by Billy Ray Warren
It’s fairly easy to direct someone to the location of the Magnolia Church building and its adjacent property. Simply say, “On the eastern edge of Veterans Drive, turn south (toward the Tennessee River) on Kirkman Street. The building sits at the end of that street.” However, not many years ago, the directions would not have been so easy because, first of all, Veterans Drive as we know it today did not exist. There was a section of it, then known as Union Avenue, from Blair Street on the east and almost to O’Neal Street on the west. Eastward from Blair Street to Wilson Dam Road (there was no Cox Creek Parkway, either), there were valleys and hills covered in trees, underbrush and footpaths. Westward from O’Neal Street was a really deep, precipitous ravine. Beyond that, Union Avenue started again until it reached a certain point, at which it became East Spring Street all the way to South Pine Street in downtown Florence.
As time progressed, city leaders made the wise decision to create a new corridor from downtown Florence to the southern end of the new Cox Creek Parkway. Since the city-owned Veterans Park was almost immediately adjacent to the Cox Creek Parkway intersection, the logical choice for the name of the new road was Veterans Drive.
With the opening of this corridor, new, exciting developments began quickly on the eastern end. The creation of an intersecting road known as Hightower Place, named for a longtime medical doctor in Florence and his family, opened the way for the construction of a new restaurant atop a tall tower and, with it, a municipal conference center whose entrance arches simulate the spillways of nearby Wilson Dam. (This national award-winning building was designed by Lambert Ezell Durham Architects, of which Magnolia’s Lindon Ezell was a partner.) Adjacent to the tower and the conference center came the handsome Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa.
Not many blocks west of these developments came the Patton Island Bridge – later named the Singing River Bridge – which added a third river crossing between Lauderdale and Colbert counties. Magnolia’s Ronnie Flippo, who served 14 years in Congress, was successful in securing the initial funding of this new bridge which, today, accommodates thousands and thousands of motorists daily.
In recent months, work has begun on the nearly $300,000,000 Regional Health Care Center which is very near the Singing River Bridge.
So, what began with the hauling of tons and tons of dirt to fill ravines and valleys has resulted in a corridor which has quickly developed into a major artery – and the Magnolia property is in the heart of it.