By William “Skip” Deegans
Shown in this week’s photo is the original 1941 plan for Lewisburg’s Colored Recreational Center that was later renamed the Dorie Miller Recreational Center and now called Dorie Miller Park. The genesis for the recreational center came from the Greenbrier County Council, an “organizational found and existing for the purpose of promoting the welfare and interest of colored youth in Greenbrier County.” In 1941, the council purchased 4-1/8 acres for $600 from the Preston family. The property lay behind the African American Bolling School. When the Town of Lewisburg committed itself to developing separate recreational centers for colored and white children and purchased an additional 7.14 acres from the Preston family to add to what the Council had bought, the Council’s trustees conveyed the property it purchased to the Town.
Lewisburg’s Park Commission, under the leadership of its chair Dr. John F. Montgomery, kicked off a joint fund-raising drive for both recreational centers. Some initial grading of the property for the center was accomplished by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. To complete the grading, Dr. Montgomery had to rent a bulldozer, jackhammer, and grader from the State Road Commission. Since gasoline was in short supply because of World War II, Dr. Montgomery obtained fuel through the rationing program.
On April 21, 1945, Earl Clay, principal of the Bolling High and Elementary School, requested the name of the Lewisburg Colored Recreational Center be changed to the Dorie Miller Recreational Center to honor Miller, an African American sailor who was cited for unusual bravery on the battleship West Virginia during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1943. While Miller had no connection to Lewisburg, he was honored throughout the country with memorials. Lewisburg’s Park Commission voted to change the name to the Dorie Miller Recreational Center and at the same time changed the name of the Recreational Center for Whites to the Lewisburg Recreational Center – now Hollowell Park.
The plan for the park from the Dr. John F. Montgomery papers courtesy of Mary Montgomery Lindquist.
Sources: Minutes of the Lewisburg Park Commission, Beckley Post-Herald, Greenbrier Independent.