City dedicates park

Published 9:56 pm Friday, October 31, 2008

FRANKLIN—The city dedicated a new park across from City Hall on Wednesday to the late Harold Atkinson Sr., who served the city for more than 40 years.

The wind whipped around the several dozen people, many of them city employees, who came out to hear dedication speeches from Mayor Jim Councill and Hal Atkinson, Harold Atkinson Sr.’s son.

“For over 40 years, Harold Atkinson devoted himself to the city of Franklin and its people,” Councill said. “He served our country in World War II, earning a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor, two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained in action along with many other medals and citations.”

Councill said Atkinson Sr., whom many in the city knew as “Big Daddy,” started working for the city in 1952 as Franklin’s first director of public works and town engineer. He became the town manager in 1956 and was instrumental in the effort to make Franklin an independent city in 1961. He retired 20 years later.

“It is our sincere hope, that after all of his service to this city for these many years,” Councill said, “that we can enjoy this park and honor Harold’s dreams, to honor his dreams for the city of Franklin, to continue his legacy. May this be an opportunity for all of us to seek and always to serve the higher goal to service above self to others.”

Harold Atkinson Sr. passed away on June 19, 1997.

“Harold was the epitome of service,” Councill said. “He was a great dad, he was a great husband, he was a great friend to many of us.”

The park, located at 206 W. Second Ave., sits on a lot that was acquired by the city in 2001 after Hurricane Floyd flooded the area two years earlier. A one–story brick building that housed Burgess & Co., an accounting firm, stood on the site before the flood.

“In a way, this project was Mr. Atkinson’s final contribution to the city as a city employee,” said Donald Goodwin, the city’s director of community development and the secretary for the beautfication commission, “by allowing his memory to be celebrated here in this beautiful place, where people would admire and visit for years to come.”

Hal Atkinson said that Franklin “has been, is, was, still is, a great place to grow up.”

“There’s so many fond memories that I have of my folks and the things that we enjoyed,” Atkinson said. “It really formed my characteristics and my life.”

Atkinson said that when he was in grammar school, the site was home to Ashby Rawls Insurance Co. He said that after school he sat in the building that was on the site and did his homework because his mother worked there.

“I’ve got a lot of real roots to this particular property right here,” Atkinson said. “I spent a lot of time in here waiting for (Mom) to get through work so we could go home, because ‘Big Daddy’ was sitting right across the street over there,” he said, motioning to City Hall.

“I can’t think about this place without thinking about the people,” Atkinson said. “And what made ‘Big Daddy’s’ tenure here so possible and things work so well were the people here who worked with him. That’s why I say I think this park is for the working people of Franklin and Southampton County.”

Visitors enter the park from Second Avenue through a laminated wood pergola, which the beautification commission plans to have covered with Confederate jasmine in the future. Approximately 1,800 square feet of brick pavers surround an open green space. Several shrubs and flowers are planted around the confines of the park. At the rear is a pavillion with picnic tables.

According to Goodwin, the total cost of the project was approximately $92,000. The Camp Foundations donated $60,000 toward making the park a reality.

Other major contributors included Davenport & Company, Franklin Turf, the Franklin Woman’s Club, Manry-Rawls Insurance, Mollie Bass, Southampton Antiques, S.W. Rawls, Wachovia Securities, the beautification commission and the Atkinson family.

A contest to name the park was held in April 2003. Charles Butler’s suggestion was selected out of 88 entries.