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Days in the life of Snellville

As an elected official without deep family roots in Snellville, I wanted to familiarize myself with the city I represent. To do so I went through a box of old newspaper articles from 1971 to 1994 pertaining to Snellville and Gwinnett County.

As a high school social studies teacher and personal history buff, I thoroughly enjoyed going through paper after paper piecing together Snellville's past. My goal was to get a taste of what Snellville was like in those days from a journalistic perspective, trying to piece together Snellville's past. What was its sense of community? What was its progress and failures?

I was amazed and awed by the local history of Snellville and Gwinnett County. It has been like looking back through a portal of time to a different county and especially a different Snellville. These articles are a testimony that growth does bring change, and if one is not careful the past will be forgotten.

Snellville has gone through many cycles: city halls and senior centers, recycling, new police chiefs, selling of old police stations and even a Snellville motorcycle officer in the early 1970s. I read about the widening of U.S. Highway 78 from two to four lanes and all sorts of concept plans to alleviate traffic at the intersection of Highways 78 and 124. I told my wife, Rebekah, I could relate to the past and that I feel as if am living through one of those cycles as I serve on the City Council.

As I read those articles, I uncovered the unusual history of Snellville Day. The gathering was and is a great milestone for Snellville and its history.

Raising money for a park

On Dec. 27, 1972, Mayor Thomas Watson Briscoe, who served Snellville as mayor from 1966 to 1969 and 1972 to 1973, was the driving force behind the purchase of the original park property. Briscoe received notice that the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation had granted the city of Snellville $476,769 for city park construction on a matching fund basis. The city had a two-year deadline to contract the development of the park.

Acreage known as the old Pate property was purchased in 1972. The 34.7 acres is located along Lenora Church Road, about one mile from town. The land boasted of a small lake. Matching funds needed to be obtained and work began immediately.

The mayor and council appointed a recreation committee to act as an advisory board, led by council member Wayne Odum. The members were Joan Browne, Randy Moore, Jay Sager, Russell Harris and Harold Dudley. The residents of Snellville were polled to get an idea of top priorities, which were a swimming pool and tennis courts.

Snellville had until December 1974 to raise the local portion of the grant. About $156,000 of the local portion was met by a park property donation from Jimmy and Wayne Mason.

Snellville civic and political leaders announced plans for $100,000 fundraising drive to complete the development of facilities at the 35-acre park on Lenora Church Road. The recreation committee agreed to meet with local civic groups and explain the park's needs.

Earlier fundraising efforts brought only $21,000 into the recreation coffers with about $15,000 from the sale of a piece of city property. The city recreation committee was open to suggestions from the community about how to raise funds. $170,000 of park development already was under construction with a pool and pavilion.

Emmitt Clower was then mayor (elected at age 31) and time was running out. The matching funds were going to be required. A communitywide Sunday dinner was held on March 31, 1973, at W.C. Britt Elementary School. Civic clubs and organizations gave their time, their money and their effort. The idea for a Snellville Day was brought up. The idea was accepted and the date was set for the first Saturday in May 1974. It would be called the Snellville Day Parade.

A smashing success

The first Snellville Day, like all others since, was considered a success. Held in Snellville Plaza Shopping Center parking lot, civic clubs pitched in and built booths where food and crafts were sold. About 500 people attended, and the people of Snellville raised money for the park. The grand marshal for that first Snellville Day was T.W. Briscoe, after whom the park is named.

By the spring of 1975, the park was fully operational and became the center of Snellville Day activities. Snellville citizens had built themselves a park; it was paid in full. Only the growth and popularity of Briscoe Park have paralleled the growth and popularity of the day it helped create. Other matching grants were accepted, more land was bought and more park amenities were built. Fast-forward to today, where Snellville boasts of a 100-acre park.

'Everybody is Somebody'

What was once considered a small event has come to be considered by many as the most popular event in Gwinnett County every spring. Its creation has given the people of Snellville Briscoe Park, a place of their own, a place to enjoy a quiet afternoon or a competitive ball game - a day of their own, a day created out of common desire to provide a better environment for themselves and their children.

The Snellville Day themes have been wide and diverse over the years, as has the grand marshal, from politicians and TV personalities to famous singers, an Olympic medalist and a slew of American heroes in between.

The famous slogan "Everybody is Somebody in Snellville," which has had a checkered past, was recorded once as a song. The taped voices were those of Wayne and Bobby Hitchcock. The song played on WQXI-FM radio's Gary McKee Morning Show.

Wayne and his son, Bobby, were sitting around in the living room one day and Wayne's wife suggested he write a song about Snellville. So Wayne and his son sat down with the guitar and started picking and singing into a tape recorder.

The rest is history; duplicate tapes of "Everybody is Somebody in Snellville" were sold at Snellville Day and other stores around town. The song was played all during Snellville Day that year. One woman even wanted it played while her float moved along in the parade. The proceeds of the tape were used to buy new band uniforms for Shiloh High School. That is interesting because another local celebrity singer who wears pink is also from Shiloh High School.

Too big for just one day

Snellville Day has evolved over the years from one to two days, but we still have the parade, civic clubs, craft booths and concerts. We still have people come and enjoy the event from all over Gwinnett County. One change to the event was when Brett Herrall, who became mayor at age 34, worked through the council to increase business sponsorship so that the city of Snellville could provide Snellville Days as a free community event.

I hope you enjoy this year's event and appreciate Snellville's unique history and progressive future. This is another story that shows Snellville has always had a vision for the community and is a place to call home.

Bruce Garraway is a Snellville City Council member.