A Project for Students and Citizens

Know your history (and build it too)

In Collinsville on June 5, 2013 at 11:51 pm
Collinsville High student Deanna McKinney explores "Little Collinsville."

Collinsville High student Deanna McKinney explores “Little Collinsville.” (Photo by Nathan Simone)

By Nathan Simone / COMMUNITY REPORTER

Many of us aren’t lucky enough to live in a small town that can trace its history back to its founders and original families.

But for Collinsville, members of the Collinsville Historical Association have made preserving the history of the town a collaborative effort since 2003. Housed inside the Collinsville Community Center, a former National Guard armory, is the Collinsville History museum.

While no more than a few rooms in size, what the museum lacks in space it more than makes up for in meaningful content.

Mary Beth Snow, a sophomore with Auburn University’s Living Democracy program, is mentoring a group of Collinsville High School students this summer. Her mission, in part, is to help them discover Collinsville through public work and striving to be engaged citizens.   Snow wants them to care about their community and help it grow as well. So it happens that on Thursday, May 29, Snow decided that it would be a great idea for the group to visit the museum. Snow’s group on this particular day included Deanna McKinney, Lynda Pedro and Naomi Cummings,  girls of different backgrounds, ages and interests.

(from left) Deanna McKinney, Lynda Pedro and Naomi Cummings explore the Collinsville History Museum with Rebecca Clayton.

(From left) Deanna McKinney, Lynda Pedro and Naomi Cummings explore the Collinsville History Museum with Rebecca Clayton. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

On our way to the museum, the girls joke about each other’s quirky habits. Pedro is known as the “and then” girl because she always follows lists of potential activities with “and then…”, Cummings is a self-professed “read-aholic” who spends the majority of her free time either in the Collinsville Library or at home reading any number of books. “I’m reading four Harry Potter books at the same time,” Cummings said. “And watching the movies to see how it differs.”

Snow said she immensely enjoys having a group of kids to talk to and address problems with and wants to instill in them a sense of responsibility and love for the place they’re from.

“I want these kids to know that there’s nothing wrong with loving where you’re from and wanting to stay there,” Snow said. “Growing up doesn’t mean moving away.” After trips and having fun, Snow said she has talked to her high school group about “brain drain” in rural Alabama and the effect that acts like shopping locally can have on a community.

“I’ve had discussions with them about serious topics, about how shopping in your community keeps dollars that eventually gets used in other ways,” Snow said. “It’s just something you don’t really think about until someone else prompts the discussion. I certainly didn’t when I was their age.”

And so their trip to the museum is part fun, part historical research and part personal discovery.

Rebecca Clayton, Gail Moore and Martha Barksdale are all women who volunteer at the museum when it is open Thursdays from 1 – 4 p.m. All of them were born and raised in Collinsville and, if only gone for short periods of time, have all returned.

Clayton said that the museum presently has items from more than 100 donors. As we speak, Gary Bowen, chief of police in Collinsville, enters the museum with an old rotary phone. “Found that downstairs,” Bowen says. “Looks like 1920s, maybe 30s.”

One of Clayton’s favorite pieces housed within the museum is a movie marquee, originally located on the  movie theater that now houses the Collinsville Public Library. Other artifacts housed within the museum include antique beds, high school yearbooks, old newspaper clippings related to a variety of wars and Coca-Cola bottles stamped with “Collinsville, Ala.” on the bottom from when Collinsville had a bottling plant.

Myles Smith, a community partner with the Living Democracy program, said that since its opening fourth-grade students in Collinsville usually receive a tour of the museum and the town.

“We take them to the museum and show them around downtown,” Smith said. “Just try to give some background on where they are.”

Myles Smith, Collinsville community partner with Living Democracy, as he appeared in 1954.

Myles Smith, Collinsville community partner with Living Democracy, as he appeared in 1954. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

A highlight of the trip is discovering the 1954 Collinsville High School yearbook, with Smith’s picture inside. Everybody exclaims “oh my gosh, it’s Myles!” and gathers around to look.

While our group is further exploring the museum, Clayton points out a miniature model of the former glory of the Cricket Theater, currently being renovated downtown.

“If you like that, there’s more where that came from,” Clayton says.

By then it’s closing time (4 p.m.) at the museum, and we’re invited just a step away from Gail Moore’s house, located off of Highway 68, where “Little Collinsville” is housed inside a large metal shed. “Little Collinsville” is a collaborative effort by Gail and Charles Moore to re-create miniature models of Collinsville buildings from the 1940s and 50s. It features buildings of importance to Collinsville in beautiful crafted detail.

A spot near a reproduction of a Baptist church has a fully functioning well (think a teaspoon of water at a time) and a replica of an historic African-American church stocked inside a preacher and congregation member figurines.

Many residents, said Moore, aren’t aware that “Little Collinsville” even exists. “People have heard about it, but most haven’t visited it,” Moore says. “We welcome everyone to take a look.”

More information about the Collinsville Historical Association and museum can be found at gemofthevalley.net

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