FROM A SWIMMING HOLE TO A MINISTRY
Above: Lake Waukaway in the Early 1970’s
In 1975, while living in California, God spoke to Gene and Pam Garrick about purchasing land for a retreat center back in their home state of Mississippi. Influenced by Gene’s childhood memories of Lake Waukaway, in 1976, at the ages of 29 and 28, Gene and Pam purchased the property and began the ministry of Waukaway Springs Christian Retreat.
From 1976 to 1986, God was so faithful to provide the means of paying off the mortgage with the hope to continue debt-free. Many people gave generously and even anonymously to the ministry.
Through the years, many people have volunteered their labor and talents to build up the ministry. Many denominations have come to build, cook, and oversee the property.
Since its founding, Waukaway Springs has sought to be a place where churches and other Christian organizations can come to retreat from the pressures of everyday life and have a peaceful refuge to seek the Lord.
Painting from 1970's
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOW IT ALL GOT STARTED:
The springs of Waukaway have brought several settlers and thousands of people enjoyment by drinking it, swimming in it, and admiring it’s beauty.
Waukaway, a Choctaw Indian word for “cool, clear water” is a crystal clear, spring fed waterfront area resulting from the convergence of three, huge, free flowing springs and many smaller ones.
On September 27, 1830, one of the three European settlers to own the property was John Cooley. It is speculated that the lake was first engineered by a few beavers and later improved by the hands of men. Prior to 1865, Cooley and others constructed a cotton gin and gristmill the remains of which are still standing today.
After several changes in ownership, a Mr John Perry acquired the springs in 1928. Mr. Perry used the property for swimming and sold the springs in 1929 to the Rotary Club of Laurel to use for YMCA camps and recreational swimming for a 10 cent fee per day. Mr Howard Allen was hired to manage the facility for the Rotary Club, and 6 years later He purchased the lake along with 120 acres of land.
Mr Allen operated Lake Waukaway as a family business along side his wife, Majorie and three children. The Allen’s brought entertainment to thousands of people through many attractions located at the springs. Among those attractions were a white tail deer pen, an alligator pen, bass and blue gill fishing, 50 tent and RV sites, and the diving towers.
The two diving towers were erected at different times in the history of the lake. The first tower was a 41 ft structure that was built from two sections of 20 ft aluminum welded together and reinforced. It was built in the late 40′s or early 50′s. The second tower, erected around 1960 was a more sturdy 68 1/2 ft ladder welded by a Mr. Sweeny of Laurel, from oil field materials. The sides made from 2 3/8″ pipe tubbing and the steps from 3/4″ sucker rods. The platform levels were 23, 33, 43, and the top at 63 feet. The remains of the tower, ladder, and lights for night swimming, are located at the historical marker near the Waterfront.