Main Street: Summer fun
rarity at old entertainment palace Bill Osinski - Staff Sunday,
April 1, 2001
splendid swimming hole has survived some of nature's worst
But luck may have run out for the grand casino building that has
guarded Radium Springs for nearly eight decades.
The waters of Radium Springs, just south of Albany, have been
prized since before recorded history. Native Americans believed
there was magic there. The Earth's crust has been peeled away,
leaving the limestone aquifer exposed as a natural bowl for
crystalline blue waters of the spring.
Legend has it that warring tribes were at peace when they came
together at the spring, and when the Spanish explorers came
looking for the so-called Fountain of Youth, Indian guides made
sure the conquistadors never saw that special spring.
In the 1920s, publishing magnate Barron Collier was so
captivated that he bought it. After chemical analysis showed the
water contained trace amounts of radium, he named the place
Radium Springs and built a casino, or entertainment center, at
For decades, the Radium Springs Casino was the place to go in
southwest Georgia for elegance and for fun. Florida-bound
tourists traveling the railroad or the Old Dixie Highway stopped
in Albany for a trip to the renowned restaurants and swimming at
For Albany residents, the pecky cypress-paneled ballroom at the
Radium Springs Casino was where the style-setters went for
weddings, dances and banquets. And regular folks could pay 25
cents and enjoy the natural splendors of a dip in the cold,
Time and the Flint River have changed all that.
The efforts to operate a commercially viable business have
struggled against the development trends that have focused
economic growth in the opposite end of Dougherty County.
Even worse, the river itself seems to have turned on Radium
Springs. The casino and many nearby buildings were lapped up by
the brown waters of the 1994 "Flood of the Century." Four years
later, "Son of Flood of the Century" struck.
Now, most of the private landowners of riverfront land in and
around Radium Springs have sold out to federal disaster relief
agencies, and there are plans to turn the whole area into some
form of public green space.
The owner of the Radium Springs Casino is also negotiating to
sell to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Once an agreement is reached, the options are limited to either
moving the casino or tearing it down, said Paul Forgey, planning
director for the Southwest Georgia Regional Development Center.
Once the government owns land ruled to be in a flood-prone area,
it cannot be developed again.
Also, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has ruled that
the casino structure does not qualify for inclusion on the
National Register of Historic Places because of extensive
remodeling in recent decades. This means that it will be
difficult to qualify for any public funds to assist in saving
and restoring the casino.
To people like Atlanta writer Pat Samford, who literally spent
much of her girlhood swimming in Radium Springs, all that sounds
like bureaucratic rationalizing.
"They don't realize that they're tearing our hearts out," she
Samford said she hardly ever bothered paying the 25-cent
swimming fee at Radium Springs; she just jumped into the creek
near her home and swam into the springs. Many days, she would
get out of the water for a nap at a neighbor's house closer to
the spring and then go back to the spring until dark.
"It was such wonderful fun. You can't manufacture that," Samford
said. "They need to continue the legend and build on it, not
tear it down."
In the early 1990s, Radium Springs Preservation Group Inc. was
formed to try to operate the casino as a restaurant and special
"All of us wanted to see that place continue to be there," said
Morgan Murphy, a member of the preservation group. "The spring
is a window to the aquifer, and for decades, the casino was the
gathering place for Albany."
However, the floods and the economic realities of the time
defeated the group, and it sold the casino back to its previous
owner, he said.
Bo Dorrough, an attorney and an Albany City Councilman, said he
hopes there is still time to explore the option of moving the
casino. One plan is to move the most historic parts of the
building --- the section that includes the ballroom and the
original wooden cupola --- to a site in downtown Albany that is
being redeveloped as part of a project called the Flint
But that will take action and a fund-raising effort by
preservation-minded people, he said.
"The casino is an architectural treasure. Our community should
do anything in its power to preserve it," he said. "Whether our
city has a sense of its past is a true test of what kind of
future we want."
There are many people who might help, he said, but they need to
realize that the clock is ticking.
One day, after it's too late, he said, people are going to
realize what has happened and say, "Oh, they're tearing down the
casino . . . Isn't that a shame!' "
(click to enlarge articles)
Published in Albany Herald
June 15, 2003
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