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The first Holiday: Lake's oldest marina turns 50

BUFORD

The party started 50 years ago, and every day has been a holiday ever since, say managers at the Holiday Marina, the first to open on Lake Sidney Lanier.

"For a lot of these folks, this is like their weekend lakefront," manager Len Jernigan said of the marina, which opened Independence Day 1957. "They spend their weekend here and then go to work in Atlanta."

While the marina's original owner, Jack Beachem, sold the property nearly 25 years ago, the current staff remembers him driving through to check on the boats and the customers until his death.

Vernita Loveridge, the area vice president of Westrec Marinas, which owns Holiday, said she believed Beachem simply wanted a place to put the houseboats he manufactured back in 1957, not long after construction on Buford Dam was complete.

"There was nothing here. He had the dream and he built it," Loveridge said. "There wasn't anywhere to get on the lake. It wasn't even full yet."

Then, there were 218 boat slips, and the longest boat was 43 feet. Now, there are 34 docks with 1,200 slips for boats ranging from 20 feet long to 125 feet long.

Just more than 100 slips are empty, Jernigan said, and that may not be enough to move boats if the drought this summer makes some of the spaces too shallow.

"Most people don't have a clue as to how big it is because of the shape of the shoreline," Jernigan said. "You can't see it all at one time."

While recreation wasn't a top priority when the Army Corps of Engineers built Lake Lanier 50 years ago, the north Georgia lake now hosts more than 8 million visitors a year.

Located at 6900 Holiday Road, Holiday Marina was the first of 10 marinas to come to its shores, and boat shops, bait shops, water sports and more have developed into major industries.

"It's kind of unbelievable how they just built the dam and did it all," said Elaine Kelley, a Buford native who watched the lake's popularity grow her entire life. She has worked at Holiday for more than 25 years. "All that business is a result of the marina growth and people wanting to boat," she said.

Some of the boats at Holiday Marina have been there for 30 to 40 years. Jernigan said the marina occasionally loses a boat owner, but the new owner often keeps the boat at the same location. If a boat does leave, he said, it's often for another lake or when an owner buys real estate on the lake.

Each marina has its own niche, he said, and Holiday's reputation is for parties. The management has planned a big one for Saturday to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

"That's what the marina is here for is to have a nice time," Jernigan said. "It's a crazy place, just like a town."

The marina is home to seven businesses, including a restaurant and a general store, and the largest fuel dock on the lake. Soon, Jernigan said, a new company will use an authentic sternwheeler, which is like a riverboat, to give day cruises of the lake.

For the past several years, much of the construction at Holiday Marina has been to reconfigure for ever-growing sizes of boats. The number of slips peaked at 1,400, but Jernigan said the focus is now on larger slips instead of more of them. Expansion, he said, is hard because much of the 53 acres is full.

"We have coves and fairways and depths. The place wasn't meant to be this big," he said. "I don't think anybody envisioned Lake Lanier, much like Holiday, to be like it is today."

Even with the smaller number, though, Jernigan said the bottom line for the marina has grown 33 to 35 percent in the past 10 years, with clientele ranging from pro athletes, government officials and celebrities to sailing enthusiasts.

But the future for the 50-year-old marina seems just as bright at the past, he said.

"Whether we're here or not, this will keep running. ... Twenty-five years from now, this may be a pond in the middle of Atlanta," Jernigan said. "Holiday's the happening place on the lake. ... As Atlanta grows this way, it's going to increase. Everybody wants to be near the water."