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The History of Natchez Park

Posted on Jan 01, 2017 in Natchez Park , January–February 2017

In 1992, as Seaside’s neighborhoods reached the western edge, there was apprehension about a parcel of land that existed along the western property line. This land had been shown on all the plans of Seaside as a park. Homeowners who had purchased property on Natchez Street wanted a plan for what would happen to this park land. Charles Warren, town architect at the time, prepared an elegant plan for several elements within the natural landscape of the parcel. A pyramid, an obelisk and the sundial were the major pieces to be built.

As with many projects at Seaside, the plans were put on the shelf for about a year. Richard Gibbs became town architect, and again the subject of completion of the park was raised. The main element of the plan, the sundial, required significant metal fabrication to create the bronze center piece, special casting of stone markers, and some quite sophisticated and detailed engineering to make the sundial a working object. Ty Nunn, who worked with Gibbs (and is now a partner in Florida Haus, a design firm still located in Seaside) suggested that this would be an excellent opportunity for a student project. He recalled a class he had taken at Auburn University called “Hands on Steel” and felt that the professor would be quite interested in helping us with the project while giving his students some hands on experience.

Paul Zorr, professor of architecture at Auburn University led the project. Work began in late 1993. Work was completed to prefabricate the parts necessary to complete the park, all done in the shops at the university. Meanwhile, in building a timepiece that works from the sun, it is essential to have the dial oriented with relation to true north, not magnetic north like a compass direction provides. These calculations were accomplished by surveyors in preparation for the students’ arrival.

Finally the day arrived. Professor Zorr and his students brought all the materials they had fabricated and over several days, built all of the elements that are in the park today. The most intense attention went to the sundial. And everyone waited to see if in fact the plan would work. Would it really give us the time? As the hour stones were laid in succession in their planned locations we waited to see. Sure enough, the shadow cast on the correct hour.

The sundial project provided a unique opportunity for this group of architecture students to experience the reality of building a complex structure first hand, and provided an elegant addition to Seaside’s parks.