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November 16, 2006
Six months of work proves fruitful for AHC and Tuskegee Main Street
Segrest Center relocates
|Wendy Slaton of Tuskegee Main Street observes move of historic building|
|Jeff Thompson photo|
TUSKEGEE, Alabama (STPNS) -- Three days before the city streets of Tuskegee filled with college pride and game day life as the homecoming parade came through on Saturday, a different parade eased through downtown, virtually unnoticed.
The Segrest Law Center got up and walked away--figuratively, of course.
It was the end of several months of labor and anxiety, perpetually mixed with the key elements in the preservation for the center-- hope and charity. It was exciting for some, relieving for others and above all, thoroughly interesting to watch.
I.L. Davis Housemovers, Inc., brought approximately 20 men for the move, most fearlessly adept to what they were doing. The company had spent days lifting the house and sliding it onto a semi trailer to wait for the 9 a.m. scheduled move on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
Utilities Board of Tuskegee was there with trucks to move wires hanging over the street and the Tuskegee Police Department blocked off the route and negotiated detours, Interim Police Chief Lester Patrick himself was directing traffic on North Main Street in a tan two-piece suit.
At 9:30 the truck--with house in tow--lumbered out of its resting place and onto Northside Street. From there, it turned north on Maple Street and then west on Spring Street to get to and empty North Main Street.
But it wasn?t as easy as it sounds. The I.L. Davis crew posted two men atop the house to ride with it down the road and ensure wires passed smoothly over the top. UBT was there for the same reason. In all, getting from Northside to North Main Street took almost a half hour. Tuskegee?s streets aren?t exactly designed to accommodate traveling houses.
And that was what brought the crowd. People poked their heads out their doors to watch a decrepit piece of history lurch down the road and others walked with it, either to the front or sides of the truck, snapping photographs, pointing at the makeshift parade float and exclaiming, ?That?s something you don?t see everyday.?
Eventually, the Segrest Center came to rest in the empty lot next to the Johnston-Curtwright House on the corner of Highway 126 and North Main Street, across from Burger King. The only damage from the move was when an arm of the semi trailer clipped a U.S. Highway 81 sign as the building was being baked into the lot.
In many ways, the move was just like the process to get the building moved--slow and deliberate, with a handful of snags that only lengthened the trip. The lot was supposed to be empty more than three months ago, but hang-ups in finding the funding only lengthened the process for the collaborating organizations that wanted to see Segrest preserved. Thankfully, the patient and understanding owner of the building put her own desires aside and gave all she could to see this thing through.
The Tuskegee Main Street Foundation and the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), as well as the people of this state, are indebted to Mrs. Ala Whitehead.
The Segrest building, built around 1840, was the oldest structure on the Tuskegee Square, and one of the last of its kind. It?s part of what historians call ?lawyers? row,? a term used to describe the chains of law offices constructed around antebellum courthouses. As of now, no more than a dozen exist in the state, according to Bob Gamble, the senior historian at the AHC. Although it looks like it would be better off in the city dump, Macon County would lose one more piece of itself if it were.
The AHC began work on preserving this building the moment they heard Whitehead wanted to tear it down to build a new coffeehouse on the square. With the help of the Main Street Foundation they began to put together a plan to get the building to a place where it could be restored and appreciated for its historical significance.
When all was drafted up, the move was to cost more than $12,000, which generally isn?t much for a government agency, but the AHC has lost so much funding in recent years, it wasn?t able to offer Whitehead any more than a promise to work as hard as it could to get Segrest out of her hair as quickly as it could.
Money stayed tight, however, for months, even as the Segrest Center attracted the interest of entities around the state. Whitehead promised the AHC the $3,000 she was going to pay to demolish the building, and the AHC accepted with epic gratitude, but it still left them thousands short.
It took almost half a year to raise the money.
In the meantime, the AHC invited all the volunteer work they could find, ?employing? Auburn University Architecture students and Alabama State students to perform tasks that it couldn?t pay for. Much of the preparations for the move done by the volunteers were undertaken early Saturday mornings-- off days for the students.
At the helm of the process were Dorothy Walker of the AHC and Wendy Slaton of the Main Street Foundation. Both worked tirelessly on this project to see it through.
?The AHC is so happy to have partnered with such great community preservation organizations like the Tuskegee Main Street, Auburn University and Alabama State University to really preserve an important part of the state?s history,? Walker said, who was stunningly overdressed for the occasion because she had a meeting following the move. ?Because, you know, it?s not just important to Tuskegee, but also for generations to come as part of the state?s history.?
Slaton, outfitted in a light jacket and jeans, followed the move on foot snapping pictures as she went. She explained to The Tuskegee News along the way that getting Segrest to move was anything but easy.
?This has been a real learning experience,? she said. ?If you want to take a lot of heat--volunteer.?
When the Segrest Center was finally parked on its new site, officially ending the parade, the big names got together to shake hands on a job well done. Whitehead posed for pictures while presenting a $3,000 check to Walker. Slaton, Rozelle Chappell, head of the Macon County Planning Commission and Charlie Thompson, head of the Tuskegee Area Chamber of Commerce, accompanied the two in front of the center.
?I?m happy to be able to donate the Segrest building and to help in the cause of preservation for the community and for the nation,? Whitehead said. ?And I?m especially happy to be able to make the donation of the $3,000 to help with this move.?
When all was said and done, satisfaction was plastered on most every face in the area. But even with the move out of the way, Walker was hesitant to start the celebration just yet.
?For about six months this has been our baby,? she said. ?And all the work has been worth it to see a building with this type of significant history be preserved. But the most important thing we want people to know is that there?s still a lot of work to be done. We?ve jumped the first hurdle in moving it, and now the next hurdle is to get it stabilized on its new site. So we still need support from the community to do that.?
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