Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lake Waukaway — Then and Now



A History of Lake Waukaway

You won’t find it on a map or listed in any travel guides, but Lake Waukaway, Mississippi, located off Clarke County Road 391, a few miles east of Vossburg, is an amazing gem tucked away in the annals of east-central Mississippi history. The Choctaw people who once inhabited the area called the location, Waukaway, due to the coverging of three huge springs. The name translates into “cool and flowing waters”. Following the Choctaw Purchase concluded on September 27, 1830, one of the first European settlers to own the property was a fellow by the name of John Cooley. Some years prior to 1865, Cooley, and others unknown, constructed a combination cotton gin and a gristmill at the site of the abundant springs. Somewhat later, Andrew Jackson McDaniel, who was married to Nancy Ann Cooley, John Cooley’s daughter, acquired the mills from his father-in-law. The property later passed into the hands of a gentleman by the name of Perry.

Around 1929, the Laurel Mississippi Rotary Club purchased the property from Perry and developed it into a recreational site. They also hired Mr. Howard Allen to manage the facility. Six years later, Mr. Allen purchased the facility along with 120 acres of land. Howard Allen operated Lake Waukaway as a family business until 1978. His home was located at the site, upstairs from the offices and concession buildings, and the business was a full time venture for himself, his wife, and their three children. For some forty years, the people of the surrounding communities came to love their excursions to Lake Waukaway as well as their interactions with the Allen family. In the summer days before air conditioning, Waukaway remained open until 10:00 PM, thus allowing many patrons a place to cool down following a long and hot workday.

In addition to swimming, Howard Allen strove to add other Waukaway attractions. Through the years, there were alligators of all sizes on display, white tail deer in a pen, 7-pound striped bass, and a tame school of blue gill bream that would eat out of your hand. During the 1940’s, he sponsored group camps for churches, Boy Scouts, and underprivileged children. Through the 1950’s, a private two-week camp, with an Indian theme, was held. A Choctaw Indian named Cooley Jim was on resident making crafts as well as bows and arrows. The climax came in the form of kids donning Indian costumes and holding a “War Party”. During the 1960’s, participation in these camps came to an end as the various organizations established their own private facilities. In it’s place, a small RV park was added to the eastern area of the lake.

In 1978, Howard Allen passed away. Sadly, the Lake Waukaway that so many of us loved ended as well. The property was sold to Mr. Gene Garrick, who established the site as a christian retreat. Presently, the private facility remains in operation.

A terrific article w/photos about Lake Waukaway - from which the above was edited for length-DNJ

Thanks to Joe B. Stewart for identifying and suggesting this post.


Anonymous said...

Nice history sketch! I visited Waukaway thru the early part of 1950 and worked there as a summer lifeguard in 1953 and 1954. Knew Howard, Marge, and the three kids very well.
What wonderful memories! Slept in a little bunkhouse at the rear of the pavillion in the woods below the Home/Office.

Charles Story
Spring City, TN

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. I loved Waukaway as a teen and enjoyed seeing the pictures (also followed the links to more photos). As Charles said, I have wonderful memories of the place and wondrous (at the time) clear waters.

Ann Miller
Geo. S. Gardiner HS, Laurel
Northern California now

russell scara said...

my mother, frances scara and delores shepard would take me and my sister there on sunday, the only day she did not work-I was fishing today,no shirt and red shorts and it occurred to me I looked like howard,who would be laying on the counter of the office/snak bar at the entrance-never saw him any where else-just there-always resented the fact you had to get out of the water for church service broadcast over the loudspeaker system-water was cold and clear-there was a lake behind the dam you could fish in