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National parks advisor visits Dorchester
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Dr. Larry Rivers, president of Fort Valley State University, explains the importance of historic preservation to a small crowd at the Dorchester Museum during his visit. - photo by Photo by Alena Parker.
Many area residents probably are in the same boat as Mary Goodwich, a local for more than 20 years who has never been on the Liberty Trail.
With a full gas tank, she and her husband recently embarked on the journey and Goodwich said she was amazed at the history they found.
Dr. Larry Rivers, president of Fort Valley State University, toured the Dorchester Academy and Museum on the Liberty Trail on Wednesday and agreed the area is treasure trove of knowledge and clues from the past.
Rivers sits on the National Parks System Advisory Board and had a hand in getting Dorchester named to the National Historic Register in 2006.
“So many times we look at proposals, but we never get a chance to actually see the structure,” Rivers said. “This is an effort to visit some of the great historic places we have in the southeast region.”
Dorchester even brings some diversity to the register, which contains the names of about 300,000 structures and sites.
“There are very few NHLs [that] are African-American historic structures and so this makes it unique,” Rivers said.
However, a lot of the old buildings and documents that could have been linked to African-American history have been destroyed.
“And the ones that are up need to be able to explain that they have international and national significance,” Rivers said. “And sometimes the material is not there to justify that.”
But that doesn’t mean the buildings aren’t important. “They may say it, but we need evidence to prove it.”
Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin, who is also director of the Dorchester Improvement Association, was in the small crowd that gathered in the museum for Rivers’ Wednesday visit.
Austin acknowledged that hard evidence does carry more weight.
“There was a struggle when they were initially trying to get Dorchester identified … it was only after they mentioned the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came here,” Austin said, showing Rivers pictures of King, Drs. Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy in the Dorchester auditorium.
“See now, if you didn’t have those pictures you would have to fight much harder,” Rivers said as Austin flipped the page to more photos of King playing baseball on the grounds of Dorchester.
Even with photographic proof of Dorchester’s historical significance, it took a considerable sum — about $1.5 million — to have it restored, according to Austin.
Dorchester accepts about $15,000 in corporate contributions a year.
Rivers said it’s all worth the investment because of the returns in tourism a local National Historic Landmark brings.
“It helps with the city’s image,” Rivers said. “So it’s really a prestigious structure when it’s designated by the national parks system.”
“What we’ve got to do is challenge them a little more,” Austin said.
“I think with the stimulus, there are monies set aside for the preservation of historic buildings,” Rivers said.
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