Old Cahawba Park officials plan for renovation

Published 7:31 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Elaborate plans are in the works for historic Old Cahawba, but site director Linda Derry is beginning with baby steps.

Old Cahawba Park recently began the bidding process for rehabilitation and addition to two different buildings at the park — the Kelly House and St. Luke’s Church. Derry said renovations to the Kelly House would include creating a geothermal heating and cooling system and minor changes, such as adding storm windows and fire safety measures.

She said the Kelly House is the first priority for improvements, but if money allows, Derry said she also wants to do minor renovations to the St. Luke’s Church, such as handicap ramps and interior lighting.

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“The main contract is for doing the Kelly House,” she said. “We are all about preservation, but sometimes preservation and conservation can be at odds. We are trying to show that we can save the character of the town and still save energy costs.”

The money for the improvements is comprised of a federal grant and insurance on Cahawba’s old visitor center.

The previous visitor center burned after being struck by lighting.

Derry said one reason for the renovations is to make the Kelly House an interim visitor center.

If plans remain on schedule, the Kelly House and St. Luke’s Church should be renovated and fully operational by the end of 2014.

“The part of what we are doing is a part of a larger complex we have planned,” Derry said. “The grand idea is to drive into Cahawba, flanked on either side by St. Luke’s and the Kelly House. In front, will be a brand new visitors center with lots of glass.”

Plans for the new visitors center include being certified as environmentally efficient and containing a catering kitchen and exhibits.

“It would not be a destination in itself, but a gateway to the larger site,” Derry said.

The larger site is the remnants of Cahawba — the first permanents state capital of Alabama and former Dallas County Seat.

At one point it was a bustling city for the elite residents of Dallas County, but was abandoned after flooding and erosion began to take their toll.

Though she admits, there is plenty of work to be done, Derry hopes to have the new visitor center complete in two to three years.