“For years, the annual Christmas kick-off celebration was the lighting of a cottonwood tree on Main behind City Hall. This event was not a function of any one organization, but more of an effort from some of the locals to bring a little Christmas spirit to the community. Faye Dockery was one such spreader of cheer and original organizer of the annual tree lighting. The tree lighting ceremony was attended by local business persons and their families as well as the City officials. Songs were sung and punch served. Please don’t misunderstand, this annual activity represented all that was good about small town life. This annual tribute to the holiday season was expanded due to the willingness of Main Street merchants and land owners to outline the various buildings on Main in Christmas lights. Then, for some reason, the annual lighting continued but the celebration ended as the lighting became more of a function of the City maintenance crews. The once small cottonwood, and the once small city, both continued to grow and spread out their branches.
Christmas in Marble Falls may not have been measured by an abundance of lights or holiday decorations, but there was an abundance of dedication and willingness to work and the desire to always improve on the quality of life’s experiences as such related to community spirit, whether that spirit was Friday night football or celebrating holidays with family and friends.
During the single tree lighting period, a large portion of Main Street buildings were empty and there was no real need for any major nighttime dazzle of lights since several of the businesses were non-retail in nature and closed by 5:00pm or closed up prior to the sunset turning into night. Main Street simply went to sleep at an early hour. I would say the largest evening gatherings on Main were for the Moonlight Madness promotion at Halloween and the lighting of the tree at Christmas.
During my presidency of the Chamber of Commerce a local retail promotional pioneer, Carol Collier, owner of the Woodshed, took a group of us to Fredericksburg to observe their Christmas Bazaar to show all in attendance the possibility of generating a Christmas festival in Marble Falls in an effort to create interest in shopping in Marble Falls by locals, but, even more importantly, by tourists, thereby generating additional retail and traffic for local retailers and eating establishments.
One day, while admiring the outline of Main Street venues, I thought how great it would be to have hundreds of thousands of lights adorn the South shoreline during the holiday season. And to structure and design the walkway so its awesome visual effect would be doubled by its reflection in the lake as well as approaching this unique display of lights from the elevated overview as one approached the city. That night, I put down on paper a preliminary outline of what could be one of the most unique holiday displays in the Hill Country. Not because of any specific design or human architectural concept, but the perfect combination of light, reflection, elevation, and the sense of surprise as one crested the hill entering Marble Falls.
What better place to design and layout the walkway made up of hundreds of trees and figures and thousands of lights representing the spirit of the holidays. A unique lighting sculpture visibility not only by thousands of individuals traveling highway 281 and highway 2147, most of which we would never meet but would have left an impression equal to or greater than an actual meeting.
The walkway needed a theme centered upon the creation of a city of lights included a Santa welcome house, greeters, Santa, a traditional main street circle featuring a 50+ foot community Christmas tree, walkways lined with garland accented with lights and bows back-dropped with an assortment of lit trees and sculptures accompanied by traditional holiday music. A place that would dazzle the children, amaze the teens, and awe the adults.
A place where, not only neighbors, friends, and business associates could enjoy greeting each other as they strolled the alley of lights, but also a place for visiting relatives and tourists from around the world could rub elbows and marvel at the brilliant lights and the ambiance that reflects the spirit of the holidays as much as the lake reflected the glimmer of the lights.
There was no question in my mind as to who was the queen of raising funds for good causes. I would later call her “The Queen of Marble Falls”. Only Pat Burton could raise the dollars needed to make the Walkway a reality. Prior to being known for all her beautification projects, Pat was the spark behind most successful fundraisers for the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations she was involved in. So, we set up a meeting at the Bluebonnet to discuss my hopes to design and have the largest lighting spectacle in the Hill Country as a testament to the “can do” attitude of the businesses and citizens of Marble Falls and the greater Marble Falls area.
Pat went to work on fundraising, and I went to work on sponsorships and working with the Chamber, City, and PEC in hopes to use the park for the walkway and PEC to assist with electrical needs.
The fundraising and sponsorship was based on a business or organization sponsoring a section of the walkway. as in prior efforts, Pat’s success was overwhelming, as was the contributions by the Chamber, City, and PEC.
Fixtures were ordered and the second amazing task of gathering volunteers (originally 100% of work performed was community volunteers) to dedicate every evening for over a week to lying out, assembling, and setting up the walkway. Almost every local business and social organization participated. Local food venues donated food so teams could continue working, and, most nights, the work did not end until almost midnight.
Volunteers included builders, contractors, City Council and staff, Chamber directors, local businessmen and their families.
