When Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman used to attend educational events during her career as a history teacher, she often heard uncomplimentary remarks about downtown Waynesville.
"I would go to events where people actually made fun of Waynesville," Hardman recalled. "One newspaper editorial called downtown Waynesville a 'dark hole.'"
This was a far cry from Waynesville's glory days in the early 1950s, when the Waynesville square on a weekend night would be, according to Laura Huffman of the Pulaski County Tourism Center, "teeming with soldiers."
Huffman pointed out that Life Magazine ran a photo of the Waynesville town square on a busy night. "The square was integrated both racially and as to gender, because the Life photograph shows both African American and female soldiers in the square," Huffman said.
Waynesville's population exploded after the government announced it would build Fort Leonard Wood. Construction began in December 1940 and the fort opened in 1941.Fort Leonard Wood was closed for a few years after World War II, but reopened during the Korean War.
The heyday of downtown Waynesville was in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Huffman. Unfortunately, the area started declining in the 1970s with the large stores moving closer to the fort.
"We Can" — the comeback
Today, after a development process that has been ongoing since 2005, downtown Waynesville and the city square have been revitalized, with more improvements to come.
Several businesses, including Lone Oak Printing, Hopper's and The Drynk have moved into the town square, the result of investment after the city used a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to start the city's rebuilding.
The "We Can" organization has been remodeling downtown Waynesville for about the past five years. It consists of Tom Campbell, owner of TLC Construction and Development, and his wife Pat, and Jake Labodia and his wife Ursula. The Labodias own The Drynk, a restaurant and bar in downtown Waynesville which is one of several on the square "We Can" has built.
Others include Lone Oak Printing, the restaurant Hopper's, Pamper Me Beautiful, the state motor vehicle license building, the Rigsby Building, and Miller Real Estate. "We Can" also helped build the new city parking lot next to the vehicle license office.
In a couple of weeks, Campbell said, "We Can" will begin building a six-space retail center on Benton Street between Seda's Gift Shop and the David Lowe law office.
The grant money was used to build new sidewalks, which spurred business development, said Hardman, who was a Waynesville City Council member at the time.
"We have been very lucky that we have businesspeople that have been willing to put money into development of the square," Hardman said.
Page 2 of 3 - Making Progress
In 2007, the Downtown Beautification Committee, was founded in 2003 by Hardman and then-mayor Ciff Hammock to clean up downtown Waynesvllle. It was named the Volunteer of the Year by the Meramec Regional Planning Commission. The committee was responsible for putting the clock and benches in the square. Though committee is no longer active, its activities have been assumed by the Downtown Business Association.
The purpose of the association is to promote downtown Waynesville. It has 20 charter members. Tim Berrier, owner of Lone Oak Printing, is the chairman.
In 2007, the city received a grant to put lights on each side of the Roubidoux Bridge. That project is now ready to move forward.
"After five years, last month we put out for bids on the project," Hardman said. "The Maggai Company of Rolla will do the work. From the stoplight to the bridge, there will be lights on both sides, and also sidewalks."
Hardman signed the contract on Oct. 4. after the city went through five engineers and had to go through a reorganization of the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Planning for the future
The City will also work with the National Park Service to establish a "Trail of Tears" exhibit, to remember the forced march of Cherokees from North Carolina to Oklahoma.
Waynesville was certified as a "Trail of Tears" site in 2007.
The "Trail of Tears" was the relocation of Cherokees from the east, signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in 1836. The Cherokees were moved from their homelands throughout Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee to present-day Oklahoma.
This grueling 800-mile journey, from Georgia to eastern Oklahoma, brought 15,000 Cherokees through Pulaski County in the fall of 1837 through winter 1839. They traveled 10-18 miles per day, and camped along the banks of the Roubidoux Creek and at the Laughlin Park area in Waynesville.
Laughlin Park was certified as a National Historic Trail Site and offers a scenic area to reflect on the hardships the Cherokees suffered, as well as the loss of more than 4,000 of their family memberson the trek.
"We want to build on that," said Hardman. "We want to put in an Interpretive "Trail of Tears" Walking Trail site."
Waynesville also has acquired welcome banners to place on Ichord Avenue, along Route 66, and on the square.
The city also plans to put up a welcome sign on the Beasley Air Conditioning property on Highway 17 north of Waynesville. A welcome sign for west Waynesville is also planned.
The city of Waynesville has recently opened a toddlers' playground in Roubidoux Park.
The Downtown Business Association has established three festivals held in downtown Waynesville: the St. Patrick's Festival, the Freedom Fest, and Frogtober Fest.
Page 3 of 3 - From a place once called a "dark hole," Waynesville has progressed to a city that is putting into practice its motto, which is: "Planning for the Future, Preserving the Past."