Ohatchee becomes hot lake property

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: July 12, 2006

OHATCHEE – When Alvin and Andra Thacker decided to build their dream house, they didn’t have far to look for the ideal location.

The Thackers, longtime Ohatchee residents, are building what will be by far the most expensive house in the town, spending more than $2 million on an 8,500-square-foot lakeside home. They bought three lots in the Mohawk Estates subdivision on H. Neely Henry Lake to create their 3 1/2-acre waterfront property.

During a recent tour of the house, which has been under construction for several months, Mayor Joseph Roberson declared that it looked like “Hollywood comes to Ohatchee.” The home features an infinity pool, home theater, gym, sauna and elevator.

The Thacker residence may not be the most expensive house in Ohatchee for long, as crowding and sky-high prices on Lake Wedowee drive more people to develop the H. Neely Henry Lake shoreline.

While the Thackers paid around $160,000 for their three-lot site, empty lots on Lake Wedowee – about an hour south of Ohatchee – start at around $200,000 and can be more than $500,000. That’s before any landscaping or construction has begun.

Charles Shellnutt, an agent with Lake Wedowee Brokers, said his company has a few lots for sale and only two houses available.

“Lake property is selling about as fast as you can get it on the market,” Shellnutt said.

He added that most of the properties he sells are to people from Georgia looking for a second home.

“There’s no specific type of people (we’re marketing to), just anybody that wants to buy on the lake, but it’s getting to the point where you’ve got to be rich to buy one,” he said.

The presence of multi-million-dollar homes is creating divisions in towns like Wedowee and Ohatchee, where the median household incomes in 2000 were $26,136 and $38,359, respectively. According to the 2000 census, the average house in Wedowee costs $72,700, while in Ohatchee that number is $79,800.

Don Bogie, director of the Center for Demographic Research at Auburn University Montgomery, said there is an increasing trend statewide and nationwide of professionals and retirees moving farther away from the large cities.

“It’s not just moving sort of a step beyond the metro area now, but I think people are showing a tendency to move a couple of steps beyond,” Bogie said. “There has been more growth farther out, at least up to a point – I think people still want to be relatively close, though, to the things a larger city has to offer.”

Bogie added that baby boomers, who are starting to reach retirement age, will have more money than previous retiree groups.

“With more people retiring with more money than ever before … I think the group of retirees that we see coming on now are more able to settle in places that they deem most desirable,” he said.

Terri and Scoop Gerber are two of those people. They moved to Wedowee from central Florida earlier this year and bought an abandoned campground on the lake that they have fixed up and reopened as Scoop’s Riverside Campground and restaurant.

Terri Gerber said she and her husband enjoy the rural location.

“It’s beautiful, we love it,” she said. “It’s nice being out here ’cause there’s nothing else out here. That’s the reason we thought we needed to put a restaurant here, because there is nothing else out here and people told us that a restaurant was needed.”

Gerber added that compared with other states, Alabama’s lakes are still relatively undeveloped.

“There’s a lot of development going on around here, this is a growing community, growing area – in another five years I believe this is going to be really booming,” she said. “Alabama’s just kind of been laid back. I mean look at Florida, you can’t find anything in Florida on the water for that (price).”

Roberson, the Ohatchee mayor, said most of the houses being built on H. Neely Henry Lake are intended for full-time use, as opposed to those on Lake Wedowee. On Alabama 77, lots are being cleared for a 31-house development, and Roberson said he recently was approached by a developer interested in building 400 lakeside homes.

“My goodness, that would possibly double the town’s population,” he said.

Roberson said that H. Neely Henry Lake, which was formed by a dam project in the 1960s, was slow to develop because construction workers left tall trees growing in the middle of the water. This was good for fishermen, but it precluded boating, jet-skiing and waterskiing. The trees were removed several years ago, but the area is still catching up to the development on Lake Wedowee.

“We get a lot of tourist dollars from people coming out here to use the lake,” Roberson said. “I’ve always advocated to the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce how important this area was to the county … I always felt like they ought to advertise it more than they have.”

Thacker said the home he and his wife are building will let them enjoy a waterfront lifestyle without having to travel.

While he and his wife “like nice things,” he said, his goal was not a showy Hollywood look.

“We’re just laid-back country folks … We’ve lived here all our lives,” he said. “We’ve been to a lot of different places throughout the world … and been pretty intrigued by the architecture in different parts of the world.”

“I grew up on that river with my dad taking us fishing when we were young and putting a boat in just across the water from where we’re building,” Thacker said. “We thought it would be kind of neat to buy and build back in that area.”

It may seem surprising that someone investing $2 million in real estate would build in Ohatchee, which doesn’t have a bank or large supermarket, but Thacker shrugs off the suggestion that he could well afford to live elsewhere.

“The big cities doesn’t really have anything to offer me … The country life, the tranquility, the beautiful settings and the trees and water is something we’ve always looked forward to and always enjoyed no matter where we live,” he said.

“It would never be worth it to me to live anywhere near a lot of asphalt and crowds.”

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