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Willis Park gets landscaping makeover

Published 10:25am Friday, May 31, 2013

Willis Park, the historic heart of downtown Bainbridge, is looking better than ever, thanks to a recently completed landscaping makeover.

With its large trees, the gazebo and its central fountain, the park has always been an attractive destination, but the so-called “Willis Park Wow” project took the park’s appearance to a new level. The City of Bainbridge government worked with consultants Robert and Company of Atlanta to design a master landscaping plan that included a wide variety of seasonal plants.

“Willis Park is one of our main tourist attractions, so it’s great that there will now always be something in bloom,” said Adrienne Harrison, director of the Bainbridge Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It looks great and I think that will enhance visitors’ enjoyment of our downtown area.”

The landscaping plan enlarged the park’s flower beds, placed an ideal mix of seasonal plantings and upgraded the park’s irrigation system so that it could be watered in its entirety, which was not previously possible.

Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds, who previously served on the city’s Tree Committee, lent his expertise to the horticultural considerations of the plan, noting which flowers and plants grow well in southwest Georgia and when they should be planted. Jeff Jeter of In the Garden also consulted on the plantings. Reynolds said he reviewed the original landscaping plan and suggested replacing some plants that he didn’t think would grow well in the south Georgia heat.

Still to come is a renovation to the white gazebo: rotten wood will be replaced, a new roof will be put on it and a small green space directly in front of the green space will be covered with pavers.

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The flower beds, one on each corner of the park, will be changed seasonally, and baskets containing flowers or plants will be hung from the park’s light poles.

“[The project] was just part of our maintenance of the park to make it an appealing and pretty place to visit,” Reynolds said. “It’s really vital to the beautification of our downtown, to ensure the park will be a showplace for Bainbridge and make it as easy to maintain as possible.”

In addition to being a quiet place for residents and visitors alike to sit and relax in, Willis Park hosts many community events throughout the year. It has a long history as a focal point for the city, according to City Manager Chris Hobby.

Look closely at the curved paving stones around the fountain and one can spot the namesake of Willis Park: former mayor E.J. Willis, who led the city when the park — originally called Monument Park — was created to honor veterans of the Civil War. On other stones are the names of the town’s police chief and aldermen, circa 1901.

Bainbridge was incorporated in 1824 and spread out towards what is now Willis Park. Up until 1900, it was the site of the Decatur County Courthouse. On one side of the courthouse was a fire tower and on the other was a water tower that was fed by artesian wells, according to Hobby. There were actually two artesian wells, used at different times to supply the water tower, that were later abandoned.

“There’s a misconception that the water fountain that used to be in Willis Park was fed by an artesian well — it was connected to a normal water pipe,” Hobby said. “However, the artesian wells are of historic significance and there is discussion of creating a new monument in the park to recognize the role they played in the city’s early history.”

Willis Park has numerous historic monuments, including one honoring Confederate soldiers, a wall listing the names of local soldiers who died while serving in conflicts ranging from World War I all the way up to Afghanistan, a memorial for the Bainbridge High School students and teacher who died in the Winecoff Hotel Fire of 1946, and a memorial for former Georgia governor Samuel Marvin Griffin Sr., who was from Bainbridge.

Harrison said officials have also talked about the idea of creating an “outdoor museum” in Willis Park, which would allow visitors to use their smartphones to scan QR codes to learn more about the history of the park and its monuments.

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