Used to be, back when the city was sprinkled with historically significant structures and its people took understandable pride in all they had.
Then, slowly but surely, the city fathers, local business community and general population turned their backs on history, though not by any particular design. Instead, simply doing anything about it seemed to be more trouble than it was worth. Historic buildings were misused or neglected to the point that restoration was impossible (or prohibitively expensive).
The list of what Jacksonville has lost is a catalog of things other towns would love to have. A magnificent mill that could have served the city in many ways was torn down and carried away. An abandoned antebellum mansion, whose owners let it decline into ruin, has been replaced by a cluster of commercial buildings, the sort you can see on any given day in any given town.
West Mountain Street, once a charming thoroughfare, is today an undistinguished collection of businesses serving Jacksonville State University students and a massive JSU parking lot, the monotony of which is broken only by two historic homes being heroically restored to remind people of what once was.
Some years back, a member of the Alabama Historical Commission remarked at how little care Jacksonville had taken of its historical sites. It has gotten worse since then.
Today, however, there is a glimmer of hope. The city recently saved and restored the old train station. And now some Jacksonville residents are urging the City Council to create a historical commission to stop, or at least slow, the loss of more historical sites.
Not everyone likes the idea. Business owners, some of whom are housed in historic buildings, don’t want another bureaucracy to deal with, a point of view with which some on the council agree.
There also is concern among property owners that a historical designation would prevent them from doing what they want with their property.
However, there are members of the council who feel the city’s options should be explored. Other cities have set up historical commissions, applied for and received grants, and in general promoted historical preservation and tourism. Tourists come to see history and spend money when they do.
The important thing is that for the first time in years — maybe in decades — Jacksonville is taking note of what has been lost and discussing ways to keep from losing more.
If these talks produce results, the “Gem of the Hills” may one day shine brighter than ever.