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|Sights, sounds of Christmas|
Santa Claus and his helpers will be setting up shop in downtown West Monroe Saturday to kick off three weekends of Christmas events along Antique Alley.
"Christmas on the Alley" officially begins Friday in historic downtown West Monroe with extended shopping hours and entertainment.
Merchants will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, along with additional food and product vendors.
From 11 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., stage entertainment will be provided, including musicians, bands, school choirs, dancers and gospel singers.
Santa and his elves will be on hand from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Santa's Corner.
The annual Cottonland Christmas Parade sponsored by the Kiwanis Club will begin at 3 p.m. Saturday. The parade starts in the parking lot of First Baptist Church of West Monroe (First West). It will cross the Louisville Bridge into Monroe.
Carriage rides and a petting zoo for children will be offered from 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Saturday.
Saturday's events will conclude with a "Christmas flotilla" on the Ouachita River and the annual Monroe Jaycees Christmas Fireworks Extravaganza.
Several members of Ouachita Sail and Power Squadron will decorate their boats with Christmas lights for the flotilla. Boats will traverse the Ouachita River at Forsythe beginning at 6 p.m.
The fireworks extravaganza begins at 6:45 p.m.
Pamela Bryant with the Monroe/West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau said the first weekend of Christmas on the Alley would be a "good opportunity to bring the family out and experience a day full of events. There will be good, free entertainment and fun to kick off the holiday season."
On Saturday, Dec. 13, Antique Alley will once again offer extended shopping hours, all-day entertainment, Santa's Corner, carriage rides and a petting zoo.
This weekend, though, merchants will dress in old-fashioned Christmas top hats and attire. Street carolers also will entertain shoppers at various times during the day.
Children will also have an opportunity to ring the historic bell tower at 12:45 p.m. as local officials celebrate the 100th anniversary of the bell tower.
Local historian Ron Downing said a presentation will be made about the history of the bell tower. There also will be guided historic walking tours of the Cottonport District at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
The 250-pound brass bell that set atop the original West Monroe City Hall has been a fixture at Antique Alley since 1992. The bell was donated to West Monroe High School in 1952 where it was ringed occasionally during football games. It was returned to the city in 1991 and placed in storage.
Downing, along with members of the West Monroe Historic Preservation Committee, led an effort to establish a permanent home for the bell. They commissioned a 25-foot bell tower, which was erected on the corner of Trenton and Pine streets where the city's first town hall was located.
The city's first town hall was completed in 1908 at the corner of Trenton and Pine streets. The bell atop the town hall was rung to warn residents about fires as well as recognize special events.
"The bell was cast in Cincinnati and put in the city hall in 1908 at a cost of $300," Downing said.
The original town hall was damaged by fire in 1964 and later torn down.
"After speaking with (Mayor) Dave Norris, we decided it would be best to move it from the high school since it was on indefinite loan," Downing explained. "We raised the money for four years to build the bell tower, and it was completed in 1992 and that's where it's been since."
Downing is excited about the chance for local people to ring the bell during the Christmas celebrations.
"I think it's a neat event because it's rarely rung, but we've worked it out with Public Works so they'll put a rope on it and the kids can come down and ring the bell," Downing said. "I hope everyone will come out."
Descendants of former Mayor Robert Rinehart and William Drago will be on hand for the ceremonies. Rinehart was mayor when the first town hall was erected; Drago was the architect who designed the town hall building.
Bryant of the convention and visitors bureau said the weekend of Dec. 13-14 would be a great opportunity for residents to "get into the spirit of Christmas and step back in time and experience a good old fashioned holiday."
The last weekend of Christmas on the Alley, Dec. 20-21, will be featured as the "last blast for shopping."
Once again, extended shopping hours, entertainment, Santa's Corner and carriage rides and petting zoo will be offered.
"The last blast for shopping is where we're focusing on that last opportunity to buy gifts and find treasures locally," Bryant said. "There will be sidewalk sales, so we encourage everyone to shop locally."
"By doing your shopping on Antique Alley, it allows you to do your last minute shopping while still enjoying yourself with entertainment and activities," Bryant added.
Each Sunday during Christmas on the Alley, there will be extended shopping hours from 1-5 p.m.