What began as a project to turn one of the oldest features of Riverside Park into a destination has become a trip down memory lane for residents, some of whom now are helping the city restore the historic overlook by sharing their childhood photos of the park.
The 65-foot-by-38-foot lookout over the James River at Riverside Park was first completed in the early 1930s. Standing almost 100 years, the overlook at the park off Rivermont Avenue has seen wear and tear, and its stones have begun sagging and leaning.
Crews from Richmond-based First Class Contracting began working on the $686,000 project funded by Lynchburg Parks and Recreation back in the early spring to disassemble two of the three sides of the horseshoe-shaped structure, build a new foundation and replace the stonework.
Construction is anticipated to continue though the end of the year, said Don Dye, construction coordinator for Lynchburg Public Works. The overlook was desperately in need of repair, he said.
At this point the structure is mostly torn down and crews are separating the stones that made up the 14- to 16-foot-tall stone walls, piece by piece, Deputy Public Works Director Clay Simmons said.
The stones will be reattached to the concrete wall and when finished, the structure will look much as it did before construction began, but will be straight and safe, he said.
Because the stones have historical significance, crews have to be especially careful and are working to find grout and mortar that would closely match the kind used when the structure was built in the early 20th century at the city’s second-oldest park.
“Crews are doing an in-depth chemical analysis of that mortar to find something comparable,” Simmons said. “It’s a big iconic structure and one of the oldest park features we have in the city. This is a project I’m most excited to see completed.”
The top of the stone wall and pilasters will be rebuilt to match what already exists. The existing stone buttresses on the north wall will be supported by new concrete footings, and proper drainage maintenance will be installed throughout the overlook area.
Some work had been done in the past to try to get the structure stabilized, Simmons said, including wooden beams to keep the stones in place. In early 1935, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration repaired the walls of the Alpine Terrace by adding stone buttresses, according to the city of Lynchburg’s 2009 Master Plan. The repairs were made using salvaged stone buttresses from a tunnel the Southern Railway was then excavating.
“In the long term, it wasn’t a fix for the park,” he said. “This current work should be a permanent fix for the structure.”
What Simmons and other public works employees thought originally was a planter on the site of the overlook turned out to actually be what once was an operating fountain where people used to play and cool off in, Simmons said.
“It turns out the base of that fountain had some ornate floral features, which was turned into a five-sided star,” he said. “When we pulled the fountain apart, it had a neat cast iron feature we had no idea existed because it was inside concrete and dirt, so we’re starting to see more about the history as we pull the structure apart and understand what was here.”
Simmons said he is hoping someone can give more insight into how the fountain worked so maybe the city can eventually have it up and running again.
“We hope this overlook will be a renewed source for a venue,” he said. “As the structure worsened, we think it was used less and less and we’re hoping this will be a place that people will want to come and have events again and spend time. It should be a really beautiful structure when we’re done with it.”
Dye said Lynchburg Public Works has received messages and photos from area residents who have shared memories of their time over the years at the overlook and he hopes more will come forward so the photos can be scanned and made available through the Lynchburg City Museum.
“We just want to revitalize something that was pretty much forgotten and bring it back,” Dye said. “It was in disrepair and needed attention and luckily Parks and Recreation and the City of Lynchburg stepped up.”
Riverside Park opened in 1923; in 1931, the rock lookout over Alpine Pass was built by city prisoners, according to the Riverside Park Master Plan completed in 2009.
Anita Booth, a Lynchburg resident who attended Garland-Rodes Elementary School along with her brother, Harold, remembers going to the park when they were growing up in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Though Booth, now 70, only remembers going a few times to the park, she said her brother went more frequently.
In fact, she came across a photo of him standing on the overlook with the fountain in frame. She has recently contacted Dye to give him a copy of the photo.
She said her mother also attended Garland-Rodes in the late 1920s and early 1930s and had memories of going to the park shortly after it opened.
Now that Booth is older, she said, she has gone to Riverside Park more frequently and saw crews working on the overlook about a month ago.
“It needed work; it needed something done to it,” she said. “It was very uneven.”