NEOSHO, Mo. — Neosho is bursting with bright colors this summer while the community works to beautify the area and reclaim the town’s historic title as The Flower Box City one flower petal at a time.
The title was established in 1955 after Neosho received a grant to start a civic beautification campaign in which 3,000 flower boxes filled with blooms were placed throughout town. As part of the designation, the city installed a floral clock from Switzerland in 1967, according to records.
Thousands of yellow, pink, red and purple flowers have sprung to life in the 66-foot-long green railroad gondola car, which was donated by the Kansas City Southern Railway Co. and placed in 2001 on North College Street. Volunteers have worked for months tending to the garden and just put the finishing touches on it this week.
The retired car, which has been dubbed as the "world’s largest flower box,” sports a newly erected sign with pink trim that welcomes visitors to the town. The open-topped rail vehicle didn’t always look this good, however, and its renovation is part of the project aimed at restoring Neosho’s title.
The Bring Back the Bloom beautification initiative was launched earlier this year by the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce in an effort to revive the dwindling number of flower boxes.
“At our board retreat in January, we really started talking about what we wanted to look at as a board project,” said Lauri Lyerla, executive director of the Neosho chamber. “We started talking about the flower boxes, and the ‘world’s largest flower box’ was in dire need of updating and renovating. The plants in it had gotten overgrown. The sign was old and worn-out looking. It was really needing some love, so we took it on. This was the initial phase of Bring Back the Bloom.”
Chamber board members then began discussing ways to add more flower boxes downtown, which blossomed into the idea of installing flower baskets on the utility poles. K&S Wire Products Inc., a Neosho wire forming and welding business, created and donated 66 wire baskets to be added to the square.
The initiative really took off from there, Lyerla said, and has sprouted into a communitywide effort with support from city officials, organizations and businesses. Schools have built flower boxes and held fundraisers for the initiative. A majority of the labor, plants and costs associated with the project have been donated.
“It would’ve cost about $18,000 to $20,000 if we had paid someone to come and redo everything in the large flower box,” Lyerla said, adding, "We were able to call on the community and our members, so we were able to get that project completed for about a third of the cost.”
The Neosho Parks and Recreation Department is just one of the many helpers in this project in which city officials have planted beds of flowers, plants and trees at places like Big Spring Park. Sally Pennington, Neosho parks and recreation director, said the department helped plant 3,000 flowers in the flower bed in front of the gondola car.
Even with all of the recent flooding, about 85 percent of the flowers survived and only a few needed to be replanted.
“It was a huge community effort on so many levels, but it’s something that we’re all really proud of,” Pennington said. “It’s been contagious around the city, and it shows. It’s just a really bright, vibrant place to be.”
Locals who have grown up in the area have noticed the revitalization and are in full support of the endeavor. Patti Carter, of Neosho, said she loves the beautification project and remembers seeing rows of green flower boxes downtown when she was a kid.
“I think it’s great, and I love that they put the flower baskets on the square again,” Carter said. “I know some people want to criticize a lot where money should be spent, but this is what this town used to be. When my mom was a child, she used to talk about how they’d spend a week to come to Neosho to shop and have picnics because this was the hub. It was the pretty town around. It looks so much better than it did a few years ago.”
Kari Whitney, of Neosho, was spending her Wednesday morning at Big Spring Park with her four children — Kaden, Kyson, Taven and Paisley. Whitney said the new flowers are a beautiful addition and that they’re even more proud to come to their favorite park.
“I think it’s beautiful, and they’ve done a really good job,” Whitney said. “Everything looks really great this year. As long as I can remember, I’ve always noticed the flower box when my parents and I drove into town.”
In the fall, bulbs will be planted in the garden bed in front of the gondola car, which will bloom in the spring. This will be the final stage of Bring Back the Bloom, which aims to add more yearlong color to the town.