September 2007
Featured Articles

AU Ag Heritage Park

Reminder of Ag Importance Thousands of Football Fans Will Visit This Fall

 
Chris Gary, a fund-raiser for the Auburn University’s College of Agriculture, has reason to smile. Behind him is a pavilion used by farm groups at Ag Heritage Park.  

By Alvin Benn

Football and fall have arrived and Auburn University’s College of Agriculture once again is taking advantage of it by showing off what is quickly becoming one of its proudest achievements.

It’s Ag Heritage Park, a multi-million dollar project showcasing the history of agriculture in Alabama.

Modern farming methods have come a long way from the days of having to use a mule to plow the south 40, but history is just as important to farming as finances.

So is football and the two began meshing last year when tailgate parties were held at Ag Heritage Park, which is located in the shadow of Jordan-Hare Stadium south of Samford Avenue between Donahue Drive and Wire Road.

Last year, seven tailgate parties were held on home football weekends, drawing about 3,700 Tiger fans. It also doubled their pleasure in driving to Auburn—watching their team win another game and taking in all the improvements at the park.

Now that the Alabama Farmers Pavilion has been completed, corporations have begun using it for tailgate parties. The pavilion is located next to a large pond which has been stocked with fish.

Thousands of Tiger fans will visit the park in September as they arrive here to watch games against Kansas State, South Florida, Mississippi State and New Mexico State.

 
  This broad ax used during the 1700s is on display at the Red Barn at Auburn University’s Ag Heritage Park.
Ag Heritage Park is the culmination of efforts aimed at reminding Alabamians just how important agriculture has been to the state.

"We’re showing that we have a purpose and a cause here at Auburn," said Chris Gary, a 1992 AU graduate who has helped raise millions of dollars for the agriculture school. "We’re teaching students where we’ve been and where we’re heading."

Ground was broken six years ago and each phase of the project is being carefully planned. Once a facility is completed, it’s off to the next project.

The centerpiece of Ag Heritage Park is the Red Barn, which originally was built in 1929 and used for many years before it fell into disrepair.

Several coats of red paint, a shiny new roof and other improvements have turned what had been a dilapidated structure into a bright new building on campus.

Gary, who has watched each piece of the park take shape, points out that the Red Barn had to be replicated, not rebuilt as it once was.
 
This rusty lathe is on display inside the Red Barn at Auburn University’s Ag Heritage Park.  

"Nobody would build a barn like this today because it would be impractical," he said. "But, it’s just what we want to do to show people what farming was like years ago."

The Red Barn weathered many storms since its construction the year the Depression began, but it finally got to the point where it was no longer functional.

"Hurricane Opal tore down one side of the barn," said Gary. "Our initial plan was to renovate it, but that would have been too expensive. What we’ve done is replicate it."

Inside the barn is a collection of agricultural tools that date back to the 1700s. They were donated by the late Bill Johnson of Albertville and give a glimpse of what farming was like way back when.

One of the reasons for recreating the Red Barn and other buildings in the area is encroachment by athletic facilities, such as the soccer field and track. There was a concern that if the trend continued, available land might be gobbled up by other non-agricultural facilities.

 
  The old Dairy Barn at Ag Heritage Park at Auburn University is falling apart, but a new one is in the planning stage.
For that reason and others, the AU Agricultural Alumni Association adopted a resolution in 1998 establishing Ag Heritage Park. Funding was to come from private, not public sources.

The concept was presented to the AU trustees a year later with an explanation that the park would offer "a unique opportunity to dramatically increase the visibility of the agricultural heritage of this portion of the campus while enhancing the teaching, research and outreach initiatives of the College of Agriculture."

The groundbreaking ceremony two years later brought together Alabama’s leading agriculture entities. Everyone had a grand time, but they knew it would take awhile before they could raise enough money to show anything substantive.

One of the next rehabilitation projects after the Red Barn will include the Dairy Barn which was also built in 1929—a year when Auburn University was known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

The Dairy Barn hasn’t been used in years and it shows its age. That’s why planners are looking ahead to restoring it for the public to see.

Below are some of the projects being planned for Ag Heritage Park. For details, contact director Robert Hensarling at (334) 844-3596.

