Long steps down as St. Stephens Historical Commission director
Long said due in large part to an injury he suffered several years ago, he is now physically unable to continue his duties as director. He plans to continue to lobby for funding for St. Stephens Historical Park and will be available for speaking engagements.
Upon making the announcement, Long touched on key turning points in the park’s history, from its inception in 1987 to the present. “The language in the bill passed by the Alabama Legislature calls for the acquiring and protection of land associated with the state’s territorial capital,” he said. “If not for the development of the recreational portion of the park, not as many people would view the historical site. This site gives people identity concerning their heritage.”
Wayne Blackwell, who is the only remaining charter member of the SSHC, told how in 1987 he had to reach the town site by traveling to Salitpa and using a boat to cross the Tombigbee River.
Long, who can trace his roots back to the old town’s beginnings, said he was informed of a washout on the riverbank in 1994 that revealed evidence of a building that once stood there. He contacted Alabama Speaker of the House Joe C. McCorquodale who had several archaeologists visit the site and verify its historical significance.
Theodore Pearson, who served on the SSHC at that time, contacted Senator Pat Lindsey and the first meeting concerning the designation of the historical site was conducted on Oct. 18 of that year and was attended by the governor and other state officials.
Eventually, $250,000 was approved for the development of the park, but, according to Long, there were many hurdles that still had to be crossed, such as gaining access to the property through negotiations with landowners.
One huge hurdle was the cement company that owned a large portion of the property. Long said the company’s owners were reluctant to allow them on the land, but that changed when the company was sold to Cemex Corporation.
“When the new company took over, Nolan Fry (CEO) asked me for a report detailing the importance of St. Stephens,” said Long. “I was also asked to mark a map showing how much of the property I thought should be designated as the site, which turned out to be approximately 194 acres.”
Those acres were turned over to the SSHC by Cemex and the first hurdle was crossed. Then came the negotiations with landowners. There were some holdouts, but eventually the property, needed to gain access to the site, was obtained.
While reminiscing about meeting with officials in Montgomery, Long fondly recalled a statement by SSHC member Ernest Goldman who attended the meeting with him. “Sometimes I am blessed with the gift of gab and that day I was on a roll,” he said. “When we left the meeting, Ernest told me ‘If B.S. was music, you’d be a brass band.’ I took that as a compliment.”
Through the many meetings with state officials in attempts to keep the park funded, Long said he never lost site of the historical significance of Old St. Stephens. When Cemex closed down, the SSHC obtained the land for the recreational portion of the park, which would help defray a small portion of the costs associated with maintaining the site. “The recreational area helps support the historical aspect of the park,” he said. “We have been dropped from the state budget completely in the recent past, but we have always managed to somehow stay afloat.”
Long said he is proud that the SSHC has always come out good on all of its state audits. Blackwell said he did not think the SSHC would have achieved what it has had it not been for the leadership of Long as director. “He has always gone far beyond what was expected,” he added.
“During the hard times we kept going, sometimes just on faith,” said Long. “This place is significant for a number of reasons. Evidence has been discovered of goods from as far away as Europe, the first state Legislature convened here, and the first woman of color to be freed in the state was in St. Stephens. We need to bring the perspective of history back to this area and I hope we can keep moving forward.”
According to Long, another major accomplishment was the restoring of the old courthouse in which the park’s museum is housed. “When the local Masonic Lodge deeded us the building and property, the building was leaning and about to fall in,” he said. “The back portion where my office is had a dirt floor. But, we were able to restore it to what it is today and add a museum on the top floor.”
Long said he hopes the state Legislature will one day realize the importance of St. Stephens and what it means to the citizens of Alabama. “I would really like to see more activity here at the museum and more field trips of school children visiting the site,” he said.