During Christmas, this is not your average walk in the park, Park!
Once a year, the night after Thanksgiving Day, the Dorothy B. Oven Park in Tallahassee is transformed from a quiet little treasure in the heart of Tallahassee into a magical winter wonderland in the heart of Tallahassee. Now, I know what you might be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, every city has a magical winter wonderland, what’s so special about yours.” Well, first of all, if every city, in fact, does have a magical winter wonderland, then hope is restored within my spirit. Secondly, having a special place, unique, one of kind, free for all to enter, where kids and adults alike can be filled with dreams and memories of worlds far, far away, if only for an hour, should restore the spirit of everyone.
Dorothy B. Oven Park, or just Oven Park as we locals refer to it as, lies in the heart of a residential neighborhood surrounded by homes, churches, and banks and a fire station. Throughout the year, it’s popular with families and individuals alike, seeking a family picnic or a quiet respite place to curl up with a good book on a fabulous Tallahassee fall or spring afternoon. But, in November, after months of preparation that has become so well organized park officials can carry on their regular job requirements while decorating the park with over 225,000 lights; it’s transformed in a Tallahassee treasure.
On nearly any given day or night of the year, park visitors can intermingle with party goers attending all types of celebrations or ceremonies. The park includes a manor house available for rent to host meetings, parties, or weddings. Reservations for weddings and Christmas parties are made as much as a year in advance. Believe me, if you want this place for a Christmas party, don’t wait until October.
The history of the Dorothy B. Oven Park is as rich as the soil that nurtured the finest camellias in the area. The property was part of the Lafayette Land Grant awarded to General Marquis de Lafayette in 1824 by the United States Congress.
In the 1930's the Camellia Nursery, built by the late Breckenridge Gamble, Ritchie and Bill Rosa, was replaced by the house which was designed by Mr. Alfred Maclay. The property was donated by Mr. Will J. Oven, Jr. in 1985, to the City of Tallahassee through the Tallahassee Friends of Our Parks Foundation, Inc., in an unprecedented gesture of civic generosity, with the stipulation that it be developed as a city park, retaining the integrity of the area.
The grounds are meticulously maintained by park officials year round. It’s quite “Disney-esque” in the heart of Tallahassee. For one night during the holiday season, the city hosts Elf Night. Guests are invited to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the season while taking a self-guided leisurely stroll through the park. Hot cocoa, hot apple cider, and cookies are served up for all to enjoy. Lights adorn nearly every tree, shrub, or ground covering throughout the entire park. Joyful tunes are piped in through strategically placed and cleverly disguised speakers as you travel down trails and paths of the park. Visitors can enjoy all the surroundings while sitting inside the gazebo or on any of the park benches found in the park or strolling along sidewalks and pathways.
The walk from the manor house down to the gazebo starts with a Christmas tree of lights complete with star. Along the path, trees are decked with red and white lights. The gazebo itself makes for a fantastic picture spot for the next year’s Christmas card. Traveling along down a path to your left, visitors find the archway passing. On the other side, you’ll enter a private garden area lined with boxwoods, complete with a green lit water fountain. After letting the sound of the water soothe your spirits, you come to what is my favorite part of the park. The walk along the camellia lined sidewalk completely mesmerizes me. Yes, the lights on the camellias are just as beautiful here as they are elsewhere in the park; but it’s the camellia trees themselves that have captivated my heart. These are nowhere close to being called camellia bushes. Standing nearly 20 feet, or more, and spanning a lifetime of what must be over 70 years, this amateur green thumb walks in awe and appreciation. The lights just can’t add any more to the majestic beings they are. Completing the loop around brings you back to the manor house, where even more lights and decorations can be found across the street and down the road. Before crossing the road, stop and enjoy the swing hanging from a majestic oak tree.
Be sure to bring your camcorder and camera, because you’ll want to capture the moments and joy this park will bring. And if you have a “little scrooge” in your life with “a heart two sizes too small”, invite them to come along with you. This really is a quiet little treasure sure the lift the spirits like no other in Tallahassee.
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