Society wants to see Selma’s ‘can-do’ attitude

Published 11:43 pm Monday, May 21, 2012

The Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society discussed their plans to protect, stabilize and refurbish the old YMCA building on Broad Street. -- Ashley Johnson

The Selma Dallas County Historic Preservation Society has a huge goal in mind. They want to keep the old YMCA building on Broad Street from ending up in the historical building graveyard like other key buildings have in Selma.

The historic building, which now stands vacant, was the first YMCA building to be built in the South. During its construction in 1886 the facility was funded entirely by the community of Selma and their donations.

Linda Derry, Old Cahawba Archaeological Park site director and member of SDCHPC, conducted archeological research on the building and discovered its old tenants, and the list of donors for the original building.

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“Some of you might recognize these names,” Derry said to the members of the society at their general membership meeting Monday evening. “The names of donors are still common last names in Selma.”

The society seeks to only stabilize the building for now and once the economy turns around they will be able to renovate the building to its old glory. In the future, Derry hopes the building could be used for any number of things like condominiums, businesses, or even an expansion to Selma City Hall.

“For now, we primarily need a new roof because the engineers we have hired said the walls are stable,” Derry said. “Once that is finished we will wait for the funds to renovate the interior.”

Through Derry’s research she was most impressed by the Selma community in its zeal to donate and build the original YMCA facility.

“We just need the same can-do attitude that they had,” Derry said. “It wasn’t just the wealthy that donated. There is a list of people that were store clerks and donated just a few dollars.”

The YMCA storefront has housed business like a confectionery shop run by two widows, a Chinese laundry mat, and the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, all before the 19th century. The building has played many roles in the history book of Selma.

Because of the rich history and the way the building defines the unique historic landscape of Selma, the society is working towards raising funds to accomplish the construction of a new roof this year.

“The YMCA building is a critical part of Selma’s surviving historic fabric and a building that demands all that can reasonably be done to avoid its demolition,” said David B. Schneider, executive director for Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation.