June 12, 2019

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Historical Commission

MOUNT VERNON ARSENAL AND SEARCY HOSPITAL COMPLEX NAMED TO "11 MOST ENDANGERED PLACES" 2019 BY NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION

AHC logo pantone 208FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Andi Martin, Marketing and Public Relations Manager  

andi.martin@ahc.alabama.gov, 334-230-2680

 

June 12, 2019

Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Complex Named to “11 Most Endangered Places” 2019 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

(Montgomery, AL) May is National Historic Preservation Month, during which the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognizes the nation’s “11 Most Endangered Places.” This year, the Trust has included the Mount Vernon Arsenal & Searcy Hospital on their list of endangered placesThe Alabama Historical Commission and partners the Alabama Department of Mental Health, Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, Alabama Bicentennial Commission, and the Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Society, are working to identify and address the site’s most urgent preservation needs, develop long-term solutions, and draft a restoration plan for this extraordinary historically significant facility.   

 Each year, the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. Over 300 places have been listed in its 32-year history, and in that time, fewer than 5 percent of listed sites have been lost.  “Mount Vernon and Searcy Hospital played a role in several difficult and complex chapters in our nation’s history,” said Katherine Malone-France, Interim Chief Preservation Officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This collection of historic buildings has been a cornerstone of Alabama’s history and economy since the early 1800s.”

 

“The Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital compound is unlike any other collection of structures in the country,” said Lisa D. Jones, Executive Director of the Alabama Historical Commission. “Its early military presence and position supported our growing nation, while the later years created a narrative around conscientious reform and humanitarian movements. It is a proud day to work toward saving a site whose vast history mirrors the everchanging landscape of the times,” continued Jones. “These are real places telling real stories, and they have a lot to offer each of us.”

Located in north Mobile County, Mount Vernon Arsenal was established in early the 19th century and was in almost continuous occupation for over 200 years. The first use of the site is recorded before the War of 1812, by the U.S. Army as a cantonment for Fort Stoddard (1800-1811) on the Mobile River and as the southernmost border of the Federal Road, a key international border presence during the earliest formal movement to produce permanent national military defense facilities. The site was later used in the construction of a federal arsenal in 1828 and many of those buildings remain today.

In 1861, Mount Vernon Arsenal was seized by Confederate troops who occupied the site for the duration of the Civil War. The Arsenal was later converted to barracks where it became associated with the late 19th century social movement to reform and provide humane treatment for Native Americans and served as the administering headquarters for Apache Village (1887-1894). P.O.W. Apache leaders Geronimo, Naiche, and Mangus, and their followers were transferred from Fort Marion in Florida to Mount Vernon in 1888. They remained at Mount Vernon until 1894 when the POWs were transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Army turned the site over to the State of Alabama in 1895, and in 1900 the complex was converted to a mental health facility for African American patients, which was later integrated with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The dawning of the 20th century in America saw the emergence of pellagra, a then-unknown disease caused by a diet deficient in niacin and protein. In late summer 1906, Dr. George H. Searcy noted an illness in some patients at Mount Vernon and later reported his treatment and findings to colleagues at the Medical Association of Alabama. Searcy’s contribution was vital in the overall discovery and treatment plan for an epidemic plaguing the country.

 The Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Complex was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The hospital remained in operation in 2012. These important buildings are now vacant, deteriorating, and vulnerable to the effects of the humid Alabama climate.

The National Trust’s “11 Most Endangered Places” program, will bring a significant amount of national attention to the site. It does not come with funding assistance or any type of restrictions, but the program can elevate the story of Mount Vernon/Searcy in the national spotlight and help collaborators plan for maintenance, preservation, and interpretation of a place that tells a unique, American story.

There are 40 buildings on the site, 32 of which are considered “historically significant.” 27 of the buildings on site have structural damage. 21 buildings on site date to the 19th century; five of which have substantial structural damage, including one collapse. All are in need of immediate repairs. 

 

Efforts should focus on protecting and preserving the historical and architectural significance of the site while capitalizing on the millions of dollars the State of Alabama has invested in the complex over the past century and a half. Some restoration projects on site have been completed, such as the Survey and Arsenal Turret roof project. There are many critical needs, including other roof projects and stabilization efforts. Creative and constructive ways for adaptive reuse of the complex are possible with the right coalition.

 On the ground in Mount Vernon, a local organization has been volunteering their time to the upkeep of the McCafferty House on site. “From the origins of Fort Stoddard to Geronimo to the history of Searcy Hospital, we are beyond excited to share the rich history of this area,” said Melda Tipp, Chairman of the Mount Vernon Historical Preservation Society.

“The Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation cannot overemphasize the historical, archaeological, and architectural significance of this place,” said Dr. Ashley Dumas with the ATHP. “The plight of Mount Vernon Arsenal/Searcy is urgent; any further losses would be tragic for Alabama's history and our people. The Alabama Trust commends the Mount Vernon Historical Society for their years of determined perseverance in bringing attention to the plight of the old Arsenal, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with them, the National Trust, and the AHC.”

In recognition of the “11 Most Endangered” designation, the Alabama Historical Commission and partners will be hosting a press conference on Thursday, June 20 at 10 am at the McCafferty House on site at Searcy. AHC, which serves as the State Historic Preservation Office, is pleased for the opportunity to illuminate Mount Vernon and Searcy Hospital’s history and impress upon citizens that the time is now to act and save these early structures.

 

To support this historic site, please contact Collier Neeley, National Register Coordinator at the Alabama Historical Commission. To learn more about the Alabama Historical Commission, please visit www.ahc.alabama.gov.

 

About the Alabama Historical Commission

Located in historic downtown Montgomery at 468 S. Perry Street, the Alabama Historical Commission is the state historic preservation agency for Alabama. The agency was created by an act of the state legislature in 1966 with a mission to protect, preserve and interpret Alabama’s historic places. AHC works to accomplish its mission through two fields of endeavor: Preservation and promotion of state-owned historic sites as public attractions; and, statewide programs to assist people, groups, towns, and cities with local preservation activities. For a complete list of programs and properties owned and operated by the AHC, hours of operation, and admission fees please visit ahc.alabama.gov.



  • For more information, visit http://ahc.alabama.gov
  • For more state-wide press releases, click here