Living Democracy

Opportunities coming to Wilcox Female Institute

The Wilcox Female Institute is a Greek Revival style building established as a boarding school for girls. It was used as that for around 60 years, until the academy closed in 1910. The building was transformed into the county high school until it was decommissioned in the 1970s. 

With alumna such as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and former Alabama senator and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Institute possesses much historical and cultural value to the community. The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976, 

Once decommissioned, the school fell into the hands of the Wilcox Historical Society, the largest civic organization in the county, boasting 345 members, and has been used as their meeting space. However, much of the space was largely abandoned. 

Lance Britt, president of the Wilcox Historical Society, originally from Huntsville, saw the potential of the historic property after he joined the group. “I noticed there was nowhere for indoor large gatherings around, and this place was not being utilized,” Britt stated. 

Upon this discovery, Britt organized the “Raise the Bell” campaign to raise funds necessary to make the proper renovations. So far, the historical society received a $40,000 grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, bringing their total up to $70,000 received in grant funds. Additionally, the historical society is submitting a grant application for $75,000 to the Alabama Historic Commission.

The plans for renovation involve improvements to the bathrooms and elevator, second floor improvements, including improvements to the bell tower, a fire sprinkler system, and an auditorium space. 

“The restoration of the female institute will make a major impact on the future of our county,” Britt stated. He noted that Wilcox County is lacking in spaces for the arts, despite the county being full of talented artists. The million-dollar project will open doors for artists and musicians.

The auditorium space will be a replica of the original extension. The structure was once used as a dormitory in its boarding school days and most recently used as a band room before it was torn down in the 1960s.  

After the auditorium is complete, it will include a theater stage and provide space to host plays, concerts, and other large gatherings. “We will expand our concert series to include free concerts for school age children, bring in guest speakers, and exhibitions,” Britt said. 

Additionally, the historical society plans on taking advantage of Gov. Ivey’s Camden roots with hopes of housing her archives on the upstairs level.  

For now, the society is making use of the already renovated space on the first floor, hosting meetings and classical concerts there. The renovations on the first floor include a rearrangement in flooring. Due to the deterioration of the original wooden floorboards on the first floor, workers took the original floors from the second story and used them on the first. 

The historical society’s efforts put a spotlight on Wilcox County’s rich history and claims to fame. “These opportunities will bring people here from throughout the state and beyond and with them comes tax revenue as well,” Britt noted.

 

 

 

 

By Ashby Henry
Last Updated: August 24, 2022