By Jean Cole
The slice of earth that once held an historic Civil War fort and an all-black high school is finally coming alive in Limestone County.
Workers are demolishing part of the old Trinity School property off Brownsferry Street in Athens — saving portions of it for a museum and community room — and erecting a fence to protect the construction site.
After four years of work, the Athens Limestone Community Association’s Fort Henderson/Trinity School Project is visibly underway.
“It’s moving right along,” said ALCA board member Masheldia Green. “Now that we have equipment up there and something is going on, they will see it is really going to come to pass.”
ALCA board member Richard Martin is also excited.
“We’re on the road,” he said, while offering some details of the work now underway at the school building that fronts Brownsferry.
“We started last Tuesday taking all of the scrap iron out of buildings and putting up a fence around the construction site,” Martin said. “Then, we started tearing a portion of it down.”
The middle section of the building will be demolished, he said. The band room will be converted to a museum about Limestone County history from antebellum times through the Trinity School years. The front section that once held the library and classrooms, and which faces Brownsferry, will become a community room, Martin said. Plans are to preserve a section of Fort Henderson, clean and beautify the area, and rebuild a portion of the fort with a moat.
City Council action
On Monday night, Athens City Council members appointed Community Consultants Inc. as the grant administrator for the project. They will ensure that the $250,000 grant for the work will be properly spent. The ALCA will match 10 percent or $25,000, Green said.
Now that work is underway, Martin and Green hope former students, their descendants and anyone touched by Trinity School will donate to the project.
“We’re still in need some more money,” Martin said. “Anything would be appreciated.”
The association is seeking other grants to do the band room, which is not covered under the ($250,000) grant, Martin said. . But the ALCA needs money now to get the band room closed up so it will not further deteriorate, he said.
“A lot of things are not covered by the grant,” Green said. “It does not cover engineering and architectural costs, the cost of cleanup, grant-writer fees and utilities that will be needed once the building is up.”
In order to raise more money, the ALCA has sent out about 1,000 letters to former graduates and others inviting them to a special fundraiser at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Beasley Center in Athens. They will ask each graduate to contribute $100 to attend the event, with proceeds going to the project, Green said.
The speaker for the event will be the Rev. Louis E. Malone, a 1968 Trinity graduate and pastor of Saint Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Rockford, Ill. Members of the local Saint Mark Youth Choir will perform.
“We will also do recognitions for donations received,” Green said.
Funds are also need to help publish a comprehensive book about the site and Trinity School by local writer Charlotte Fulton.
“The book will bring tears to your eyes,” Martin said. “It is about how these people tried and did get an education.”
Green said residents can preorder the book by going online to the ALCA website at http://www.athenslca.org/.
Donations to the Fort Henderson/Trinity School Project may be made to ALCA, P.O. Box 1476, Athens, AL, 35612.
Donations are tax deductible and donors will receive a letter from the IRS acknowledging the giving.
The school and the ground on which it stands have historic value to Athens and Limestone County.
During the Civil War, between 1861-65, the former site of the Coleman estate became the home of Fort Henderson. According to the ALCA website, the earthwork structure for the fort was immense: 180 feet by 450 feet, rounded by abates of brush and palisade 4 feet high, surrounded by a ditch: 12 feet wide and 18 feet deep. It was occupied by a Union force of 600 soldiers. Only 5 percent of the fort remains.
From 1865-1970, the site was home to Trinity School, an all-black high school established in 1865 by the American Missionary Association. The association’s mission was to help former slaves acquire land and establish schools and churches. According to the website, there were 300 anxious men, women and children gathered, eager to learn. The end of segregation brought an end to Trinity School in 1970.