East Lake Park

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This article is about the park surrounding a man-made lake. For other uses, see East Lake (disambiguation).
"Shoot the schute" postcard, c. 1909
Entrance to East Lake Park in 1911

East Lake Park is a 100-acre city park anchoring Birmingham's North East Lake neighborhood, between 1st Avenue North and 3rd Court North and between 80th and 84th Street North. It adjoins Lynn Park across 4th Avenue North.

The park was first developed in 1886 as a private attraction for the East Lake Land Company. The 45-acre lake, originally called Lake Como was created by damming Roebuck Springs and Village Creek. A. W. Haskell was the engineer responsible for the design of the 2,200 by 800-foot artificial lake, which ranges from four to 14 feet in depth.

The East Lake Railroad began bringing visitors to the newly-developing area on June 14, 1887, though the basin was not filled until after the water was turned on at noon on November 25. The next Spring the lake was able to fulfill its function of attracting day trippers from Birmingham, who might then be tempted to purchase home lots or businesses in the company's newly-developed subdivision.

The company constructed various recreational facilities in the park, including a resort hotel, a dance pavilion, and pleasure boat docks. Additional attractions, including a ferris wheel, shooting gallery, and the East Lake Casino theater followed soon after. Over the years a golf course, a baseball field, a stern-wheel paddle boat, a petting zoo and bumper cars were added to the popular amusement park. In April 1892 the zoo reportedly exhibited "a bald eagle, a wolf, two pelicans, two deer, a ground hog, two coons, two white rabbits, a kangaroo, seven prairie dogs and a South American anteater."

John L. White's Great Alabama Minstrels, who made their East Lake debut on August 20, 1910, were the first African-Americans to perform at the park. The park's dance pavilion hosted a Potlatch Powwow and Ball in April 1913.

The City of Birmingham purchased the property for $65,000 on July 14, 1917 and dedicated it as a public park on May 10, 1918. The city kept many of its attractions open over the next decades while adding other recreational facilities. Some of the new features included a caterpillar ride, seaplane, "The Whip", the "Rolling Mill" and the "Old Mill" along with a riding academy, pleasure boats, playground, barbecue stand and other food and drink vendors. For 1923 $40,000 in new attractions was invested, providing for a "Dodgem" ride, and what was then the longest roller coaster in the South was constructed at the park; 1/4-mile long with 14 dips, including one of 54 feet. On November 20 of that year, Birmingham's Robert E. Lee Klan No. 1 inducted 2,100 new members at a torchlit ceremony in the park.

During the Great Depression workers from the Civil Works Administration drained a swampy area north of lake, regraded picnic and bathhouse areas, and constructed 3 tennis courts and 11 barbecue pits

In the 1950s, the operation of fishing and boating privileges at East Lake was given to the Jefferson County Sportsmen's Association which fertilized and stocked the lake. A new $150,000 swimming pool was constructed by the city in 1954.

The city widened sidewalks, repaired the dam, and installed picnic shelters and new landscaping in a 1972 renovation. The pipeline from Roebuck Springs was replaced in 1976. Additional landscaping and new parking areas were completed in 1978. The path around the lake was resurfaced with crushed stone in 1980.

The city displays the flags of the home countries of its sister cities on the 1st Avenue edge of the park. In 2012 East Lake Park was listed on the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail.

1904 photograph of the East Lake Aquatic Theater

May Hawes

The body of 8-year-old May Hawes was discovered floating in the lake by two boaters on December 4, 1888, starting an investigation that led to the discovery of the bodies of her sister and mother in Lakeview and the conviction and execution of her father, Richard Hawes.

According to area residents, there have since been sightings of a little girl playing at the lake's edge, swimming, or slipping below the water at dusk. Called the Child of the Lake or the East Lake Mermaid, the apparition is attributed to May's spirit.

References

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