When you first come into Veterans' Memorial Park, if you look to your right as you're facing the main memorial from the parking lot, you'll see a winding brick path called the Garrett Lyons Walkway. It effectively connects the roadway leading into the park with the bottom of the Veterans Memorial Plaza. The walkway is a tribute to the man who played a big part in the acquisition of the entire park. In fact, at one point in 1959, the park was briefly informally known as the Garrett E. Lyons Memorial Park!
who was Garrett Lyons?
Garrett Lyons was a local power in the Delaware Democratic Party serving as the State Party Chair in the 1950s. He simultaneously headed the Delaware Highway Commission, the predecessor of the current Delaware River & Bay Authority (DRBA). It is generally thought that Lyons would have been asked to be the first chair of the DRBA when the current authority was created in 1962, but sadly passed away in 1960 while vacationing in Florida. It would take almost another 20 years for another Lyons -- his son Garrett B. Lyons -- to be appointed to a two-year term in 1979.
How the park came to be
To many, the elder Garrett E. Lyons was a visionary and someone who would think out of the box. Soon after he oversaw the opening of the first span of The Delaware Memorial Bridge in 1952, he turned his sights to the 40 acres that stood vacant just south of the bridge in Delaware and across from the housing development known as Collins Park. Lyons negotiated a deal to purchase the property for $300,000 from the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, who owned the lot, with the idea of turning it into a public recreational area.
Financing was a challenge. The park was valued at $300,000. Lyons envisioned the park being purchased by the Interstate Highway Division, but the Bank of Delaware -- trustee for bridge bondholders at the time -- advised him that the purchase was outside of the bond's funding parameters. Not to be dissuaded, he went to the General Assembly of Delaware and convinced lawmakers to authorize a new issuance of special bonds that would authorize the Interstate Highway Division to buy the land.
Lyon's purchase turned out to be prescient and a great investment. The site was dedicated in 1956 as War Memorial Park.
The Plaque unveiling
The current plaque commemorating Garrett E. Lyons was unveiled on October 14, 1974 on what would have been Lyon's 74th birthday. Both his widow, son Garrett B. Lyons, and other family members were in attendance. The DRBA's first Executive Director William J. Miller spoke at the event and described how Lyons facilitated the deal and ultimately saved the Authority a million dollars.
Today, the pathway takes you on a short walk from the Gold Star Memorial, past the Korea War Memorial toward the Eagle statue that faces the main War Memorial. About halfway down the path on your left, below a large stone rock, there's a marker in honor of Garrett Lyons. It's understated, something that was in contrast by most reports to how Lyons led in the 1950s and brought his vision to life, but we have him to thank for his vision and the ongoing solace his park purchase has brought to many veterans, veteran families, and local residents.
- August 1951: Opening of the first span of The Delaware Memorial Bridge.
- 1951-1955: Lyons facilitates purchase of 40 acres from Collins Park to the bridge from the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. Area is unofficially referred to as Garrett E. Lyons Memorial Park
- October 20, 1956: War Memorial Park Dedication with one main monument
- February 1960: Garrett E. Lyons passes from a heart attack at age 59 while on vacation in Florida
- 1962: The Delaware River and Bay Authority is created.
- 1964: Construction begins on a second bridge span and landfill is taken from the 40 acres.
- October 13, 1974: Memorial Plaque unveiled in Veteran's Memorial Park on what would have been Lyon's 74th birthday
- Circa 2000, Park is renamed Veterans Memorial Park