A first date, a first dance or a first kiss. Taking a trip with a grandmother to play games and make art crafts.
These are memories cherished by many in Athens who used to attend dances and youth activities at the iconic red structure on East Washington Street known as the Scout House. It served the youth of this community for decades until its closure in 2012. Athens Arts League and the Friends of the Scout House Committee are working to again make it a vital part of the downtown area.
The circa 1938 Scout House first served youth in the community as a recreational and social gathering place when it was operated for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It provided this service until it became the central office for the Athens City Board of Education in 1965.
It served the youth through school system programs operating within the facility until 2012 when Athens City Schools built a new central office. For four years, it has been dormant, its historic rooms vacant - absent any laughter, music and dancing.
Today, Friday, Sept. 23, Keep America Beautiful and Lowe’s have given Athens Arts League the funding to kick start renovations on the Scout House to repurpose this empty historic structure and make it a vital facility to promote art through music. Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful worked with Athens Arts League to apply for and obtain a $20,000 Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Partner Grant. This is the only project in Alabama to receive a $20,000 grant from the program.
“Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful is so happy to be part of this project and to secure the $20,000 Keep America Beautiful/Lowe's Community Partner Grant to get things moving,” said KALB Executive Coordinator Lynne Hart. “Refurbishing this building and putting it to such good use will just add to the beauty and culture that we cherish in Athens.”
The purpose of Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Partner grants is to engage local volunteers to take action to benefit communities across the country. Over the past five years, Lowe’s has supported Keep America Beautiful affiliates with more than $5 million in contributions and the support of Lowe’s Heroes employee volunteers.
The goal of Athens Arts League is to turn this unused historic structure into a musical venue that pays tribute to Limestone County's musical heritage, provides musical programs for the community, and offers students hands-on experience in an educational music lab. Athens Arts League wants to empower youth by offering them the opportunity to learn about local music history, making music, and the music business. Athens Arts League also wants to enhance the community's art experience by providing a venue for house concerts, workshops, and other musical programs.
The grant will provide funding to improve the front façade by repairing and preventing water intrusion and using xeriscaping to beautify the entrance with pollinator gardens, native plants and rain barrels. Hart said xeriscaping is
landscaping with slow-growing, drought-tolerant plants to conserve water and establish a waste-efficient landscape. Hart thanked Distinctive Landscaping for its assistance with the landscape design.
“This plan is fulfilling a promise we made to Alabama Shakes two years ago when they helped us raise money for High Cotton Arts,” said Diane Lehr, a Friends of the Scout House Committee member. “We promised we would promote the musical arts as well as the visual arts.”
Athens Arts League operates High Cotton Arts, the downtown non-profit art incubator that provides studio space, art exhibits, art classes and other programs, including the monthly Listening Lounge which highlights local musicians. The Dinner in the Orchard with Alabama Shakes event organized by Isom’s Orchard raised $40,000 to help open High Cotton Arts. Athens native and award-winning songwriter Roger Murrah helped raise additional money with last year’s High Cotton Homecoming with Roger Murrah and Friends.
“With Scout House, we can expand our emphasis on music,” Lehr said.
The City of Athens owns the facility and has leased it to Athens Arts League for 15 years. The project is broken into three phases:
Phase 1: Restore and renovate the exterior
Phase 2: Renovate the interior
Phase 3: Add the music lab and programs
City of Athens Building Inspector Bert Bradford estimates Phase 1 will cost about $90,000, with the Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Partner Grant covering the front façade portion.
“The City of Athens is blessed with many beautiful and important historic structures that tell not only our history, but the history of our state and country,” Mayor Ronnie Marks said. “Unfortunately, preserving and maintaining them is expensive. We have partnered with community groups on many projects to protect these historic sites and make them an active part of our community.”
As Athens nears its 200th birthday in 2018 and the State of Alabama its 200th birthday in 2019, projects like these highlight the significance of preserving our history and finding creative ways to share and
utilize that history. These sites are what create emotional ties and encourage investment in a city and its downtown area.
Jennifer White, a member of Friends of the Scout House Committee, has sentimental attachment to the Scout House. During her elementary school years, she accompanied her grandmother for visits.
“She was friends with Bertha Hargrove who operated the Scout House, and I would play while they visited,” said White, who is 64. “I had hours of fun playing board games and doing crafts. There was a closet full of games we could play. I want the Scout House to be a special place for a new generation.”
While the committee is raising funds, local author Jerry Barksdale is compiling a history of the Scout House and history of local musicians who have made an impact in the music industry. These stories include former slave Patti Malone, a Trinity High School graduate who sang with the Fisk Jubilee singers before Queen Victoria; Milton
Sledge, the Clements High grad who is a studio drummer for Garth Brooks; Alabama Shakes; Delmore Brothers; and Roger Murrah, who is a consultant on the Scout House project.
Anyone who would like to share history or photos of the Scout House or submit a Limestone County musician’s name to Barksdale can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sledge recently shared his music industry stories at a Listening Lounge event at High Cotton Arts.
Two men in a Datsun tried to use shear willpower to force the compact car up a hill on U.S. 43 in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., as they fought to overcome the static on their radio. Driver Milton Sledge and passenger Mike Chapman knew if they could breach the hill by Crockett Hospital, the crackle of static would transform into Alabama's new song "Roll On."
The duo, who met at Clements High School west of Athens, Ala., were on their way back from Nashville when they heard the DJ announce a new Alabama release "Roll On" was coming on next. Alas, they started downhill and lost the signal.
Once the Datsun crested the hill and the signal returned, Milton stopped the car on the highway. They had made it, not just to the top of hill, but to the burgeoning of their professional music career. Milton and Mike heard themselves playing on that recording, their music traveling the airwaves of radio.
Milton and Mike traveled their musical highway many years until Mike's death in 2016. They went on to become part of the G-Men, studio musicians for Garth Brooks, with Mike playing bass and Milton playing drums.
These are the stories that honor Limestone County’s musical legacy and inspire new generations of musical talent. This is why the Friends of the Scout House project matters.
Make History. Make Music. Make A Difference.
Friends of the Scout House Committee member