Morrow working to get historical site preservedPublished 4:09pm Tuesday, January 21, 2014
HODGES – Most anyone over the age of 25 who grew up in Franklin County remembers taking a field trip at some point in their school career to Overton Farm, a historical and educational site located near the town of Hodges in Franklin County.
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow said he also has fond memories of the site that date back to the 1970s when we was working for Northwest-Shoals Community College and he, along with a group of students, took on the task of restoring the site and having it placed on the National Historic Registry.
But Morrow said that the property, which is owned and controlled by the Bear Creek Development Authority, was recently closed off and is in danger of falling into serious disrepair unless someone steps in to make sure the property is properly maintained.
“I don’t think you could find many people around here who don’t have some great memories from Overton Farm,” Morrow said.
“This place is special to many Franklin County residents, and I don’t think they would be too happy to know that the place has been padlocked and restricted to the public and isn’t being properly maintained.
“It would be a serious disservice to this county and its citizens if we let a treasure and a national historic site like Overton Farm just fall by the wayside.”
Morrow said he had sent a letter this week to current BCDA board chairman Ed Crouch to inquire what the board planned to do with the property.
“Constituents have questioned me as to why the Overton Farms National Historic Registry has been abandoned by the Bear Creek Development Authority and is not being preserved,” Morrow stated in his letter to Crouch.
“This is an Alabama state-owned property and it is your, as members of the BCDA Board of Directors, fiduciary responsibility for care.”
Crouch, who also serves as the mayor of the town of Hodges, said he also feels strongly about the property and he realizes the value and impact the site has had over the years.
For many years, Overton Farm was a popular field trip destination for Franklin County and Russellville City school classes. The site features an old, shot-gun style main house with several different rooms, a barn, a well, and a smokehouse that were all restored back to what they would have originally looked like in the early 1800s.
“The schools used to use Overton Farms and utilize the property for educational purposes, but they stopped using the facility several years ago,” Crouch said.
“Even after the schools quite using the facility, I kept Overton Farm open for the past four years. We did all we could to make cuts and still keep it operating, but we kept losing money and our auditor finally said we had to close it down.”
Crouch said Overton Farm was officially closed on Oct. 1, 2013.
Morrow said when he learned of the closure, he contacted school officials to see if one of the local school systems would be willing to assume responsibility for the property in order to keep it open and operational, but he said none of the schools were able to make that commitment.
While continuing to look for alternatives to keep Overton Farm open, Morrow said he contacted officials of the nearest town, Hodges, to see if that might be a viable option.
“I contacted the Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Trail officials to explore the possibility of their interest,” Morrow said.
“They are extremely interested in using this property in the expansion of the Equestrian Trail. They will also accept the responsibility for maintaining and protecting the assets on the property.”
Crouch, as mayor of Hodges, said he was well aware of RBCEP’s interest in the property, and he would have to abstain from any voting on the issue as a BCDA board member because of the conflict of interest.
“It is completely up to the BCDA board what they do with Overton Farm,” Crouch said.
“But I do agree with Rep. Morrow that something needs to be done so the property doesn’t just sit there and deteriorate. It could be well-used by Rock Bridge Canyon and could be a great asset to the trails and the park.”
Morrow said as a state representative, he felt it was his duty to make sure one of only two places in Franklin County listed on the National Historic Registry would be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
“This is an important issue to me, and I hope the BCDA board takes this seriously,” he said.
“Overton Farm has a lot of personal meaning for me, but it also has a lot of personal meaning for many people in our county and I just want to see it being maintained and taken care of in the proper way.
“I believe turning control of the property over to the Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Trail is the most responsible option at this point.”
Morrow said he planned to follow up to his letter mailed to Crouch by attending the BCDA board meeting at the end of the month.