Oxford Lake prepared for Independence Day celebration
by Eddie Burkhalter
Jul 02, 2013 | 7631 views |  0 comments | 190 190 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The last landscaping work to the Oxford Lake project will be done in time for Thursday’s Independence celebration. Photo by Stephen Gross.
The last landscaping work to the Oxford Lake project will be done in time for Thursday’s Independence celebration. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Lauren Cotton sat behind the counter at the Oxford Civic Center today answering the phone. One caller asked if renovations at Oxford Lake would be done in time for the city’s Freedom Festival, set to take place Thursday.

“It should ... it will be finished in time,” Cotton answered.

Her response fit with Oxford city project manager Fred Denney’s estimation. Denney stood next to the 15-acre lake Tuesday overseeing a crew of workers busy planting sod on the last patch of barren soil.

A few landscaping details are all that remain to complete the $2.8 million project, Denney said, and it will all be done in time for Thursday’s Independence celebration.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” he said. Denney commended Eugene Turner General Contractor in Anniston for bringing the project in on-time despite less-than-ideal conditions.

“The rain really hurt us. In the last 90 days we’ve had 30 days of rain,” Denney said.

Work at the lake started Oct. 22, but city officials have discussed the project before. They had hoped, but not managed, to complete renovations there in time for the man-made lake’s 100th anniversary in April 1989.

Just as Oxford has changed from a sleepy, Southern town called Lick Skillet into the retail hub of the county, the lake and surrounding park look much different today than they did a century ago.

In the earliest days, the lake area was home to a horse-race track and bath houses. By the early 1900s, visitors from Anniston came to the lake by way of streetcar, and arrived to find swans, boathouses and rowboats, a dance hall, a bowling alley, an opera house and a restaurant.

W.E. Morgan leased the park surrounding the lake in 1942 and installed a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round and concession stands. Those rides remained there for a decade.

In the years following, all of the original structures were torn down and the city built a civic center, baseball and softball fields and several pavilions. City officials had even considered building a water park at the lake in the late 1980s.

The Coldwater covered bridge — built in the mid-1880s and in bad disrepair — was moved to the lake in 1990 and made part of the walking trail surrounding the water.

Today, that walking trail has a freshly-paved surface. Renovations also included dredging the bottom of the lake and installation of concrete retaining walls to replace the old, rotting wooden walls around the lake and the island.

A large water fountain in the middle of the lake is a new feature, but the four pavilions that sit out over the water, while new, are meant to resemble the original boathouses. Open areas in one pavilion extend out beyond its roof to allow for fishing.

“Saw a guy catch a bream in there yesterday,” said Oxford Parks and Recreation director Don Hudson.

Hudson said people have been most excited about the new pavilions and the water fountain, and said the lake will be ready for the crowds expected to show for Thursday’s Freedom Festival.

“We’re excited about it,” Hudson said.

Freedom Festival schedule of events:

8 a.m. – Around the lake ramble for senior adults.

8:30 a.m. – Parade registration at table in baseball parking lot.

9 a.m. – Parade (Children dressed in patriotic costumes may walk or ride in non-motorized vehicles down McCullars Lane. All children must wear a helmet if riding).

9:15 – Official grand opening ceremony.

9:30 – Tricycle and bicycle races (bring your own bike or trike).

9:40 – Pet show beside the swimming pool.

9:45 – Free carnival games and prizes.

10 a.m. – Caricature artist providing free sketches inside the gymnasium.

10:30 a.m. – Karate demonstrations inside the gymnasium.

1 p.m. – Swim races at Oxford Lake swimming pool.

9 p.m. – Fireworks.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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