Contributed by Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation
The Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation are pleased to announce the 2020 Places in Peril, a program that highlights significant endangered properties. Since 1994, the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation have joined forces to sponsor the program to call public attention to a select number of Alabama’s threatened historic and archaeological sites to bring awareness to significant historic places that suffer from neglect, lack of financial support or are threatened with demolition.
Places in Peril seeks to rally local and statewide support to elevate these sites, facilitate their preservation and ensure they remain in their communities for years to come. Endangered properties can be saved and returned to their places as treasured landmarks. Places in Peril has helped save many important landmarks that may otherwise have been lost. Over the course of 25 years, the program has highlighted more than 250 resources.
Sites on the 2020 Places in Peril listing include Union High School, Monroeville (Monroe County); Bonneau-Jeter Hardware, Elba (Coffee County); Fite & Fite Law Office, Hamilton (Marion County); Harris Place Morning Star N Cemetery, Cuba (Sumter County); John Looney House, Ashville (St. Clair County); Thompson Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, Opelika (Lee County); Uchee Methodist Church, Hatchechubbee (Russell County); and West Blocton Theater, West Blocton (Bibb County). The Places in Peril list is published on the Alabama Historical Commission website and will be featured in the spring 2021 issue of Alabama Heritage.
“Places in Peril is an immensely valuable program to elevate and streamline preservation efforts for sites across our state that are under the threat of demolition or deterioration. These campaigns have been successful in saving cherished places for future generations,” said Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, the executive director of Alabama Historical Commission and State Historic Preservation Officer.
“The Places in Peril program is a perfect opportunity to inspire communities to rally together to save vulnerable structures. Not only are these places worth saving, their stories are too,” said Eddie Griffith, Alabama Historical Commission chairman. “Over the years that Places in Peril has highlighted the plight of threatened properties, their recognition through this program has inspired their restoration carrying their stories forward to future generations of Alabamians.”
“The Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased to continue its partnership with the Alabama Historical Commission on this important project,” said Katie Randall, vice president, Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation. “We realize now more than ever the importance of saving places that represent all Alabamians, places that tell the whole story of our state, especially those that represent the lives of the marginalized and the historically disenfranchised. By recognizing the most endangered places in our state and bringing their stories to light, we hope to advocate for a better and more equitable Alabama for all.”
Nominations for Places in Peril are accepted on an annual basis; any type of building, ruin, site or place is eligible for nomination. Places in Peril has listed theaters, schools, caves, jails, churches and houses. The application requires brief but clear answers to a handful of questions regarding a property’s significance, threat and the designation of a local contact and local advocacy group with the capacity to leverage the support and coverage provided by the listing. Property owner permission and current, good quality photographs of the property are also required. The nomination period for Places in Peril 2021 will open on May 1, 2021, to coincide with National Historic Preservation Month, a nationwide movement to celebrate and promote historic places and heritage tourism.
Thompson Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church 187 Columbus Parkway, Opelika, Lee County
Opelika’s A.M.E Zion Church was organized in 1872 by Minister Rev. John Ford and a team of laymen. The congregation of Thompson Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church built the church in its current location by 1878. The one-story building is supported by wood and brick with interior walls plastered over an original wood frame. Six stained glass windows enclosed by wood sashes are on both sides of the church, and four stained glass windows are in the choir loft. The ceiling of the church consists of the original wood with heavy beams running horizontal and vertically, and the wood floors are stained. The main entrance faces Torbert Boulevard (now Columbus Parkway) with second entrance facing west. A connecting parsonage was added in 1919; the one-story home is made of brick and contains six rooms, a hall and one bathroom.
The Church’s membership includes the first African American doctor in Opelika, Dr. J.W. Darden, and Mrs. Bessie Brady and Mrs. Eugenia Parks, who established kindergarten classes for African American students. From 1964 to 2014, Dr. A.L. Wilson led the congregation and the church experienced significant growth. Wilson immediately became involved in the community leading the church and followers to participate in and promote the Civil Rights Movement. The church was listed in the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage Oct. 19, 1979.
Over the years, the church has suffered significant water damage due to a leaking roof. The intrusion has also caused the plaster of the sanctuary walls to buckle and peel and the trim to rot. The floors also exhibit damage. This present condition makes it difficult to hold comfortable services. Repairs are needed soon to ensure preservation and prevent further damage.