CENTRAL — An 83-acre parcel of land along the Amite River that over time was the site of a Civil War camp for soldiers, two resort hotels, 10 natural water springs and a tuberculosis hospital is going to be transformed into a historic BREC park.
A large portion of the land is overgrown with grass and prickly brush but below some of the greenery lie concrete ruins that once enclosed the springs at the turn of the 20th century.
The springs were known for their healing powers, according to local historians.
The land is owned by the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
DHH entered into a cooperative endeavor agreement with the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission to use the land for the park, BREC spokeswoman Kristi Williams said.
BREC will build and operate the park, known now as Greenwell Springs Park. The park budget is $600,000.
The park is slated to feature areas telling of the site’s history. It will include open, passive recreation areas with walking paths and pavilions and nature trails throughout the forested area along the Amite River, Williams said. The trails will feature bridges and environmental interpretive exhibits.
“This is going to be amazing for birders and nature walking,” Williams said.
Vicki Carney, founder and president of the Central/Greenwell Springs Society of History, said she and other area residents are excited about the BREC park.
“The park will represent a cultural identity for the new city of Central,” Carney said.
“We (in Central) don’t have any historical structures here like other areas. No old train stations or a historic downtown. So this is a big deal for us,” Carney said.
Central was incorporated in 2005.
Williams and BREC Assistant Director of Planning and Engineering Reed Richard said it’s the history of the site that will set this new park apart from other parks.
A native of the area, Dr. Jesse L. Fairchild Jr., wrote a book about the community, “A Historical Sketch of Greenwell Springs, Louisiana 1850-1950,” that details what was going on at the site centuries ago.
A hotel/health spa/resort was built on the land in 1854, according to Fairchild’s book.
According to the book, “the spring site was covered by a large shed, on top of which was built a large dance pavilion. The Spring House, as it was called, was constructed to serve as a visitors lounge and meeting gallery.”
The water from the springs flowed to a mineral bathhouse, and a bathhouse was situated on the river bank.
The resort was popular with wealthy residents from throughout Louisiana.
By the start of the Civil War, the hotel had closed because of a fire, and the area was used as Confederate headquarters during the Battle of Baton Rouge in 1863. Wounded soldiers were treated at the hotel after the battle.
After the war, a second hotel was built at the site in 1910 by a New Orleans businessman.
A second spring house was built over the 10 springs but it did not include a dance pavilion.
The second hotel, billed as “Louisiana’s greatest health and pleasure resort,” was only open for a year.
The man who built the second hotel, John W. Barkdull, of New Orleans, started to bottle the water from the springs. The bottling operation was known as the Greenwell Springs Watering Company.
The hotel burned down in 1923.
The land was also the site of the Greenwell Springs Tuberculosis Hospital, built about 1922.
The hospital was eventually transformed into a mental health hospital, with the last tuberculosis unit being closed in 1988.
BREC is inviting the public to give its input on the proposed park at a June 21 planning meeting at the Central Public Library, 11260 Joor Road.
Williams said the second public meeting on the park will take place about 10 weeks later.
The BREC Commission could approve a master plan a month after that, and then design, development and construction drawings would be ready almost eight months later, Williams said.
Construction would begin a few months later, probably sometime in 2012, Williams said.
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