By Anne McKee
The Meridian Star
History has recorded during Meridian Mayor James Henry River’s administration (1903-1909), Highland Park was built. The architect, Adolph R. Arp, designed the park as a “streetcar pleasure park.” During the early 1900s, building these type parks was a national trend. It was a win/win effort – allowing the citizens a lovely area to enjoy family outings and the arts, while also allowing the railway companies an increase in their operations.
But what I remember about Highland Park is the fun. You see I always lived within a bike-ride of the park, when the park was a safe place for children to come alone. My friends and I would peddle into the park via the snowball stand at the north entrance. We would meander throughout the entire area, just to see what was going on … most of the time, we had a towel and our swimming suit, just in case we decided to take-a-dip in the pool and most of the time there was a need for that dip. I remember each summer, right after school dismissed for vacation, we signed for swimming lessons, although each of us could swim-like-a-fish, because of our many years taking lessons, primarily taught by Mrs. Barbara Henson – swimming teacher extraordinaire.
I remember the annual Jimmie Rodgers Day festivals each year in May. It was only one day, but what a day! Ah, entire families from far and wide made the festival each year, spreading tablecloths and blankets on the ground. Country music abounded from the makeshift stage, people sang along while eating fried fish and barbecued chicken, kids ran hither-thither throughout the entire park, ole folks sat on camp stools and/or the bricked areas of the park (this was before plastic lawn chairs), and friends, neighbors, and even a few old rivals came together to shake hands, offer back slaps, and toothy grins – a little politicking, too. It was a wonderful time and a time that I miss – all enjoyed in Highland Park.
Is there a way to catch the magic from that time during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s? The music, the plays and poetry readings, the arts and crafts (later known as Art in the Park), entire family outings and reunions, baseball, swimming, and even the beginnings of the Meridian Soccer League were all enjoyed in the park.
Highland Park, from 1908 forward, has remained a big part of the city of Meridian, my home. There are folks like me who long for the carefree days of a-day-at-the-park, our home park. Can we really go back?
In Thomas Wolfe’s bestseller novel, "You Can’t Go Home Again", published posthumously in 1940, the author wrote: "But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again."
It’s May, Highland Park is near, and I’m home.
Anne B. McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her website: www.annemckee.net