People come for the view but often return to enjoy the company of guys like Raymond Brinkley and Kenny McLeod, who volunteer each week as part of the hospitality team at Love's Lookout Visitors' Information Center.
Both retired, Brinkley and McLeod began volunteering in 2008 at the center, located two miles north of Jacksonville on North US Highway 69.
“My wife volunteered me to get me out of the house, but now that I love it, she's trying to get me to quit,” Brinkley joked.
He's there Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, helping greet visitors, giving out information and offering hot cups of coffee.
“I've enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “Why? Because you get to meet new people.”
For more than a century, people have trekked to the site, located atop a bluff that overlooks East Texas farmland. On a clear day, one can see 35 miles into the distance, according to the Texas historical marker at the site.
The site’s name reflects the surname of Jacksonville resident Wesley Love, who purchased and planted a 600-acre peach farm in that area.
In 1910, it was named for Love, whose widow later donated 22 acres for a state park. However, when the state didn't follow through on plans, the City of Jacksonville purchased an additional 20 acres and developed the two tracts as a city park, according to 2004 column by East Texas historian Bob Bowman.
In the 1930's, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era Works Progress Administration helped enhance the area, using red rock mined from Cherokee County to build a park, picnic grounds and an amphitheater used for sunrise services at Easter at the site that rises some 240 feet above the surrounding terrain, Bowman said.
Over the years, forces of nature – including a rare earthquake – damaged the grounds and facilities, rendering it unsafe for use.
In 2004, however, a $1.2 new building project featuring a 5,500-square-foot complex with a visitors' information center, vending area, restrooms, covered picnic areas and a sheriff's substation was completed, according to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.
Designed to resemble a tomato packing shed, the wood and stone structure is a nod to Jacksonville's tomato-growing heritage. And the volunteers at the information center epitomize East Texas hospitality.
“You never know if a traveler is stopping at a place to stay overnight or maybe looking at relocating to the area, or even trying to find a particular business or event that's taking place, so our volunteers are very helpful to them,” said Peggy Renfro, president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the center. “I do know that several years ago, our volunteers had befriended a a couple that was passing through, and they ended up moving here.”
There are 23 seniors who volunteer at the chamber, she said.
“Our volunteers are really good about helping with different projects,” Renfro said.
McLeod, however, said he sees this as a way for seniors to give back.
“The average volunteer here is a retiree who just wants to give something back to the community, and this is a great place to do it,” he said. “It's really a great place to be.”
Part of the fun of is meeting the different people who stop by, he said.
“We've met a lot of interesting people,” McLeod said, as Brinkley pointed out that visitors often come in bursts.
“It's been slow this week,” Brinkley said. “But right when school gets out, we get lots of people coming in, and a lot of times during the holidays we'll have visitors.”
As they talk about the “old-timers” who like to reminisce, the men let people in on the best time to visit.
“The fall is the prettiest time, though when it snowed a couple of years back, that was really pretty,” Brinkley said.
McLeod nodded. “The best time to come out, though, is during a thunderstorm if you really want to see something. The storm clouds lower through the valley and you can see all the lightning,” he said.
It's a huge change from the careers they left behind, but there's nothing else they'd rather be doing, the men said.
“We're two gung-ho guys who enjoy doing this, and who enjoy working together,” Brinkley said.
Seminary ‘best kept secret’ in Jacksonville
Tucked away at near the edge of the Jacksonville city limits is probably the area's best-kept secret: The Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary.Continued ...
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