Thursday, August 25, 2005

Organization focuses on preserving heritage

The inaugural meeting of “Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc.” was held Tuesday, July 12, at Fitch Farms-Galena Plantation.

For those unfamiliar with Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. (PMC&HS), it is a newly formed non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving the rich cultural heritage of Holly Springs and surrounding areas, uniquely known for their rich inventory of antebellum architecture, historic sites, and both natural landscape and resources.

Approximately 50 people attended the meeting. Each guest represented a community organization that is actively involved in some aspect of historic preservation in our city or county. Rev. Bennie Braswell opened the meeting with an inspirational devotion. Afterwards, interim PMC&HS president Chelius Carter and vice-president W.O. (Bill) Fitch warmly welcomed all of the guests and reviewed the evening’s itinerary.

Thanks to the hospitality of Joan Fitch and her culinary staff, a delicious meal was served consisting of pork tenderloin, home grown vegetables and bread pudding for dessert. The folks at Galena Plantation always prepare excellent meals.

Following dinner, a PowerPoint presentation, assisted by George Gwin, was made on “lost architecture” in Holly Springs and Marshall County, “lost” due to a number of reasons, some understandable; others, inexcusable. We also had a brief look at lost landscapes in Shelby and Fayette County, Tenn – due to unbridled development. This is an issue which should be of great concern here, in Marshall County’s beautiful “hill country.”

Special guest for the evening was Dr. Hubert H. McAlexander, a Holly Springs native, now of Athens, Ga. and author of “A Southern Tapestry,” the cultural and architectural history of Holly Springs and Marshall County. McAlexander teamed up with Carter in his presentation of “lost architecture,” providing much insight and considerable enthusiasm, following the presentation with a challenge to act.

The presentation ended on a specific project in need of immediate attention – Chalmers Institute, one which holds great promise for future historic preservation in this region and beyond.

Hubert McAlexander and Mayor Andre’ DeBerry emphasized Chalmers’ place in Mississippi history as the first chartered university in the state, known in 1837 as The University of Holly Springs, and implored people to appreciate the significance of the structure and its conceptual plans for re-use after restoration – a trades school for teaching historic preservation crafts.

Chelius Carter, Bill Fitch and Tim Liddy have made a great investment in the property, in order to preserve it for this purpose. There are few such schools in the United States and such a facility would, in the long view, become a true asset to Holly Springs, as well as our region and state.

Most of the local groups were represented, and a number of questions were asked as to how funds generated by Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. would be allocated towards projects. It was explained that funds generated by PMC&HS would be divided in two categories – “general funds” and “specific project funds.” The latter will provide a means for those groups involved in historic preservation, but are not a registered 501 (c)(3) organization, to collect tax-deductible donations, without having to go through the redundant process of becoming registered.

PMC&HS shall provide the community service of collecting and distributing funds, as they come into those specific accounts. “General funds” would be vital projects which do not have a particular group to champion them and will be done on a priority basis decided on by the PMC&HS board.

Leona Harris was asked to give a brief presentation of the grand re-opening of the Ida B. Wells-Barnett House and Museum, which went off quite successfully. Bennie Braswell asked if PMC&HS would be looking at abandoned or vacant plots of land and the answer was “yes,” if the property could be regarded as vital to historic preservation, as detailed in our state-chartered purpose.

All persons in attendance were personally asked, in advance, of their interest in committing to accepting a seat on the advisory board of PMC&HS. After being apprised in this organizational meeting of the challenges ahead, Dr. David Beckley proposed that to speed up the process, all in attendance could mark “yes” or “no” next to their name on the sign-in list, indicating their desire to accept and the “yes” count was at about 95 percent.

In closing, McAlexander vigorously stressed the importance of this organization needing to “jump start” the process of Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. in its ability to get projects moving forward. As Chelius Carter explained, “Right now I can tell you that PMC&HS does not have one red cent in its account, at this time.”

McAlexander then put forth a challenge which was followed by two additional pledges and since the meeting, others have been received. So…there is a beginning.

More information on Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. shall follow, such as a P.O. Box for sending tax-deductible donations, as well as an expanded description of the Chalmers Institute project.

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