Places in Time

City employees restoring once-popular Cameron Park site

By    J.B. Smith, Waco Tribune-Herald

March 26, 2006


Like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, they slashed through giant bamboo, cleared jungly undergrowth and unearthed long-buried stone steps, in search of a forgotten world.

That world was Proctor Springs, the cradle of Cameron Park, where generations of Waco residents went to wade, picnic or canoodle. Parks workers and volunteers spent this winter bringing the oasis back to the light of day after decades of neglect.

City parks officials are considering major improvements to Proctor Springs, if they can find the money. In the meantime, the public can once again see an elaborate complex of winding stairs, trails, springs and cascading pools, all shaded by huge elms and bur oaks. Much of the hilly 12-acre park section had been inaccessible because of the thick undergrowth.

Parks worker Jerry Vaughn, who worked with other city employees, Methodist Home students and Baylor service groups, said the months of hard work paid off. Growing up in South Waco, he remembers visiting Proctor Springs after school with other kids to wade in a small spring-fed pool.

"I was so excited to come back and clean it," he said, standing near the narrow, waist-deep pool, which is fed by the nearby Lions Head spring. Water from the pool spills downhill into Wilson Creek, which runs into the Brazos River.

"Back in 1980, '81, I used to come down here and play in the pool," Vaughn said. "That water was cold. Even in the summer it was cold. We used to get in here, and it was nice and clean."

City parks officials are proposing bigger improvements down the line, such as rebuilding the Proctor Springs pavilions and a small footbridge, repairing old stone walls and adding fountains, grills, benches, lighting, picnic tables and handicap access. The estimated cost is $1.4 million.

Parks planner Sharon Fuller said Proctor Springs, now little-used, could be a showplace of Cameron Park.

"I think the history of Proctor Springs is probably the strongest in the park," she said. "From the information we have it's one of the earliest developed areas of the park. It's got a special nature. The springs themselves are unusual and beautiful, as well as the waterways and the trees."

The site is used mostly now for a disc golf course, which has become popular for statewide tournaments because of its challenging terrain. Fuller said local disc golfers help give the secluded spot a sense of security, and the course will stay intact, though it may be altered slightly.

Proctor Springs has been a city park since 1910, when it was donated as part of the original 125 acres of Cameron Park, but it was a well-known spot long before that. It was a watering hole in frontier times, and after the Civil War served as a site for Juneteenth gatherings, Confederate reunions and a large American centennial celebration of July 4, 1876.

Sometime after the Civil War it became known as Proctor Springs for the family that owned the land, Waco historian Roger Conger said in a May, 12, 1971, Waco Times-Herald story about the dedication of a Proctor Springs historical marker. By 1891, Conger reported, a group known as the Proctor Springs Co. had subdivided the land and announced plans to create a housing development around it. Around the turn of the century, a woman named Victoria Worsham fenced off the springs, installed a turnstile, and charged an entry fee, to the resentment of many.

The public wanted Proctor Springs as a park, and public sentiment moved the family of lumber baron William Cameron to buy 125 acres of surrounding land and donate it to the city of Waco in 1910, according to a Cameron descendant who attended the 1971 marker dedication. The Cameron bequest also included $5,000 to improve and maintain the park, and the deed prohibited any commercial activity in the park.

Among the early improvements to the park was a playground along Wilson Creek, a stone's throw from the creek. Early pictures also show the rustic stone steps and a pavilion. Just up the hill at Herring and Fourth Street was a small zoo that included a crow that amused visitors by squawking cuss words.

Proctor Springs remained popular through the middle of the 20th century, as a neighborhood grew up around Cameron Park. Alva Stem, who grew up wading at Proctor Springs, oversaw Cameron Park as parks superintendent from the 1950s through the early 1970s.

"It was a special area," he said. "School kids would come from out of town and take their lunches and spend the day there at Proctor Springs."

He said the playground was well known for its enormous swings, seesaws and slides built into the hillsides. One of those slides was discovered in the recent clean-up.

Former Waco City Manager David F. Smith Jr. remembers courting his future wife at Proctor Springs when they were Baylor students. Smith went to work for the city in 1960, and by the time he was promoted to city manager in 1970, he said Cameron Park was beginning to decline.

"We went through a period when we didn't have any money," said Smith, who served as city manager until 1989. "The public didn't want to spend any money. Before the 1967 bond issue, there was conversation about putting some Cameron Park needs in there ... but Cameron Park was not one of the top priorities."

Smith and Stem both said Cameron Park has turned around in recent years with more city investment and attention, and they hope the improvements continue.

"That's one of the more historical areas of Waco," Stem said. "It has so many memories for lots of people in Waco and surrounding areas. They're doing a wonderful job."



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