Athens’ Big Spring Memorial Park Marks 30 Years Since Dedication to Early Settlers and Veterans
Big Spring Memorial Park or otherwise known as the Duck Pond in Athens’ historic Beaty District is a place of relaxation, history and commemoration. The City of Athens dedicated the park to the settlers and veterans of Athens and Limestone County on August 12, 1989 with a stone marker that now rest at the base of the park’s name board. The fading inscription remarks, “Dedicated to the early settlers, men and women who served in the armed forces and kept our country free. August 12, 1989. Erected 1989.”
The pond was originally recorded in the dairy of John Craig some 211 years ago in 1808 as he and his two sons were passing through the area between the Territory of Georgia and the newly formed Territory of Mississippi. The moment seemed to herald the future role of the pond to the community that was to come. As Athens took root, the pond played a central role to its growth in both community and commerce.
Events throughout the history of Athens have been tied to the life of the pond. With settlement came businesses that sprung up near its shores. Later, the waters would be harvested by town’s leaders declaring its use to protect and provide water to the downtown square after the tragic life-ending fire that swept the businesses of the east side of the Square. Again the pond played its roll with the modernization of plumbing for the community that lead the sinking of the baptistery at the First Baptist Church and the need to develop a sustainable water source from the Elk River and plant to process the water to supply the ever growing community of Athens. As the pond was later re-imagined in the twentieth century, the town’s fathers had hoped to sculpt a fiddle in the bottom in honor of the importance of music and the Tennessee Old Time Fiddlers Convention, formerly Sam McCracken Days. A little later saw the pond capped in fear of possible attack from the Nazis, during World War II – or the story goes. The concrete caps were eventually removed, the side of the ponds re-sculpted by the addition of stone walls and fountains added – taking the once soft-shored, spring-fed natural pond to a manicured one.
It’s been thirty years since the historic declaration of one of Athens’ favorite spots for local and tourist alike. With towering emerald giants casting shade over the park, a softly winding paved trail for strolling, the gentle flowing water of the pond eventually breaking the edge and flowing down the sluice to feed Swan Creek and the feathered residents greeting everyone in hopes of a generous soul tossing cracked corn from the feeders to them – people come to experience the peace and nature that’s nestled in the heart of Athens. It’s not unusual to find people on blankets enjoying meals, sitting in the swing or on the benches watching the water, trotting the tennis courts with rackets in hand, and children at play at the small playground or families and friends gathered under the pavilion most anytime of the year.
Big Spring Memorial Park and pond often serve as backdrops for weddings, reunions, photo shoots, and festivals. Superheroes assemble for Superhero Fun Day and runners come to run, walk or waddle in the Duck and Run 5K in September. December sees the park decked with trees and trimming for Christmas during Athens North Pole Stroll. Concert stages occasionally appear for an evening of strumming, plucking and memorable music.
The recognition bestowed upon Athens’ Big Spring Memorial Park thirty years ago doesn’t beguile its natural beauty and true servitude to Athens and Limestone citizens and its visitors throughout the centuries – but it is another jewel in the crown in this community gem.