CARYVILLE – Nearly 30 years after the what has become locally as the “big flood,” one beloved Caryville landmark has once again emerged as a community epicenter.
The Caryville Civic Center, 866 Waits Ave., held a grand reopening Saturday. The event marked the completion of an $85,000 long-awaited renovation.
“This is an exciting moment,” said Caryville Councilwoman Becky Pate. “We have worked really hard to get to this point and God has just blessed us – this little town.”
Glossy epoxy floors, wheelchair accessible bathrooms, dynamic lighting, widened kitchen space, brand new appliances, and fresh coats of paint throughout – top-to-bottom, every inch of the civic center has been retouched and renewed.
According to Pate, Bonifay based Rick’s Repair and Remodeling, Inc. won the bid for the renovations back in May and gave the space unique features that has made it more than suitable for public and private functions.
The Washington County Board of County Commissioners demonstrated support for the center’s revitalization a few years ago when it funded a roof replacement.
The restoration of the civic center is one effort that will “bring back what Caryville once was – a close-knit, family-oriented town,” said Washington County Commission Chairman Tray Hawkins.
“As elected officials, we have tasks to do and so many times you spend so many hours making sure your budget is sound and it becomes very easy to lose sight on a town the size of Caryville,” he said. “We are very proud of the council and the people of Caryville and look forward to the continued growth of the town.”
After FEMA swept in and designated most of the town a flood plain following the 1994 flood, there was a mass exodus of Caryville families. Today, the three-mile town has about 300 residents, according to the latest data by the U.S. Census Bureau. Pate says when the town’s council received money for COVID-19 economic recovery, they “looked out for the betterment of the town, and the civic center is one place where we saw we can put (the money) where we needed it most.”
“We don’t have many ways to make money and we wanted to fix the civic center so more people would want to rent it and it would be in a better shape to be rented,” said Pate, noting the council has no intention “to make a killing off nobody” but will invest the revenue back into the upkeep of the structure.
The structure has been functioning for decades since the flood, though with visible interior damage and bare minimum upkeep. As a reminder of the unfortunate disaster that swept away most of the town’s residents – and proof of how resilient the mostly native Caryville people are who stayed – water marks from the flood remain on the exterior of the restored structure.
“They can say ‘I remember when the flood was this high,’” Pate said. “We just wanted people to see what had been there and what it looked like.”
Pate serves that same purpose as a longtime businesswoman and civically engaged resident. At 73 years old, she says she has walked “every road in Caryville.”
“Caryville is my home. I have lived here my whole life,” she said. “I’m like Jack Palmer (a former council member). His thing he’d always say is ‘I love Caryville’ everywhere he went. I’m like Jack Palmer, ‘I love Caryville.’”
“I want to leave a mark here to do things for the children,” she added, noting the younger generations of Caryville commonly call her ‘mama’ and ‘granny.’ “I want to have things here for the children.”
Alongside a renovated civic center and a town hall that recently received a facelift, Caryville families and visitors can look forward to more public facilities going online. Pate said the town is currently applying for funds to open a splash pad, eyeing an RV park, working on establishing community-based recreational sports, and nature trails along the Choctawhatchee River.
“We want to keep growing,” Pate said. “We see new faces all the time and people are moving in around here (the outskirts of the town limits) and they are very pleased with the progress that has been made.”
“And I am so thankful,” she concluded.
For more information about the Caryville Civic Center, including reservations, contact Town of Caryville at 850-548-5571.