Reflections On Radium

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*** Radium Revisited ***

By Bill Satterfield (’62)

 

Click to enlarge - you must see this to believe it!

Dive in if you dare!

 

I first became aware of Radium Springs in the spring of 1954. My family had just moved to Albany from Columbus and my parents were on the alert for activities to distract my brother and me during the hot summer to come. At the time, Tift Park Zoo was an obvious choice since it was free and only a mile from out new house. Not so obvious was Radium Springs. Everyone knew of “The Springs”, as locals knew it, and everyone recommended it as an afternoon’s distraction for kids. The down side was that it was all the way across town. In those days a five mile trip across town was an event to be planned weeks in advance.

Over the next eight years or so we spent many Saturday afternoons in the cold 68 degree water of The Springs. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were diving into the boil from the spring board. Almost everyone in attendance could see the board from wherever they were around the springs.
There was a huge white multi-story building that was known as the Casino. The Casino seemed suspended above the concrete walk on one side of the water as if it were painted on the hill side by an artist. Across the water from the Casino was a sand beach where families spread picnic blankets. In the middle of the springs was a raised island surrounded by a rock wall. It was a thrill knowing that all of the folks on the Casino patio, the sandy beach and the island could see the boys diving from the spring board. When I say everyone I really mean THE GIRLS!

 

During the years from 1962, when I graduated from high school, until the great flood of 1994 the family atmosphere of The Springs seemed to deteriorate. The beach was taken over by unsupervised teens and older young people with beer coolers. Each time I visited the crowd seemed to be more and more about partying and less and less about family. There was a time in those years when the swimming area didn’t even open for the summer months. In 1994 the Flint River flooded and, for all practical purposes, killed The Springs forever. There was always talk of rebuilding the Casino and swimming area but the talks never really gained any traction. What little headway toward rebuilding was gained, was again lost when a second flood again devastated The Springs.

The second flood hit in 1998. FEMA, the Federal disaster people, decided that putting any reclamation money into the old Casino was not to be. The State ended up buying the seven acre property in 2000. In town there was a move to tear down the Casino and another move to save it. Ultimately the building was demolished and the area more or less abandoned. The rebuilding proponents remained active behind the scenes and after some time were able to have some special project sales tax money earmarked for rehabilitating the area. In 2004 the SPLOST that included the Radium project was passed by the voters of Dougherty County and $2.5 million appropriated to start the rehabilitation project. In the meantime the State deeded the Springs to Dougherty County opening the way for the rehabilitation project.

Bids were put out for design ideas. In the summer of 2005 an architectural concept drawing was unveiled to the public. The new project did not include using the springs as a public swimming area or the rebuilding of the Casino. The concept was for the springs to become a nature viewing area with access to the Flint River, a few hundred yards to the west. The plans did include a ten foot wall built in the exact footprint of the old Casino. The concept plans were to have the rehabilitation take place in two phases over a ten year period. Here we are in 2011 and Phase I has been completed. Phase II is presently on hold waiting for the economy to improve. The State still owns 85 acres surrounding the creek that connects the spring with the river.

 

Phase I included extensive landscaping, the walls to remind us of the original Casino and a temporary parking area. This phase was opened to the public in July of 2010. Phase II will include additional landscaping, a visitor’s center and the building of two picnic pavilions. Permanent parking and a new gate house are also planned in Phase II. The memories still linger. Even though the diving board is long gone the rock tower to which it was mounted still stands proudly. The mighty oaks that surrounded The Springs still look as magnificent as ever. Even the white walls meant to suggest the location of the old casino still bring back memories of real thing.

(click to enlarge)

When I walk around The Springs with my camera in hand I can almost hear the laughter of children playing and hear the sound of teenaged boys plunging off the spring board into the freezing water hoping to catch the girl’s attention. The place will never live up to my memories but we can show The Springs to our grandchildren with hopes that they may build memories to cherish 50 years from now.

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