Are two Montevallo historic houses in demolition danger?

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, September 12, 2018

By NANCY WILSTACH / Community Columnist

Rumored plans to tear down two historic buildings owned by the University of Montevallo may be just that: Rumors.

Or maybe not.

Members of the Montevallo Historical Society have expressed alarm that the Lyman-Saylor House on North Boundary Street behind Napier Hall and the Cary-Calkins-Hall House on Middle Street may be slated for demolition to provide parking lots for the new University of Montevallo Center for the Arts at the corner of Oak and North Boundary.

Lyman-Saylor House on North Boundary Street could face demolition. (Contributed/Nancy Wilstach)

The arts center, now under construction at Oak and North Boundary streets, will stand where UM’s historic Jeter Hall once stood.

Montevallo Historical Society President Jim Day, also a UM history professor, wrote about the situation in the President’s Letter in the most recent issue of the Society’s newsletter, the Montevallo Historical Times.

Destruction of two antebellum houses to create parking spaces for visitors to the arts center understandably alarmed an organization formed “to promote, support and effect preservation of historically significant structures, sites and other things related to Montevallo.”

The Lyman-Saylor House had been apartments, and it bears a plaque noting that it is on the National Register of Historic Places. For most of us who have lived here a few decades, the white two-story building is fondly recalled in more recent history as the long-time home of the late Susie DeMent, a Montevallo High School teacher who never drove an automobile. She walked to her job every day—a two-block stroll in nice weather. The Montevallo High School gymnasium is named for Miss DeMent, a dedicated scorekeeper, an avid supporter of the high school’s sports teams and a member of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

If the University of Montevallo Board of Trustees indeed had been contemplating demolishing the two houses, the structures seem safe, at least for the present.

According to Tiffany Bunt, UM communications manager, the university issued this statement Wednesday, Aug. 22:

“There are no immediate plans to raze any buildings on our campus. During the last 10 years, the University has invested heavily in historically important buildings. Both Calkins House and Saylor House need significant restoration. In the coming months, we will be searching for creative ideas and partnerships to determine if these buildings can be purposed to serve our students in ways that reflect responsible financial stewardship.”

It doesn’t take an architect to quickly realize that restoring either or both houses would be costly and time-consuming. Rotted wood on the Calkins structure and a slight list to port of the Saylor House are evident to the untrained eye.

Day, in the society newsletter, suggested a “Town & Gown fundraising effort . . . to preserve these houses and to restore their safe use for various activities.”

Although some grant funds might be available, he noted, “the efforts to save these houses must originate among local citizens . . . (and) serve as a catalyst for unity and common cause rather than as a destructive process for division.”