But the sawmill is long-gone: in 1943, one Richmond schoolteacher wrote in the local paper that “It is to be regretted that it was not permitted to stand there as a landmark of the golden times.” And that’s Nathan’s legacy: a beautiful park that still remains at the heart of Richmond today; it’s even home to the Madonnas of the Trail statue that commemorates women like my 5th great-grandmother. All these years later, people fill jars at the springs in Glen Miller Park and believe that the water benefits their health–it’s a pretty great legacy and a great story, too.