Inside, trash litters the floor while tile and metal hang from the ceiling — signs that vandals had ripped out the building’s copper wiring and piping some time ago. Upon further inspection, water stains and black mold can be seen covering several walls — clear evidence why town officials abandoned the building in 2006.
And yet, despite the ravages of thieves and the elements, a pocket of history has survived, tucked in the back of the building in an old fire vault.
A waist-high pile of records, bills, ordinances and resolutions dating back to the town’s earliest days is just lying there.
But not for much longer.
The cash-strapped town recently received a $3,000 grant to move and preserve those documents, thereby saving its own history for decades to come. Hobson City will have nine months, beginning in January, to move the documents.
Funded through the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the grant will pay for the transfer of the records to climate-controlled storage at the current Town Hall, the former C.E. Hanna School. It will also pay to hire a temporary consultant to assist with the re-housing, cataloging and scanning of the records of Alabama’s first incorporated predominantly black town.
“We are taking care of Hobson City,” said Mayor Alberta McCrory. “There are resolutions and ordinances and other documents we need to preserve, and this grant will enable us to do that and do it properly.”
McCrory said some important documents were brought to the current Town Hall during the move, but hundreds more are still at the old building. For instance, only a photocopy of the town’s charter is accounted for, not the original document. Hobson City was incorporated in 1899.
“We don’t have the original, we hope to find it in the old building,” McCrory said.
Just a few minutes of digging can reveal the wealth of information at the old building. Close to the vault’s door, along with decades-worth of utility bills paid to the town, were two tattered books filled with the handwritten minutes of council meetings in the 1930s and 1940s. Off in a closet down the hall is a smaller collection of records, including private club licenses from the 1970s, land deeds dating back to 1927 and the original 1974 proclamation establishing Jan. 15 as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hobson City.
McCrory said she had already chosen retired state Archives Department employee Frazine Taylor as the consultant to assist in the archiving of the records.
“She has worked with other cities in the past,” McCrory said. “Having someone to help get this done is very important.”
Hobson City’s lack of proper record-keeping is bad, but it is not unique.
“The situation there is particularly bad, but it has been a problem over the years,” said Tom Turley, local government records archivist for the state Archives Department.
Turley said records preservation all depends on funding, something that is in short supply for many small municipalities like Hobson City.
“And it tends to be a low priority for people unless they have lots of interest,” he said.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.