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Dorcheter makes state preservation list
1106 Dorchester
The only large building left on the campus of the Dorchester Academy is the boys dormitory. - photo by Courier file photo
This week, Dorchester Academy in Midway was named by the Georgia Trust to its 2010 list of 10 Places in Peril. This designation recognizes the academy as one of the state’s most important historical sites and affirms it should be preserved for future generations.
Dorchester Academy was founded in 1871 to educate freed slaves and continued to provide schooling for African-American children in Liberty County for generations. The academy also hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 when the civil rights leader met with other activists to plan the Freedom March to Birmingham, Ala.
Last year, the academy was named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“This (site) is on our to-do list for 2010,” said Mark C. McDonald, president and CEO of The Georgia Trust.
The Places in Peril list is designed to raise awareness about Georgia’s significant historic, archaeological and cultural resources, Trust officials said. This includes structures, districts, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes that are threatened by demolition, neglect, lack of maintenance, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.
McDonald said naming Dorchester Academy to the list will open up funding opportunities to the academy’s supporters, in particular to the Dorchester Improvement Association.
“This puts the Trust behind their organization,” he said. 
The Trust will provide on-site preservation assistance to each of the 2010 Places in Peril through its Partners in the Field program, funded by grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a number of charitable organizations in Georgia.
McDonald added the Trust develops relationships with local organizations that work to preserve designated historical sites. The Trust will hold a spotlight event at each one of the 10 sites on the list in the coming year, he said.
Last year two nearby sites were on the Places in Peril list: the Cockspur Island Lighthouse off the coast of Savannah, and the University of Georgia Marine Institute Greenhouse and Administration Building on Sapelo Island.
A boys dormitory is the main existing structure on the Dorchester Academy site. A museum was opened on the academy grounds in 2004. Deborah Robinson serves as the academy’s museum director.
“The roof and the foundation of the main building (boys dormitory) need repair,” Robinson said. “Those are the most urgent needs. We feel once those are done we can work on the rest.”
Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin is president of the Dorchester Improvement Association. He said he had anticipated the Georgia Trust Places in Peril designation before it was announced.
“I think it’s a continued affirmation of the importance of Dorchester Academy and the need to move forward making the necessary repairs we’ve been focusing on,” he said. “The Georgia Trust has worked closely with sites like ours to help with preservation and we’re confident they’ll be working with us as well to help raise funds.”
Austin explained the association was awarded a grant to fund the physical assessment of the site by an architectural engineer. 
“We’re waiting on the cost estimate,” he said. “So far we have raised about $26,000 to put toward replacing the roof.” Austin added that a good portion of the funds were raised during the association’s annual Walk to Dorchester last June. The walk retraces the average distance students had to walk to attend the academy.
The Riceboro mayor said Jordan H. Pool, Georgia Trust field services manager, thoroughly examined the Dorchester Academy site prior to the desgination.
“Dorchester Academy is such an amazing part of African-American history and the history surrounding the Civil Rights Act,” Poole said. The field agent said the Georgia Trust hopes to create “a preservation catalyst” for Dorchester Academy and the other nine sites on the list.
“We try to get them on the right track for rehabilitating the structures,” he said. “The real goal for Dorchester Academy is to get them (the association) a fix on many of the problems with the building. We’re trying to really help them with fundraising ideas so they can have the roof replaced and work on repairs to the structure.”
Poole said once the building is stabilized it can be used as a community center which would further benefit Liberty County.
 “We try to work with everybody and really get people involved,” he said. “A historic structure is not just a one-time repair, you’ve got to keep it up.”
“Very few communities have treasures like Dorchester Academy,” said Liberty County Commissioner Donald Lovette.
Lovette, an amateur historian and playwright, intends to complete a play chronicling the academy’s colorful history. He said it should be ready next year.
Mary L. Baggs of Riceboro, who attended Dorchester Academy, has strived to rescue the historic site for many years. Baggs serves on the Dorchester Improvement Association Board of Directors.
 “I went to public school in the county until I was able to go there — you had to pay to go to Dorchester Academy. It was a tuition school,” Baggs said.
For more information, call Dorchester Academy at 884-2347 or go to
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