A step at a time: Local landmark evokes fond memories

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 16, 2008

DEMOPOLIS &8212; For the most part, the residents of Canal Heights enjoy a pleasant existence as one of many historic neighborhoods in Demopolis. Most of the neighbors know one another and family pets are welcome to roam the winding streets, sure to find a friendly face. Aside from the occasional teen driver, the neighborhood is peaceful.

But listen carefully, and you can hear a faint sound coming from behind the olive and magnolia trees. When the rains come, the sound is amplified into a gurgling noise that can only be the sound of the Whitfield Canal. Like a secret river slicing through the north end of the city, the canal is more than just a basin carrying water from one place to another.

According to its historical marker, slaves of Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield built the canal some time between 1845 and 1863. It was meant as a path to divert water away from Gaineswood to prevent the plantation from overflowing.

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In some places the canal is as deep as 30 feet. The canal stretches for about a mile, and splits Main, Commisioners and Desnouttes Streets.

Cindy and Trent Parker have lived in their home on Clover Ridge Drive for 16 years and know well the mystique of the canal. As natives of Demopolis, they know the canal as the stomping grounds and play place of many neighborhood kids.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the canal, Parker said, is simply known as the footbridge.

Mike Yelverton, another Demopolis native, knew the footbridge as the wooden bridge he and his friends took back and forth to the old school on Main Street back in the 1960s. Yelverton said they would also come back when school was not in session to simply &8220;hang by the footbridge.&8221;

But for more than a year now, the bridge has been deemed unsafe for travelers. It stays blocked off by two large gates at either end. Several of its planks are missing.

But for many generations of Demopolis, it will be remembered fondly for more than just a canal crossing.