It is not uncommon to see Marlin’s new city manager hot-footing along downtown streets in his shiny blue loafers, poking his head into offices to see who is interested in helping him rejuvenate the small Central Texas city that has become his mission.
With six weeks on the job, Cedric Davis has already created change in a city that seemed to be stagnant and shrinking. He has recruited local businesses to donate supplies, such as paint and lumber, spurring others to step up and help make over Marlin.
“Everybody wants to see Marlin succeed because Marlin has been down for so long,” Davis said Wednesday as he bumped along the city’s pothole-riddled roads. “It’s a movement, and it’s becoming contagious.”
It has come as far as community members donating equipment for city staffers to use for more robust repairs to troubled city streets.
Since 2010, Marlin’s population has declined by 5.5%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website. The population estimate for 2018 was 5,638 residents.
Meanwhile, the Marlin Independent School District faces a threat of closure for the fourth consecutive school year, despite two years of state intervention in the form of a state-installed board of managers. The district has failed state academic accountability standards based on standardized exam scores for seven consecutive years.
Marlin used to be well known for its 3,300-foot deep mineral hot spring that was discovered in 1891 while city engineers were digging for a water source, according to the Texas Almanac website. The engineers struck sulfur-laden water that rushed up out of the ground at 147 degrees. Several physicians then established clinics, bathhouses and sanitariums because they believed in the healing powers of the water.
As the city drilled more wells, hotels and boarding houses started opening their doors. By 1900, Marlin became a popular spa destination. The New York Giants baseball team trained there from 1908 to 1919 because the hot spring water was so well esteemed.
Steam from the hot spring rising up out of vents in the streets can still be seen in the mornings, but the only access to the mineral water is a dirty stone fountain, near a motel that looks unlikely to earn attention in any modern travel guides.
Davis plans to capitalize on Marlin’s hot spring history and its dedicated residents. He knew he had his work cut out for him when he applied for the city manager position. He said he did his research and found Marlin had six city managers in a five-year time frame, but a friend encouraged him to apply for the job. After all, Davis had experience serving as the mayor of Balch Springs, a suburb of Dallas.
“Marlin is, to me, that masterpiece on that canvas you’re waiting to paint,” he said.
And the city council and mayor are willing to let Davis paint his masterpiece, Davis said, with both the city and the community providing the proverbial paint.
Newly elected Mayor Carolyn Lofton, a lifelong Marlin resident, said she is excited about the changes she has seen since she took office May 16, including Davis’ initiative.
“We work really well together,” Lofton said. “Mr. Davis was hired the night I was sworn in, so we all came in new with a new vision, and everybody bought into that vision. The other council members are on board with it. It’s just a different feeling.”
That feeling has spread to Marlin residents and community leaders. Harry Kenny, a former Marlin mayor and city councilman, donated $8,500 so the city could buy a street roller to smooth asphalt and other surfaces. The First Christian Church of Marlin donated money so the city could buy asphalt. Ace Hardware donated paint and other supplies to the city, and Drew’s Lumber Co. contributed lumber.
Kenny said the city’s biggest problem is the crater-like potholes that pockmark most streets. He knew the city could fix the potholes cheaply if it had a street roller.
“I told them if you find me a paver, I’ll buy it,” he said. “I love Marlin, and I just wanted to do something to help.”
Kenny took the money out of his individual retirement account to buy the roller, which will repair potholes so that they are not washed out later. The city has been fixing potholes incorrectly for years, but the roller will allow for better streets until the city can afford to completely resurface them, he said.
“We have new pride,” Kenny said. “I think the people are responding very positively to this. That’s my motivation to see if I could create a stir and challenge others to do the same.”
The Rev. William Wright of the First Christian Church of Marlin said he believes the patching of Marlin’s streets and the refurbishment of the city park will improve residents’ quality of life and encourage others to help out, as well. The church’s “Working for Christ” fund, originally intended to pay for housing rehabilitation projects until the church ran out of volunteers, provided the money for the city to buy asphalt.
“Since (Kenny) donated the roller, we thought we’d give them something to roll over,” Wright said. “If you’ve driven in Marlin, you understand.”
Davis and Public Works Director Andrew Poe are working to refurbish the city park in addition to fixing the city’s roads. Workers already cleared the 20-acre park’s overgrown brush and trimmed towering trees and water bamboos in time to rededicate the park for the Fourth of July.
The city installed a disc golf course that is now on the UDisc Golf phone app for avid disc golfers to discover, Poe said. He plans to add eight more holes so the city has a full 18-hole course.
“There’s a lot of potential for growth,” Poe said. “It’s a lot of work, but that’s what it takes to get things done.”
When finished, the park will have a new baseball diamond, horseshoe competition pits, two sand volleyball pits, a splash pad, a playground, an outdoor workout station, a dog park and picnic areas with gazebos.
Davis and other city officials plan to visit Austin on Aug. 15 to seek additional funding from the Texas Rural Water Association to repair the city’s aging water pipes, a process that would also require ripping up and replacing streets.
The city has started forming citizen committees to prioritize which streets will receive treatment first. Davis said the estimated cost to fix the city’s 60-square-miles of roads is $20 to $25 million.
Mayor Lofton said she knows Marlin residents have the capacity to come together and create change. They just need the leadership to spur it.
“It’s exactly what I had envisioned — the community coming together to make the changes Marlin needs to see,” she said Friday. “We wanted to make change happen and not take all day to do it.”