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Riverfront history is model for all

Few people deny that Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland’s leadership has made the Vidalia Riverfront what it is today.

Copeland has had the vision, follow-through and persuasive skills necessary to bring a walking path, a hotel, two hospitals and a convention center to the formerly barren land.

A second hotel is in the works as well.

But true credit where credit is due includes a long list of people — and even one major thing — that made the riverfront thrive.

In 1938 the mighty Mississippi River needed attention from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to widen the river between Natchez and Vidalia.

The Corps approached city leaders and told them the then-Town of Vidalia would have to be moved.

The move — which included town buildings, churches and residences — began and a flat riverfront area wrapped by a levee was formed.

In the 1940s, the Corps began using the area to create large concrete mats used to control the flow of the river.

For nearly five decades, the mat fields were a work zone filled with rocks, dust and nothing pretty.

But, just like Copeland, the great Vidalia leaders of the day knew how to dream.

Former Mayor Sidney Murray was the initial driving force that wanted to see development and green space on the riverfront, initial riverfront committee members have said.

First, the town had to acquire the land from dozens of owners — now descendants of the original owners.

Sam Randazzo — Vidalia mayor from 1984 to 1992 — envisioned hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses on the riverfront in the early 1990s.

In 1992, Copeland took the reins as mayor and has seen the project to its fruition.

Copeland appointed Murray to the riverfront authority early on, and, well, the rest is modern-day history.

If we continue to study the actions of these men — and plenty of women too I’m sure — we’ll be able to recreate the good parts of history and leave the bad moments behind.

But it’s also important to share proper credit.

Several weeks ago this newspaper did a front-page story about the riverfront development. Our aim was largely to look forward to the new hotel and what may come in the future, and it doing so we failed to look closely enough into the past.

Unintentionally, our staff ignored the contributions of Murray and Randazzo, and for that we apologize.

Their part of the story predated our main source and we simply didn’t dig far enough back into the archives.

Hopefully as each of us enjoys walking, having lunch and even kite flying on the riverfront, we’ll realize that it hasn’t always been that way.

Hard work, good ideas and a little help from the Mighty Mississippi — or at least the Corps — made the riverfront a wonderful place to visit, work or drive through.

Realizing that story will help us all implement the successes of the riverfront throughout other parts of our community, creating history for the future generations every day.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.