Bradford's Public Square
We take it for granted and we drive right past without even noticing it. But we should! The small plot of land located at the head of Main Street known as Veterans' Square has been a part of the city since its founding in 1837. Back then it was just an open grassy park, where boys played baseball on hot afternoons, but over time it has become one of the city's best-known parks. Today it symbolizes Bradford's Downtown Merchants, and is being featured on a series of Zippo lighters each year. And of course, everyone reads 'Round The Square, a daily column on the front page of the town's newspaper, The Bradford Era. Early "RTS" columns in the 1950s even featured a photograph of the bandstand as its logo.
It draws its origin from New England's town commons. Bradford's early settlers hailed from New England, and they established the notion of an open meeting place for the town. Bradford's Public Square was born.
The Bradford Landmark Society estimates that a bandstand or gazebo was built as early as the 1890s. A small wooden structure, it was used for band concerts and public meetings. Photographs show a pleasant park, with tulips and other flowers, and park benches. The first flagpole was erected on May 28, 1898 on Memorial Day. Later, a bronze plaque commemorating Bradford soldiers who fought in the Spanish American War was placed on a large boulder in the Square. This plaque is particularly interesting. It was formed from part of the USS Maine, which was blown up in Cuba's harbor in 1898, prompting the battle cry "Remember the Maine", and starting the war. Today this memorial is located next to the bandstand.
In 1909 during Old Home Week, a large boulder from Annin Township was hauled to the southeast corner of the square. A bronze tablet, a gift of the McKean County Historical Society (which was then located in the basement of Carnegie's Library), was inscribed "From my plantation in McKean County at Mt. Equity, containing 300 acres ~ Thomas McKean" and attached to the rock. It still stands there today.
In 1919, the World War I stone hexagonal monument was dedicated to Bradford's soldiers when they arrived home in May of that year. Officer's names were placed on the side facing the St. James Hotel; all enlisted men's names were placed on the other five sides.
In July 1923 the old bandstand was dismantled, and a new $500 bandstand was built in its place. A comfort station was located underneath. The old structure was to be given to Lewis Run.
In September of 1925 the city was given a field artillery cannon, captured from the Germans in World War I. The cannon was placed in the Square. Later, the cannon was given to the scrap metal drive in the 1940s, during World War II.
An Honor Roll dedicated to the soldiers fighting in World War II was unveiled on May 16, 1943 in the center of the square. An estimated 2,525 names of men and women from Bradford and the surrounding area were listed on this impressive monument and remained there throughout the war. The Honor Roll stood in the public square until March 1954, when its deteriorating condition made its removal a necessity. But plans were drawn up immediately by the veterans associations in town (the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Disabled American War Veterans, the Dads of Foreign Service Veterans, and the American War Mothers) to erect a permanent memorial for the veterans of World War II and the Korean Conflict. That autumn, on November 11, 1954, the Public Square name was officially changed to Veterans' Square. That name remains to the present day.
Other changes have occurred over the years as well. Sometime in the 1960s, the bandstand was changed; gone were the town "comfort stations" and the roof and side walls were removed. An open platform with a railing replaced the grand bandstand.
It was during the 1970s that an "eternal flame" burned in the Square, but it, too, was short-lived. It seems that eternity, in Bradford, comes and goes!
About 18 years ago the entire Square underwent a "facelift" and the bandstand was once again built in traditional form. Sidewalks now wind comfortable among the flower-beds and monuments, and benches are handy for passersby. The Town Square is used yearly for Memorial Day celebrations, as it has been for over 100 years.
So, the next time you drive by Veterans' Square, think back on its history. It has seen more fires, parades, trolleys, horse carriages, and events that took place there, than anyone else in Bradford. It has earned the right to be the center of our town.