- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

HODGES, Ala. (AP) - The disappointment was evident on Patricia Overton Montgomery’s face as she stood on the porch of her grandfather’s homestead and looked at a section of rotten railing.

Then she walked into the dirt-floored cabin where her grandfather, Joe Wheeler Overton, was born and looked at holes between the logs.

“It’s sad to see the decay that has damaged the cabin,” Montgomery said as she and her mother, Marie Johnston, recently toured the farm.

She and others are discussing ways to improve and maintain the property for public use.

Montgomery, who lives in Spruce Pine, said the farm was homesteaded in the 1800s when the area was a part of the Mississippi Territory.

Overton Farm is one of two sites in Franklin County listed on the National Historic Registry.

“The Overton family has a deep heritage here in Franklin County,” said Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay. “Overton Farm is very special to a lot of people. I remember going down to the farms playing in those beautiful green fields and pastures.”

Johnston said the Overton Family Cemetery is still on the farm.

“Our family roots are there,” she said. “The farm means so much to our heritage.”

In the early 1980s, Overton Farm was incorporated into the Bear Creek Watershed as a part of the Bear Creek Development Authority, when the Tennessee Valley Authority started developing Bear Creek Lakes for flood control.

In 1982, Overton Farm became a part of the Bear Creek Educational Center and, when it opened, it was funded by nine area school systems.

The educational center offered an outdoor classroom environment for students across Alabama.

Businesses and agencies also used it for company retreats and training sessions.

The Bear Creek authority became the center’s fiscal agent in May 2000. At that time, the only school systems that were part of the funding consortium were Russellville, Muscle Shoals and Colbert County. The systems paid a prorated share each year to the authority to lease the land and facility. Fees paid by individuals and businesses attending activities at the center helped to offset expenses.

In 2013, the authority board voted to close the facility after the schools cut funding.

Montgomery, who is expected to be nominated by Gov. Robert Bentley to the authority board later this summer, said the farm was padlocked.

“No one could get in and see the farm,” she said. “This was such a wonderful, magical place, I just couldn’t believe it was closed.”

Montgomery contacted the authority, and the locks were removed and the gate opened.

“I want to work with the BCDA and do what we can to maintain the farm and the structures for more to enjoy,” she said.

One proposal is to lease the property to the town of Hodges for expansion of Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Trail. The farm adjoins the 27-acre equestrian trail, which opened in October.

The proposal was made to the Bear Creek authority at the board meeting in January.

A four-member committee is studying the proposal.

“It would be a perfect fit (to the equestrian trail). They would do repairs and maintenance at the farm,” Morrow said. “If we don’t do something (the farm buildings) will continue to decay.”

“I just want Overton Farm to continue to be a place for people to visit and enjoy for years,” Montgomery said.

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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