Alabama site makes nation’s ’11 most endangered places’ list

Alabama site makes nation’s ’11 most endangered places’ list
Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Complex (Source: Alabama Historical Commission)

MOBILE, Ala. (WSFA) - An Alabama site has made its way onto the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s ’11 Most Endangered Places’ list for 2019. The site, Mount Vernon Arsenal & Searcy Hospital, is located in north Mobile County.

The Alabama Historical Commission, Alabama Department of Mental Health, Alabama Trust for Historic Places, Alabama Bicentennial Commission, and the Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Society, are working to identify and address the site’s most urgent preservation needs.

The organizations also want to develop long-term solutions and come up with a restoration plan for the facility.

Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Complex
Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Complex (Source: Alabama Historical Commission)

There are 40 buildings on the site, 32 of which are considered “historically significant.” 27 of the buildings on site have structural damage. 21 buildings on site date to the 19th century; five of which have substantial structural damage, including one collapse. All are in need of immediate repairs.

“Mount Vernon and Searcy Hospital played a role in several difficult and complex chapters in our nation’s history,” said Katherine Malone-France, Interim Chief Preservation Officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This collection of historic buildings has been a cornerstone of Alabama’s history and economy since the early 1800s.”

Lisa D. Jones, Executive Director of the Alabama Historical Commission, said it’s “unlike any other collection of structures in the country.”

Located in north Mobile County, Mount Vernon Arsenal was established in early the 19th century and was in almost continuous occupation for over 200 years. The first use of the site is recorded before the War of 1812, by the U.S. Army as a cantonment for Fort Stoddard (1800-1811) on the Mobile River and as the southernmost border of the Federal Road, a key international border presence during the earliest formal movement to produce permanent national military defense facilities. The site was later used in the construction of a federal arsenal in 1828 and many of those buildings remain today.

Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Complex
Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Complex (Source: Alabama Historical Commission)

In 1861, Mount Vernon Arsenal was seized by Confederate troops who occupied the site for the duration of the Civil War. The Arsenal was later converted to barracks where it became associated with the late 19th century social movement to reform and provide humane treatment for Native Americans and served as the administering headquarters for Apache Village (1887-1894). P.O.W. Apache leaders Geronimo, Naiche, and Mangus, and their followers were transferred from Fort Marion in Florida to Mount Vernon in 1888. They remained at Mount Vernon until 1894 when the POWs were transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Army turned the site over to the State of Alabama in 1895, and in 1900 the complex was converted to a mental health facility for African American patients, which was later integrated with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The dawning of the 20th century in America saw the emergence of pellagra, a then-unknown disease caused by a diet deficient in niacin and protein. In late summer 1906, Dr. George H. Searcy noted an illness in some patients at Mount Vernon and later reported his treatment and findings to colleagues at the Medical Association of Alabama. Searcy’s contribution was vital in the overall discovery and treatment plan for an epidemic plaguing the country.

“Its early military presence and position supported our growing nation, while the later years created a narrative around conscientious reform and humanitarian movements," Jones said. "It is a proud day to work toward saving a site whose vast history mirrors the everchanging landscape of the times. These are real places telling real stories, and they have a lot to offer each of us.”

The Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Complex was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and continued in operation until 2012. Now, it’s vacant and vulnerable to the effects of Alabama’s humid climate.

Each year, the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. Over 300 places have been listed in its 32-year history, and in that time, fewer than 5 percent of listed sites have been lost.

The National Trust’s “11 Most Endangered Places” program, brings significant amounts of national attention to selected sites but does not come with any funding help.

To support this historic site, you can call Collier Neeley, National Register Coordinator at the Alabama Historical Commission. To learn more about the Alabama Historical Commission, please visit www.ahc.alabama.gov

Information source: Alabama Historical Commission

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