The cannon that stands guard in Prospect Park is the largest cannon in the State of Michigan. The weapon was cast at West Point Foundry in 1865 and taken to Fort McClery, Kittering, Maine and mounted as a coastal defense gun. There in 1901 Ypsilanti Mayor Oliver Thompson admired it and learned it was to be replaced. He decided to apply for it on behalf of the city.|
After two years of correspondence the cannon arrived at the depot in October of 1902. On the advice of Mayor Thompson it was given to the Carpenter Post of the G.A.R.
John Engel hitched eight horses to the wagon and moved the weapon to the base of Cross Street hill, but because of the weight, could go no further. A stonecrusher with tractor wheels was used to carry the gun up the hill. The cannon was set in place on October 13, 1902.
Ypsilanti Press - October 30, 1954: An old landmark on the east side is the large cannon that stands in Prospect Park.|
It was given to Carpenter Post, G.A.R., on the advice of Mayor Oliver E. Thompson, who had worked for two years to obtain it. The weapon is an ancient coast defense gun from Fort McClery, Kittery, Maine. Mayor Thompson found it there and on learning that it was to be replaced by a large gun, he applied for it. It took two years of correspondence, because of government red tape, to get it assigned to Ypsilanti. Then the War Department decided not to give any more guns. However, Ordinance Sgt. J.E. Wolf, of Fort McClery, managed to convince the department that the cannon had been promised to Ypsilanti before that order was made.
The cannon arrive here in 1892 after Station Agent B.M. Damon secured a special transportation rate from the Michigan Central Railroad.
City Engineer William Blanchard designed and made wood end frames from which the present carriage was cast in iron.
The next problem was to get the cannon to the Park, then just being developed. John Engel, a depot merchant who also did teaming hitched an eight-horse team to the piece and carried it to the foot of East Cross St. hill - where it was stalled. A huge city stonecrusher with tractor wheels came in handy as a means of solving the difficulty.
The cannon has bee a subject of cameras for over 50 years. It weighs about 10 tons and has a 10 inch barrel.
Ypsilanti residents, especially those on the East Side, have long accepted it as a memorial to Mayor Oliver E. Thompson, who worked so hard to obtain it.
It was the source of controversy during the scrap drive at the time of World War II. Members of the salvage committed made the mistake of suggesting the cannon be scrapped for the war effort.
A storm of protest broke from the irate residents who knew and valued the history of the giant weapon.
The cannon is still held in high esteem. This spring, a group of scouts gave it a fine new coat of black paint.
Ypsilanti Press - September 22, 1942: Would Keep Cannon. The proposition to scrap the cannon in Prospect Park comes from the newcomers on the salvage committee who know nothing of its history or the many citizens and especially one family who had much to do with the growth of Ypsilanti and who were active in bringing the gun here. To begin with the cannon was not given to Ypsilanti by the War Department but to Carpenter Post, G.A.R. on the advice of Mayor Oliver E. Thompson, who worked for two years to obtain it.|
Most cannons stuck in various towns are products of the Spanish War or World War spoils, but our cannon is an ancient coast defense gun from Fort McClery, Kittery, Me. It was found there by Mayor Thompson, and on learning its interesting history and that it was to be replaced by a large gun, he applied for it. It took two years of correspondence because of government red tape to get it assigned to Ypsilanti, and then the War Department decided not to give any more guns. However, ordinance Sergt. J.E. Wolf of Fort McClery, who loved the gun and hoped to find a home for it among people who appreciated it as Ypsilanti certainly did, convinced the department that the cannon had been promised before that order was made and in 1892, the gun arrived here, Station AGent B.M. Damon having secured a special transportation rate from the Michigan Central Railroad.
There was only the gun, the government not donating the carriage. But City Engineer William Blanchard (who gave waterworks park plants from his own garden, by the way) designed and made wood end frames from which the present carriage was cast in iron. The whole community was deeply interested.
