Residents hope gazebo increases park's draw

Mount Airy spot once featured many events

August 22, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Oscar Baker remembers when Wildwood Park was the center of Mount Airy's social events: a home for carnivals, concerts, prayer sessions and political rallies.

Baker and other longtime residents hope that the fun will return to the neighborhood park. They are encouraged by talk that town officials are looking into buying a gazebo for the park, which has been quiet for almost 50 years.

The town Parks and Recreation Committee is mulling the purchase of a 20-foot-wide gazebo for the tree-lined site, and neighbors have begun talking about holding concerts and picnics on the patchy grass and red-dirt grounds.

Councilman David Pyatt said he has talked to dozens of residents in Wildwood Park -- also a senior citizens development -- and they have been "really enthusiastic" about the gazebo.

Although the triangular park bordered by Park, Ridge and Wildwood avenues is small and lacks ball fields and playground equipment, it is well-used. Dozens of town residents walk around the concrete path on the park's one-third of a mile circumference.

"I go there to exercise every day," said Ellen Rabbit, a resident who walks around the park six times each morning.

Baker said when the trail was built three years ago -- just steps away from his and his wife's Wildwood home -- it was rarely used. But now, "every evening we can sit out on the front porch and wave at all of the people we know."

Pyatt credits Baker with helping head the movement to bring activities back to Wildwood Park. Baker said he has spoken to many of his neighbors who would support a Sunday concert series in the park if a gazebo is built.

"We want it so people can sit out and enjoy it under the trees," Baker said.

But the pavilion is far from being installed.

At Thursday night's Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, Pyatt and other committee members thumbed through catalogs, discussing details they would like to see in the gazebo. They decided to invite sales representatives to speak to them at next month's meeting.

Once a style is selected, the project has to be approved by the Town Council.

Council President R. Delaine Hobbs said he sees no problems with the park being used for activities, but remembers the park in its heyday as very "limiting."

Involved with the town's volunteer fire department since he was a child, Hobbs, 64, said Wildwood Park was not an appropriate site for the annual firemen's carnival. There was a shortage of parking, and the heavy tree cover made it difficult to set up tents, he said.

When the carnival was moved to the 36-acre fairgrounds off Park Avenue in 1951, Hobbs said the town was "glad to have an open field and parking."

But Wildwood Park has a history before the carnival.

"Wildwood Park goes back to the 1890s," said Pyatt. "It used to be the end of town."

Early in the century, the park was used for political rallies, Baker said, and in 1914 and 1915 for a farmers' picnic.

Prayer sessions were held in the dance hall, he said.

Although space was limited at Wildwood Park, Baker said the Firemen's Carnival was "the social highlight of the year."

People traveled from all over the state to attend, said Baker, who served in the town's Volunteer Fire Department for 58 years. In addition to rides and food, there was dancing.

The dance hall still stands. Baker said it is used as office space for The Canterbury Group, the Mount Airy-based developer of the Wildwood Park development.

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