More to this park than meets the eye

Sweetwater Branch Park is Gainesville’s downtown park. And yes, a creek flows through it, although its narrow course is so overgrown with exotic vegetation that you might never suspect there’s actually water underneath it all.

It is also one of our least used parks. The city sponsors no events there and many neighbors avoid it because of public safety fears.

And that’s a shame. Because there is much more to Sweetwater Branch Park than immediately meets the eye.

The historic civil war-era Matheson House, for example. Not to mention the Matheson Museum.

And a delightful cracker-style workshop that looks like it might have come out of a Currier and Ives print.

The park is also home to one of Gainesville’s newest sculptures.

“When Johnny Comes Marching Home” is a mesh-and-metal tribute to Vietnam veterans. It depicts three soldiers: The new recruit standing tall and straight. The battle hardened soldier, bowed but rifle still at the ready. And the returning vet bent under the burdens of war.

It was commissioned and donated by downtown Gainesville resident and businessman Ken McGurn, himself a Vietnam vet.

And where better to display it than Sweetwater Branch Park, the scene of Gainesville’s only Civil War battle? Soldiers have indeed suffered here for their service.

And that’s the thing about Sweetwater Branch Park. Over the years there have been proposals to make it a showplace: A horticultural treasure house, a walk through Gainesville history. But City indifference doomed all such ideas.

Listen, you know a park’s in trouble when its signs contain more warnings than welcoming.

And that’s a shame. Because there is so much more to Sweetwater Branch Park than meets the eye. It could be downtown Gainesville’s thriving Central Park, if only we cared enough to make it so.

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