I enjoy taking walks (saunterings) with friends–times that permit leisurely talk about “matters of consequence” (as the Little Prince calls them), and one pleasant walk several months ago took my philosopher friend and me to Ames Park which is nestled by the Halifax River in Ormond Beach just south of the Granada Bridge. It was here that the last living American Civil War full-rank general, Adelbert Ames, chose to build a home where he died in 1933 at the age of 97.
Last Saturday I walked through the history of the gardens in the park by re-reading the informative display placards in the gazebo by the parking area, and the personalities of Mrs. Ames and their daughter came to life in the retelling of their “Whim Garden” which began in 1914, when Woodrow Wilson was President, the year Wrigley Field opened, and the year that Babe Ruth signed on to become one of the greatest pitchers of the Boston Red Sox. History still comes alive in this little park where the spring of sulfur water by The Stone House continues to flow up to feed a series of small ponds where thirty years ago I used to bring my children to drop bread crumbs for the tiny fish. The walrus that Mrs. Ames sculpted still bobs above the river surface on the south side of the wooden dock, exactly where it bobbed for my daughters thirty years ago. As I retraced the paths in my memory I came again to the “Bask in the Sun” concrete enclave at the edge of the water, and it invited me yet again to sit and read there, remembering that a few years ago I sat there to read in the full sun on a cold winter afternoon and discovered a stack of dimes and nickels abandoned in the corner of this cozy niche by the river.
As I walked the park I remembered how Ames, also, had come back to life for me and others on the 20th of November, 2010, at an Ormond Beach Historical Society “Discovery Our History” series lecture at which Joe Vetter, a local historian, history teacher, and re-enactor became Ames for that morning, attired for the occasion in Civil War regalia to reminisce about his having come to the winter resort of Ormond, Florida, around 1910 to retire near his friend John D. Rockefeller who had moved to this healthy spot, hoping to live to be 100. Vetter (as Ames) recalled how he had built a home near the Ormond Hotel and then another, “The Porches,” on South Beach Street. A few years later in 1914 his wife, Blanche Butler Ames, bought a home styled as a sea captain’s house overlooking the river (on the site of what is now Ames Park), and she named the house “The Whim,” a winter home for the couple. Vetter noted that Will Rogers visited Amers several times in Ormond.
Vetter (as Ames) admitted without undue pride that he had graduated fifth in his class at West Point and that in 1893 he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his distinction at the First Battle of Bull Run where although he was badly shot in the thigh and was bleeding profusely, he had had his men place him upon a caisson so he could continue to direct his battery’s firing until becoming too weak from loss of blood. Vetter himself now has the actual bullet that was removed from Ames who also fought at Antietam (The Battle of Sharpsburg), Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. At Fredericksburg Ames led the final charge of the Union Army’s fourteen failed assaults on a hill held by Lee’s soldiers, and during the Chancellorsville Campaign Ames volunteered as aide-de-camp to General George Meade. Thirty-five years later in 1898 when Ames was 63 years old he served as brigadier general in the Spanish-American War, fighting in Cuba.
Vetter also noted that Ames’s son, Adelbert Ames, Jr., was a World War One pilot and that George Plimpton was a great grandson of Ames.
Vetter told us that Ames is portrayed in the movie Gods and Generals, and he is in Micahel Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War novel The Killer Angels as well as in novel The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara, Michael’s son. Ames is also central to Nicholas Lehmann’s Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War which is the historical account of racial violence in Mississippi in the 1870’s. Thanks go to Joe Vetter for keeping the memory of Adelbert Ames alive.
Ames Park is also a due reminder of one of Ormond’s notable citizens. I invite you to ramble the park soon, and I hope you’ll click the Comment/Reply button and add to our history of Ames Park. (If you wish to receive updates, click the button to receive e-mail notices of new postings.)