The next thing was to get the cannon to the Park, then just nicely under way. John Engel, a depot merchant whol also did teaming, hitched an eight-horse team to the gun and carried it to the foot of E. Cross St. hill - where it was stalled. Now the city had been beguiled into buying a huge stonecrusher with tractor wheels, which always broke if anything bigger than a pebble was put into it and had been the butt of many a jest as the city white elephant. But now it rose to the occasion nobly and speedily yanked the gun to the park.
The cannon and the Lake Luna have been subjects of snap shots by hundreds of tourists and family reunion members for 40 years and have carried the name of Ypsilanti to all parts of the country. For years John Chapman, Civil War veteran and first caretaker of the park, plated the flower bed along Lake Luna to scarlet salvia, blue ageratum and white alyssum that blazoned the national colors to all who passed. Newcomers do not know that this park was reclaimed, planted and landscaped by a neighborhood group before it was turned over to the city, the lake being paid for by the neighborhood.
The cannon has also been the loved resort of hundreds of children, local and visitors from many states. It has been an integral part of the lives and happy memories of countless youngsters, who climb up or are put up on it and are thrilled at its touch. Prospect Park has always been a paradise for children and the cannon is a very special part of it. It would be a shame to sacrifice this source of happy memories to a senseless fad that would mean little to the government, as there are many other sources of metal. Ypsilanti has plenty of interurban rails, which the government specially needs. Only last week attention was called to the heaps of iron metal rusting in the outskirts of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Daily word is received of great heaps of metal found in the most unexpected places. Little real search has been made here for such material.
Now as to the Thompson family. "Uncle Ben," as he was widely known, came here in 1830. He was a millwright and carriage maker. In 1873 he and his son, Oliver E. Thompson, bought the Thompson block on River Street at the Depot, the former barracks of the 27th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War, and began making carriages, later adding a line of agricultural implements, which soon became the largest such store in this section. In 1880 Oliver invented a seeder, and later a kraut cutter, so much better than any existing that their product soon carried the name of Ypsilanti to all parts of the United States and abroad. To this industry Mr. Thompson and his three sons added a large coal business, a line of painting and decorating, a seed store and a building industry. As the factory work was seasonal "O.E." as he was called, added the rehabilitation of the shabby section just east of the factory on Cross and Maple Streets for summer work. He bought the whold block, built several new houses and remodeled others and made a little park of the joined backyards. The double house now owned by Edward Thompson on the south side of East Cross St. and a big double house on River Blvd. were also Thompson-built. After their father's death the sons carried on the factory as O.E. Thompson's Sons, and when at last they sold it the old name was retained and still is used.
Oliver Thompson was mayor, for many years a member os the city school board, and the Methodist Church board. His son Benjamin D., also served on the school board, was director of the First National Bank and was prominent in many ways. He was the father of Joseph H., Benjamin C, and Robert Thompson. Edward served as park commissioner for years and many of the beauties and conveniences now in Prospect Park are due to him. For years every parade, patriotic, fraternal or political, was organized by him, some of which have never been surpassed. He first decorated the persent Methodist Church, and his own paintings adorn many Ypsilanti homes. He is an authority on Ypsilanti history, to which his family contributed so much. John H. Thompson, who died recently, was long a member of the county superintendents of the poor, and when that office was changed, was investigator for the new official. Cousins of the Thompsons, the Williams, were also prominent in Ypsilanti life.
The feeling in Ypsilanti, especially on the East Side, has been that the cannon was a memorial to Oliver E. Thompson, who after long effort obtained it. It is not a useless ornament, as so many such guns are, but a valuable part of the every day life of the many common people who frequent the Park. It would be a real loss to the community to destroy it, when there are so many other sources of metal materiall available. The government is appealing to boost morale - yet what would it mean to the younger group and their parents to have this part of their daily lives destroyed unnecessarily? OLD TIMER.