Steeped in history

Published 7:07 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

Remember the Statler Brothers’ Maple Street Memories video? The one where they drove down Maple Street in an open convertible and faded into yesteryear.

That’s kind of what the College Street Historic District Association had in mind when it organized in June. Not that anyone can actually step back in time, but those who really believe can preserve the best of yesterday while living in a progressive community and a city that has a vision for the future.

That’s what the College Street Historic District Association envisions.

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“We’re not wanting to prevent change or put any stringent restrictions on the residents of this historic area. We’re just wanting to preserve the historic nature of the area,” said Ed Telfair, a College Street resident and newly elected vice president of the association.

“Sixteen homes and one church are listed on the Alabama and National Registers of Historic Places, and there are others that will qualify. It’s just a matter of getting the paper work done. This area is steeped in history and the homes offer diverse styles of architectural designs, from American Ranch to Greek Revival.”

The architectural designs include the Bashinsky house which is Greek Revival. The house is the cornerstone of College Street and perhaps attracts the most attention.

The original house was built in the1880s but burned. Construction on the new house began in 1884 but work took eight years to complete because all the materials were shipped from England.

The story is that the materials were shipped by freighter to the port of Mobile, then to Troy by railroad and to College Street by mule.

Although most of the homes are Victoria-style architecture, other houses in the area are of diverse styles including Colonial, English Tudor, Spanish, American Ranch and Modern International also known as Bauhaus.

The College Street area exudes an air of historic prominence. The street was a prominent center of political and economic power from 1870 until 1930.

Resident Jeremiah Augustus Henderson was one of the wealthiest merchants and landowners in southeast Alabama. His son, Charles Henderson, was the first president of Troy Bank and Trust Company and founded what would become General Telephone Company of Alabama. He was later elected governor of Alabama and his influence is still felt in Troy and Pike County through his generosity to the local school systems and the health care community.

Other prominent citizens who made their homes on College Street were O.C. Wiley, a prominent railroad man; L.M. Bashinsky, a German Jew and a wealthy cotton broker; and Judge Lucien Gardner, a chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

“College Street was home to so many prominent and wealthy families that it was called ‘Silk Stocking Street,’” said Robert Earl Stewart, College Street resident and president of the newly formed association. “We’re not trying to return the area to that status, we’re just dedicated to the preservation of the historic homes and to maintaining a homogeneous district that reflects the lifestyle of that period. We’ve wanted this for a long time, and we’re all in one accord with the purpose of the College Street Historic District Association.”

The idea for the organization of an association of homeowners in the historic district of Troy has been tossed around for several years. Tossed back and forth but nobody has caught the ball and run with it … until now.

At a June 23 meeting of the residents of the College Street area approved the bylaws for the College Street Historic District and what was once only an idea is a dream finally coming true.

The main orders of business were the approval of the bylaws and the election of officers.

Robert Earl Stewart was elected president of the association, Ed Telfair, vice president; Erik Mizell, treasurer; and Clif Lusk, secretary.

Street representatives were elected who will be the go-betweens the home owners and the association officers.

The street representatives will keep the residents on their streets informed about issues concerning the association and up to date on the progress of projects and abreast of and involved in events and activities of the association.

The street representatives are Amy Gaston, Laura Renfroe, Jean Orendorff, Pam Little and Susan Green.

Standing committees were also named and included an advisory council, infrastructure, social, traffic, zoning and audit committees.

Stewart said the purpose of the College Street Historic District Association is to promote organized community interest and action in the local civic affairs as they may effect the preservation of the historic district which includes College, Walnut, Pine, China and Murphree streets.

Membership in the association is open to all owners of residences on those streets and will consist of two types, primary and associate.

“Primary membership will be available to those properties that are currently recognized by the Alabama Historical Commission as properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” Stewart said. “Associate memberships will be available to all other properties. Whenever a property achieves recognition as being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, membership can be changed to primary.”

Stewart said about 110 residents will be included in the association, and everyone will have a voice through two annual business meetings.

“What we envision is that the College Street Historic District will become a place where people can come to explore the past,” he said. Holiday tours of homes, walking tours Sunday socials are ways that the association members are considering to promote the historic district. They also envision neighborhood events that will strengthen the cohesiveness of the district.

“By meeting together as an association, everyone will have opportunities to offer ideas and express concerns regarding the historic district,” Telfair said. “We will all work together for the betterment of our district and for the city of Troy.”

Already, suggestions have been made to make the area more aesthetically pleasing.

“One project that is at the top of our list is to see what would be involved in putting the utility lines underground,” Stewart said. “If I’m not wrong, College Street is the only street that has lines on both sides of the street. This is a historic district and having the utility lines underground would certainly make the area more authentic and certainly a lot more attractive.”

The idea of replacing street lights with gas lanterns is also a high priority for the association, but the College Street Historic District Association is also a group of realists.

“We know that nothing is going to happen overnight, but we believe that we will be able to accomplish our purpose, which is the preservation of the historic district,” Stewart said. “The organization of the College Street Historic District was an all important first step.”

And, if all goes as planned, a turn into the College Street Historic District will be a fade into yesteryear for generations to come.

A memory for some and a glimpse into the past for others and a treasure trove for all.