The Original Team:
- Fundraising – Pat Burton and Angie Bergman
- Electrical (PEC) – George Bird and Arthur Fierno
- Electrical Coordinators – Richard Westerman and Allen Cryer
- Design/Layout and Construction Coordinator – Ron Mitchell
- Construction Team – Vance Fields, Ken Dollar, Patrick Carter, and John Kemper
- Decorations Coordinators – Maxine Nolen, Pat Burton, Belinda Kemper, Valene Fields, Glena Yates
1991/1992 Committee Chairpersons and Members
- Ron Mitchell/Pat Burton/Maxine Nolen/Glena Yates/John Kemper/Belinda Kemper/Nona Fox/Mark Fox/Vance Fields/Ken Dollar/Pattie Dollar/Patrick Carter/Karen Carter/Joe Don Dockery/Wayne Thelen/Sara Thelen/Angie Bergman/Pattie Dean/Kent Kirkman/Richard Westerman/Allen Cryer/Andy Nesrsta/Robert Klaeger/Donna Klaeger/Billy Inman/Bob Clifton/Tod Steel/Dick Barkley/Griff Morris/Brenda Morris/Mayor Toney Hogue/Michael Atkinson/Lane Bowen/Wayne Daugherty/Darlene Daugherty/Mike Fletcher/Bryan Hicks/Tommy Salem/Judge Randy Savage/Kathryn Savage/Steve Rogers/Donna Preston/Jim Rowe/Charlie Keiser/Susie Keiser/Dr. Perry Peterson
The first couple of years included hundreds of bushes and tree cuttings, each wrapped with lights, used to fill in between the decorative displays. Three trees, one 30′, one 40′, and one over 50′, were erected and the large cottonwood trees along the lake shore were draped in white lights. Flying angels were mounted on poles ranging in height from 7′ up to 25′, and a 40′ wreath was mounted on a 20′ pole. Hundreds of holes had to be dug for the trees and post along the walk. Hay was placed on the pathways.
Over $50,000 was dedicated to construct the Walkway of Lights and over 100 individuals participated in the creation of the walkway.
Seventy five percent (75%) of the lights were restricted to white lights (repetition creates the illusion of even greater numbers of lights and displays than may actually exist). Multi-colored lights were restricted to the 3 large community Christmas trees and a few displays. Over a thousand feet of garland was wrapped in white lights and accented with large red bows to act as walkway guiders and to keep visitors away from electrical outlets and actual displays. The tennis court fence in the background was laced with lights in the shape of trees. Over 100 displays, 100+ lighted trees, and 2,000 linear feet of lighted garland and decorated paths. 75 pole trees were constructed (made of 2×4 and strung in a 3-dimensional flare from the top outwards) were constructed many with a defined lighting color mix of solid colors in red, green, and gold. Early presentations of the walkway included plaques in front of displays noting who sponsored the lighted sculptures.
Local builder, Vance Fields, and his crews constructed the Santa House and the fencing materials to protect the walkway were donated by a local lumber company. Patrick Carter was given the easy job of getting all of the holes dug and fencing erected.
More and more, power was needed as we proceeded with the walkway and PEC was hands-on providing additional services, breakers, and electrical outlets.
Early years included invitations that were mailed out to attend the annual lighting. Directional signs were designed with the Walkway of Lights logo, and promotional banners and posters were posted in local businesses and across the highway. Programs were handed out explaining the walkway and information about Marble Falls retail and dining establishments.
For opening night, hundreds of guests attended the ceremonies. Santa arrived by fire truck, school children performed Christmas programs, tour boats cruised down lake Marble Falls, refreshments were served, photos were taken with Santa, and Christmas by the Lake opening featured unique Christmas gifts from around the world, and the Mayor officially dedicated the Walkway of Lights to the community. Brother Max gave the invocation, the walkway was dedicated to the city, and I had the pleasure of turning on the switch as thousands of lights lit up and the Walkway was born.
Following years resulted in continued support for what was to become the single largest tourist attraction for the city and surrounding area. Individuals were honored each year as the walkway was dedicated in their name. Pat Burton, Nona Fox, Angie Bergman, George Bird, and others continued for many years to contribute time towards the annual erection of the Walkway.
In my opinion, the single thing that outshines even the brilliant lights of the Walkway as one walked the trail of lights of the reflection upon the waters of Lake Marble Falls, or the inspiring view of the Walkway from afar as one entered the city, was the united effort of the Community and the volunteers’ dedication to giving their time, talent, and financial support.
To those individuals who continued to dedicate time and money to the erection and staffing of the walkway, we all owe a huge amount of gratitude. The Walkway of Lights is one of the few annual traditional events remaining in both community support and ever growing attendance. I understand that, in 2006, the walkway committee added an annual parade down Main Street to officially kick-off the walkway.
My hopes for the future regarding the Walkway of Lights are that a tree lit trail will be established to connect the Walkway of Lights with Main Street. This would allow the combination of the beautiful holiday decorations of Main Street to connect with the Walkway thereby offering the opportunity to walk from Main Street to the Walkway and back. This would open the new dining and entertainment district (Main Street) to the Walkway and offer an extended evening experience as locals and tourists shop and dine downtown. Main Street could become the former Christmas by the Lake, offering shopping, dining, and entertainment to the walkway. I would also hope the walkway committee continue to dedicate the walkway to those individuals who represent the very fiber of what makes Marble Falls – Marble Falls.
In closing, I will always be humbled by the support and dedication of individuals that created the Walkway of Lights and recreate it each year.”