Most agree that throughout the last few years, new life has come to the Square at the heart of Covington. We have seen a variety of shops, restaurants and eateries open. And others are set to join them soon. What’s even more amazing is the number of people you see walking through the Square and sitting on the benches, visiting all throughout the day and evening.
In 2014 the Covington City Council and Newton County Board of Commissioners entered into an agreement where the county remained as the owner of the Square but the city would maintain the Square. A master plan was put together agreed to by both political entities.
We have seen much of this accomplished. The memorial to those Newton County residents who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation — located on the northwest corner across from the Historical Court House — was upgraded. New walkways were put in place. The plantings and shrubs throughout the Square park were upgraded and new sod put in. The foundation for a gazebo was put in place on the southeast corner of the Square waiting for funds to build one. The plan was to have a gazebo to protect performers from rain, provide shade for those wanting to take a break on the Square and to provide a point of interest in that part of the Square.
Some critics of this next step have said that the Square should be kept as it is. Would they want to undo the great improvements that have already been made? Or would they mean that change has not come to the Square through the years. The first two courthouses were built inside the Square such as one might see in Jackson or Monroe. Throughout the years our community decided to treat the Square as open space. This allows for a variety of uses such as concerts. This also means an open feeling to the heart of Covington.
We need not look any further than about 35 miles west to see Atlanta tear down a perfectly good stadium to build another. Change is a part of the world we live in. And in the case of the gazebo, the change is not near as major but rather increases the value of the Square.
At least one critic called the gazebo a landmark. I think it is far more correct to think of it as a stage for community events, or a “frame” for a beautiful picture. It will not be the reason for coming to the Square but rather the facility that allows for the event you came for. When built it will be about 24 feet high and consist of a series of eight arches joined together. The height is designed to look in proportion with the buildings on the opposite corners of Church and Washington streets. The ceiling formed by the arches will be about 14 feet high and the overall height about 24 feet would be about a fifth of the height of the trees on the Square and not as high as the center monument. Size and proportion are important considerations for the gazebo.
According to Randy Vinson, Covington’s Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Covington, the proposed design reflects the Victorian design of the Historical Court House. The roof will be a slate roof to fit the same design. The arches are to fit the Old Court House for the same reason. There will be no rail or barriers between the aches to given an open, airy feeling to the gazebo. This means as you drive by or walk by the Square, the structure will tend to blend in with the Square.
So why build a gazebo? It provides shelter from rainy weather much better than the current tents that have to be set up at the last moment now. It provides shade for those that might want to stop for an ice cream cone or cool drink on an afternoon. New possibilities are open in that It could also be reserved for special occasions such as a wedding.
The Square is a very popular destination for picture taking for prom or graduation season, it is also popular for pictures for occasions such as engagements or weddings. The gazebo would become a focal point for these pictures. This well designed and attractive addition would become an important part of many families’ memories.
The beautiful upgrades have added a feeling of grace and meaning to the heart of our city. The gazebo is another step in that same direction. Great things are often accomplished one step at a time, it is time for this next step to be taken. We are now waiting for a donor to step forward to help us continue our journey.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.