NEWELL - The sounds of music soon will be floating up from Laurel Hollow Park in Newell.
The park's Summer Concert Series kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Thursday with Mad River Men playing in the Bears' Den Amphitheater. Four more concerts, plus a special show, are scheduled for June, July and August. All the concerts are free and open to the public.
It does Beverly Enochs' heart good that a park that once lay in ruin is once again being used by the community.
"We just take so much pride in the park," said Enochs, president of the Newell Community Improvement Coalition. "We work hard on it."
The coalition oversees most of the maintenance and operation of the park, which underwent a thorough renovation in 2010. The park dates back to 1906, when Homer Laughlin China Co. salesman George Washington Clarke convinced his employer to develop the site for public use.
"He put a lot of his funds into it and made it a glorious place," Enochs said. But it was short-lived.
The park, which included a small zoo, fell into decay after Clarke's death, and, for years, suffered from neglect and disuse. But the Newell Community Improvement Coalition saw it as a diamond in the rough and began to restore it.
A grant from American Legion Post 114 of Newell in 2010 helped the group do major improvements to the park, including converting the old bear pit into an outdoor amphitheater. In 1909, the site for a short time held two polar bears.
"Laurel Hollow Park was a big attraction in this area back in the early 1900s. There was a zoo, a boating lake, picnic grounds and a park that went all the way to the river," she said.
Enochs said Laurel Hollow Park is now the perfect venue for outdoor summer concerts. "Most people who come are so surprised. It's a nice little relaxing place," she said.
The amphitheater has a seating capacity of about 100, and concert-goers are encouraged to bring a lawn chair. The coalition will provide a shuttle service from the information center to the amphitheater. Refreshments also will be served.
The inaugural concert for 2012 is being sponsored by the Top of West Virginia Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Hancock County Arts Council. Enochs said more sponsors this year means more concerts.
The summer schedule is as follows:
6-8 p.m. June 24: El Durays (Newell Community Improvement Coalition);
3-5 p.m. July 8: Suzanne Laughlin (Six Auto Recycling);
6:30-8:30 p.m. July 26: 7% Superstar (Newell Lions Club);
3-5 p.m. Aug. 12: Tri-State Community Concert Band (Newell Community Improvement Coalition); and
4 p.m. Aug. 19: "Magic Man" Jim Tate (C. Hackett Chrysler Dodge Jeep).
The Newell Community Improvement Coalition was founded 14 years ago by a group of concerned residents who wanted to make improvements to Newell's infrastructure.
"We try to do bigger projects," Enochs said.
The volunteer group has received funding from Robert and Carolyn Wells, the Hancock County commissioners, and the state of West Virginia, she said.
Laurel Hollow Park sits on land owned by Homer Laughlin China Co. but is leased to the Hancock County commissioners, she said.
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