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Delano Park to offer Trail of History to students

By Catherine Godbey · 340-2441

For students deterred by 800-page history books, Delano Park will offer a concise and innovative way of sharing Decatur’s past through the Trail of History.

The trail will transport adventurers to the Industrial Revolution and the age of streetcars, yellow fever and a mass migration from rural to urban areas.

The trail winds along the west side of Delano Park connecting Fort Decatur Recreation Center to the Decatur High School Developmental wing.

With the pavement laid, native trees planted and sodding and irrigation nearing completion, the focus of the trail turns to the interpretive signs.

Located along the trail, six 2-foot markers will display historical data about Decatur from the 1880s to the 1920s.

Aligning with the overall theme, “Restoring the Vision, Preserving the Legacy,” each sign contains a period quote, photographs and informational text focusing on a specific topic during the merging of Decatur and New Decatur.

The trail’s head is behind Fort Decatur, where the initial sign introduces the City Beautiful Movement, piloted by the Decatur Land Improvement and Furnace Co. Owners of the company bought 5,600 acres alongside Decatur in 1887 and referred to the area as New Decatur.

The increase in industrial output brought about by New Decatur earned the area the nickname “Chicago of the South.”

Markers stress the importance of transportation, social opportunities and health and civic welfare during this period.

“We wanted to focus on the merging of the two cities’ transportation, the railroads, streetcars and waterways because of their importance and because the project was made possible through a transportation grant,” said Melinda Dunn, director of Decatur’s Old State Bank.

Accepted by the Decatur City Council in 2005, an Alabama Department of Transportation grant allocated $200,000 for construction of the Trail of History. Along with funding from ALDOT, local agencies, such as Friends of Delano Park and Decatur Kiwanis, donated money to the effort.

Concluding at the southeast corner of the park, the final sign details the unification of Decatur and New Decatur in 1927. A picture of the Keller Memorial Bridge, built by residents of Decatur and New Decatur, adorns the sign, symbolizing the combination of the two cities, Dunn said.

Dunn expects to submit final changes to the marker prototypes by the end of the week and have them ready for construction.

Safe area to walk

Along with detailing Decatur’s history, the trail connects the park east to west and provides a safe area for residents to walk, specifically schoolchildren.

“Before the trail, children were walking on the side of the streets because there was nothing on the west side to get from Banks-Caddell to the neighborhoods,” Dunn explained. “Now with the trail the students have a safe place to walk.”

The history trail represents one part of the park’s continuous renovation. Delano’s redevelopment began with a simple vision to restore the rose garden seven years ago. The garden became a catalyst to transform the entire park, Dunn said.

From that initial idea, city and community leaders created a master plan, which included the rose garden, splash pad and trail of history. The next projects scheduled for construction include the all-access playground and bathhouse.

In July, the City Council approved a $200,000 state grant for the playground and in 2006 approved funds to transform the rock house into men’s and women’s handicap-accessible bathrooms.

Once available funding equals the estimated cost of the projects, contractors will bid on them, said Decatur Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap.

Memorial space

After the Parks and Recreation Department tackles the playground and bathrooms, Dunn suspects the next projects will include a memorial space and performance arts area. A grant Decatur received from the Alabama State Council of the Arts funded design development for both projects.

The memorial space, which will be behind Fort Decatur, will contain all of the statues once scattered through the park. Consolidating the monuments in one area makes them more accessible to aging war veterans, said Dunn.

The master plan promotes the arts, transforming the natural amphitheater site beside the tennis courts into a performance area. Start and completion dates for all projects at Delano depend on funding.

Even though achieving the master plan takes time, Dunn marvels at the cooperation between the leaders and residents of Decatur.

“Restoring the park is a perfect example of the city and people working together to accomplish a common goal,” Dunn said.

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