GIN BUILDING

The gin’s first home was in a structure on the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station farm complex which was a two story building with its sides and top covered with corrugated iron.

Made by Continental Gin Corp. of Prattville, the gin and single bale press were used for many years by Alabama Polytechnic Institute for ginning and baling research cotton.

The gin was dismantled in 2003 and stored for relocation in order to clear the area to make room for Auburn’s new Poultry Science Building. At that time, it was said to be in good condition for its age because it was installed and operated within an enclosed building.

Every effort has been made to ensure that the historic value of the old cotton gin can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The gin house was part of the Experiment Station farm complex near where the President’s Mansion would be built in 1938. The historic gin, which is still owned by the university, was installed in 1888.

A new gin building is expected to be built as adequate funding is obtained and a suitable site can be identified at Ag Heritage Park. The gin will then be reassembled to become a working reminder of Auburn’s agricultural heritage.

FAMILY FARM BRICKS

This is a new brick program which was launched three years ago. The new initiative is intended to show support for family farms in Alabama. A grassroots effort is underway in each of the state’s 67 counties.

As a minimum number of orders are received, bricks will be inscribed with the family or farm name and then placed within an outline of the state with the county also included. Memory bricks also continue to be sold. For details, call Katie Hardy at (334) 844-1475.

DAIRY BARN

Built in 1929, both wings of the original Dairy Barn had two rows of 12 stanchions used as holding pens for milking activities. A small area off the connecting breezeway contained areas for straining, cooling and handling the milk.

After each cow was milked, the buckets were manually carried from the milking area to the scales for weighing. One former student remarked, "The milking process gave you a real workout."

The dairy barn was used as a milking structure until 1948 when a new research unit was constructed in North Auburn. Teaching activities continued for many years after that.

A desire remains to rebuild the Dairy Barn and silo with the same basic design while updating the interior areas to allow for flexibility in use and activities. Many items from the Johnson Farm Tools Collection will also be displayed in the new building when it is finally constructed.

An important part of the plans for a new Dairy Barn include a site for an Auburn creamery as well as areas to spotlight and market products grown and made in Alabama.

AMPHITHEATER

It is to be built just north of the Pavilion and will slope down toward the pond. Initial cost estimates for the facility which will have seating for 200 people are between $75,000 and $100,000.

The concept for the amphitheater includes a covered, lighted sound stage extending out over the pond. The facility will be made available for rent for special occasions as well as student programs, educational seminars and other events including music concerts, outdoor plays and theater productions.

Sponsors are being sought and individuals or businesses interested are encouraged to contact Robert Hensarling at (334) 844-3596.

TRAIL

The goal of the Heritage Park Trail is to serve the recreational needs of the campus community, provide access to historic areas on campus and connect Ag Hill, President’s Mansion, Memorial Gardens and other well known areas.

The trail is to include handicap access while providing an appropriate area for walking and jogging. Input is being sought from the Department of Health and Human Performances on rest stops and exercise stations. It will be well-lighted and include access to benches and picnic areas.

Preliminary plans focus on an area up to two miles long with enough ups and downs to challenge walkers as well as joggers. When ground was broken six years ago, a $100,000 grant was provided by the AU Concessions Board to build the trail system.

HERDSMAN’S HOUSE

One of three houses built around when Herbert Hoover was president, the Herdsman’s House originally was located in the area where the AU Athletic Complex sits.

There are no records to document the relocation to the present location, but it is known the house provided lodging for personnel who tended the herd and ran the dairy.

As the area moved toward teaching activities, student employees were the caretakers of the animals. From 1998 to late 2002, the Herdsman’s House was used for student workers.

Once the house became vacant, renovations were made, including a new roof and windows. The carpet was removed, the floor refinished and both the interior and exterior painted.

In 2004, the second phase of remodeling began. Thanks to generous gifts from Kay Beaty and Mr. and Mrs. Farmer Meadows, improvements were made to the kitchen and restrooms. An exterior ramp also was added to the rear of the house.

The following year saw improvements made to the front yard which was elevated. Sod was put in place to improve drainage and usability of the area. Fencing also was extended in front of and on the west side of the house.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.