Historic Preservation: What I Learned

All across the country, people are marking the end of one of their life’s chapters and starting a new one. Graduation!

We were up in Tuscaloosa this past weekend, when every possible hotel room and parking space seemed filled by folks looking to wish this new cohort well as they matriculated from the University of Alabama. But last week, here in Montgomery, a small group of people not bound by any school affiliation gathered at City Hall for another type of graduation ceremony. We were proud of our accomplishments, and the achievement was all the sweeter for not having required intro biology or a randomly assigned roommate. Also there was a gigantic, delicious strawberry cake.

We were part of the city’s inaugural Historic Preservation Leadership Class. Over these last few months, we met weekly to learn about topics like city history and preservation law. Though our classes were mostly at Huntingdon, we did have two field trips – the last to historic Oakwood Cemetery.

The city’s historic preservation coordinator, the heroic Christy Anderson, was the main organizer of the program, reminding us to bring umbrellas and taking attendance. She did seem to be getting help from all kinds of folks along the way, including a number of businesses who sponsored the program. We’re also fortunate that our city has someone like Anderson on staff, reminding us of the shared experiences that bind us together.

Tuition was an absolute bargain at only $25. Heck, the swag bag we got at the first class was worth way more than that – it had TWO hardback books full of color pictures and all kinds of goodies. We also got T-shirts, and there was even barbecue to eat by Hank’s grave after our Oakwood tour. It would be a good deal at more than twice the price. But it was clear that one goal of the program was to make historic preservation accessible and interesting to everyone, not just old house types like me.

And there was a lot of useful information along the way. For example, if you’ve never seen Dr. Richard Bailey talk about Montgomery history, you’re really missing out. These are not boring academic lectures. He absolutely glows with his love of the city while displaying an astonishing knowledge of local history. Thanks to him, I finally understand why the streets downtown are at such weird angles.

Swag!

If you’ve ever been to a city that hasn’t done a good job of preserving its historic buildings, you’ll especially appreciate the time and energy and effort that it takes for Montgomery to retain its flavor. Support of programs like this leadership class by municipal leadership is a great way to underscore the ongoing task ahead of us all.

I will always regret not taking an Oakwood Cemetery tour with Mary Ann Neeley when she was still alive. But her grandson is working on his tour guide chops, and thanks to him I know a good bit more about the place than I did before. It’s a great place to wander around, but with someone there to help unlock the history, the experience takes on a whole new dimension and you really begin to appreciate the fabric of the city we live in. Also I got to take our dog with me to class that day!

I won’t give away all of the things I learned during my enrollment in the class. You’ll have to register for the next class and see for yourself. If you are even casually interested in history, it’s incredible added value to living here. They’re going to make it an annual event and plan to change the program up every year. I hope that they keep serving strawberry cake.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, eleven fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

 

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  1. CAROLE A KING says:

    It was an awesome seminar. Thanks to Christy Anderson and the Historic Preservation Commission along with the community sponsors for this excellent educational opportunity!

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