By Jack Gurner
Water Valley’s Railroad Park has not always been the pleasant green space it is today. A century ago, a service track ran right through the middle from the depot north to Wood Street where it rejoined the main line.
Railroad cars were “spotted” on the track so that freight could be unloaded for the downtown businesses. Unfortunately, the line of cars blocked the view of downtown from the hundreds of passengers who passed through daily.
According to the late Bruce Gurner, local railroad historian, the merchants asked the Illinois Central Railroad to remove the track. Since every train stopped in Water Valley the passengers would be more likely to get off and go buy something if they could see the stores.
Rather than leave the land bare, the Illinois Central Railroad turned the area into a park.
They planted shrubs, grass and some magnolia trees, two of which still stand today at the south end of the park. Their roots run deep into soil that still shows signs of cinders and soot.
Right before the first world war, the park was the site of several war bond rallies. In 1917 a large crowd gathered there to watch the young men of Battery “A” board the train and head off to the war to end all wars.
In the early 1930’s, the city constructed a review stand for the Watermelon Carnival. The Queen, her court, and other VIPs watched the parade of floats and marching bands go by.
At some point people began calling the structure a band stand. During the 1940’s, it played an important part in the war effort when Water Vallian’s were urged to “scrap the axis” by piling metal items there.
It has since been the site of high school pep rallies and the occasional Musical performance. At Christmas time it is decorated as part of Water Valley’s Holiday Celebration.
In recent times, the old girl was beginning to show her age and the ladies of The Water Valley Town and Country Garden Club decided to spruce up the park and renovate the band stand.
Now the park is something of which all Water Valley folks can be proud. There are new benches, picnic tables, garbage cans and even a fancy sign for that famous crappie whose record weight has held the title for half a century.
Later this summer, I plan to find out if watermelons don’t taste even better eaten on the new picnic tables in the shade of the magnolias.