Freethinkers Meeting Site (park)
The 1878 convention of the New York Freethinkers' Association (despite its name, a national conference) was held in this park and in the Freer Opera House, about 500 feet to the west. Outdoor speeches and events were held at the park in a rented tent and in the open air. This park is believed to be the site where freethought journalist D. M. Bennett was arrested, along with two other freethinkers, for selling a controversial marriage-reform tract. This arrest led indirectly to a celebrated obscenity case involving decency crusader Anthony Comstock, agnostic orator Robert G. Ingersoll, President Rutherford B. Hayes, and others which esta- blished the Hicklin standard, the repressive legal definition of obscenity that prevailed in U.S. law until 1957.
Though the New York State Freethinkers Association convened again in Watkins late in August, 1882, it is not known whether this particular venue served as a site for that convention also.
The 1882 convention had one historically intriguing consequence. Apparently the convention passed a resolution predicting the gradual extinction of Christianity in America. The Rev. C. C. McCabe, a leader in new church development for the Methodist church, read of the resolution in a newspaper and cabled the convention with the following message: "All hail the power of Jesus' name. We are building more than one Methodist church for every day in the year, and propose to make it two a day." Convention president Thaddeus Burr Wakeman cabled back, in part: "Build fewer churches and pay your taxes on them like honest men. Build better churches, since liberty, science, and humanity will need them one of these days and will not wish to pay too much for repairs." McCabe gained wide publicity from this exchange. He became known as "Two-a-Day McCabe"; his cable even inspired a popular evangelical camp song. By the time of McCabe's death in 1906 it was widely believed he had directed his famous 1882 cable to the celebrated agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. But in late August, 1882, Ingersoll was fully engaged in conducting what would become the lengthiest criminal defense in U. S. history to that time in the Star Route Trials. Ingersoll almost certainly did not attend the Watkins conference, and thus could have played no role in composing either the resolution that provoked McCabe's message or the convention's reply.