February 1967: longtime water plant operator celebrated; Dora native named chairman of Lockheed


A familiar name jumped out at me this week as I flipped through newspapers from February 1967. Cordova Filter Plant operator Willis Laye was celebrating his 25th anniversary with the Jasper Water Works.

Two other men, Tom Beaird and Emory Hyde, were marking 30 and 23 years, respectively.

A decade later, a new plant would be built at Lynn's Park and would be named in his honor. In 2005, the plant was renamed the Laye-Williams Filter Plant in honor of my grandfather, 

Charles Williams, who rivaled Mr. Laye in years served as chief operator.

"There's not a single thing more important, unless it is the air we breath, than water," Laye said. "We could do without gas, we could do without electricity even, but what would we do if there was no water. Water is by far the most important of the three utilities, yet it's the cheapest."

In 1967, the Cordova Filter Plant was pumping an average of 2,200,000 gallons a day.

According to a Daily Mountain Eagle article written in 1999 when an expansion was underway at the water plant, that facility had been built in the 1930s. By 1967, it had been voted best operated plant in the state three times. 

It was replaced by the plant built at Lynn's Park in the late 1970s. The original capacity of that plant was 3.6 million gallons a day. By 1999, it was up to 12 million gallons a day. It topped 18 million gallons after the plant expansion, which wrapped up in 2001.

For those who may not be aware, there is a very high likelihood that the water that you use in your household, no matter where that may be in Walker County, passed through this plant before it came out of your tap. After the Tyson spill last year, I got the feeling that most people didn't seem that concerned about it. They felt sorry for the folks in Sipsey but didn't feel personally impacted by it until they realized that Sipsey's water was their water too.

As Mr. Laye pointed out 50 years ago, most of us don't give a second thought to having safe drinking water until something like the Tyson spill or the crisis in Flint, Michigan, occurs.

Back in February 1967, locals were celebrating Dora native Daniel J. Houghton being named chairman of the board of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Houghton, 55, had been the company's president since 1961. 

Haughton graduated from the University of Alabama in 1933 and went to work for Lockheed in 1939.

"I wanted to be with a growing company and this one was growing. I think I made the right choice," he told a UPI reporter. 

During World War II, he was the works manager for Lockheed subsidiary Vega Aircraft Corporation. After a stint at the company's Georgia plant, he returned to the Burbank headquarters in 1956 as executive vice president, giving him authority over all operating divisions and subsidiaries.

Finally, I was intrigued by this headline from early February 1967 — "Downtown Mall Being Built."

The Eagle reported that a pedestrian mall was under construction at the entrance to the alley that opens on Third Avenue between 18th and 19th streets. 

"The mall's structure not only eliminates a 'sore eye' spot but at the same time eliminates a hazardous crossing for pedestrians. A curb and gutter has been completed, closing the alley. City Hall officials report that a number of people have been injured at the alley entrance because of the hazardous slope of the sidewalk," according to the Eagle.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.