Wetumpka is a city well known for its historical buildings and locations.
The city can now include a log cabin and the Ma Brown Dog Trot structures to its list of officially recognized historical buildings by the Alabama Historical Commission due to the work of historic preservationist Calvin Chappelle.
Chappelle said while the designations are a noteworthy achievement, that is just the first of several phases in the project to restore the structures to a point where both can be utilized by the public.
“The first phase is we are listed with the Alabama Historical Commission to recognize the importance of these structures,” he said. “Then you create a road map for what needs to be done and raise the money for the work that needs to be done.”
It is a big deal for a structure to be recognized, according to Chappelle.
“The designation is somewhat of an honorary designation,” he said. “The state recognizes these as important historical and cultural assets that need to be preserved. That’s when the work really begins. These structures were moved from their original locations so the cultural identity attached to these buildings are gone.”
Chappelle said there are a variety of ways these buildings can serve a purpose to the community.
“I think the Elmore County Museum can utilize the buildings for living history demonstrations,” he said. “Organizations like the Wetumpka (Area) Chamber of Commerce could use those for special events. The (Wetumpka) Depot Players could use those buildings for backdrops in their plays. The possibilities are limitless. “
Chappelle said a historical structures report needs to take place as the next phase of the project.
“A historical structural engineer can tell us what condition these buildings are in,” he said. “The report will also tell us what we need to do and the appropriate steps that need to be made to restore these buildings appropriately. We want to have a road map.”
A historic structures report is $5,000 per building, Chapelle said.
“The historical society will be looking at various fundraising efforts moving forward,” he said.
He said the timeline to completely restore both buildings has not been determined yet due to the fact the cost to restore the structures is unknown.
“The cost of restoration, we do not know yet,” he said. “It could be a $50,000 project. That might be on the low end. Having that historic structures report will help us show potential grantors that we have done our homework and we know where we are going.”
He said the idea to restore the structures came to him a few years ago when he was at Gold Star Park in downtown Wetumpka.
“I noticed the Sewell cabin when visiting the park with my family when we first moved to Wetumpka,” he said. “I thought it was a shame to see it in disrepair. Same with the Ma Brown Dog Trot.”
As he and his family settled in to their new hometown and jobs, Chappelle took action.
“After becoming more interested in wanting to do something with the buildings and asking around, I found out the cabin is owned by the city and the Ma Brown Dog Trot is owned by the Elmore County Historical Society but it is on city property,” Chappelle said.
While Chappelle is an employee of the state historical agency and is familiar with historical preservation, he said the application process was challenging.
“The first thing you do is research,” he said. “Gathering facts and as much information as you can find out about the historic structure itself, who owned it, who lived in it and what’s been done over the years.”
He said he tracked down a lot of history on the two structures by looking at the genealogy of the people who owned and lived in the buildings and a subscription to newspapers.com.
“It is amazing what you can find just going through old newspapers,” he said.
Another ally in Chappelle’s project was the staff at the historical society and the museum.
“I gathered all this information together from these sources and started taking a lot of pictures,” he said.
Chappelle thinks now is the ideal time to breathe new life in these structures due to the revitalization projects currently happening in downtown Wetumpka.
“Main Street Wetumpka has done a fabulous job in downtown,” he said. “Now is the time to make our citizens aware of all of our preservation needs.”