The historic Town of Courtland and the Courtland Public Library have been awarded $15,000 from the Alabama Humanities Alliance, Courtland Mayor Linda Peebles announced this week.
The AHA recovery grant will be used to fund a town project, SOS: Save Our Stories, aimed at promoting historic downtown Courtland as well as its public library and boost tourism revenue for the town, Peebles said.
“We are thrilled to receive this additional funding; $15,000 is a lot of money, especially for our little town, and it will go a long way in helping us bring visitors and generate interest in Courtland,” she said.
The SOS recovery plan, which will bring talented storytellers, historians and other family entertainment to the Courtland Library or City Park once a month throughout 2022, will encourage community support, visitation to the public library and promote tourism in Courtland, Peebles explained.
Through the project, she said the town and library plans to host a series of free public events on the first Saturday of the month from March to November next year.
“Since we already have so many annual events planned for Saturdays over the summer, we thought these Save Our Story events would tie in nicely,” Peebles said. “Visitors from across Lawrence County and all across North Alabama can expect something happening in Courtland every first Saturday of the month next year, from the spring and into the fall.”
Local author Alice Evans, who assisted in the grant writing process for Courtland, said storytellers and historians participating in SOS events would be asked to share tales and local lore with a focus on “preserving our own stories for future generations.”
“Not only would this project bring phenomenal storytellers to our town and leave a rich legacy of our own tales for future generations, but it would allow visitors attending the events to see the charm of an old historic town, and perhaps shops would begin to re-open,” Evans said.
The Alabama Humanities Alliance awarded $800,000 in one-time funding to 83 humanities-based nonprofits across the state, including a $15,000 recovery grant to Lawrence County’s Jesse Owens Museum awarded in October, according to a report from AHA released last month.
Courtland, the town’s public library, and the Jesse Owens Museum were three of 125 applicants—which included applications from museums, libraries and archives, historic sites, literacy groups, and civic engagement organizations—for the grants according to the release.
“It’s clear from the huge interest we saw in these grants that many of Alabama’s cultural organizations remain on tenuous financial ground due to the effects of the pandemic,” AHA Grant Director Graydon Rust said. “Over the past year and a half, they’ve lost a lot of their usual streams of revenue and have had more limited engagement with the communities they typically serve.”
Peebles and Evans said the Courtland Public Library was the recipient of local grants and donations totaling $8,500 each year until the COVID-19 pandemic forced closings or limited area business and economic growth in 2020.
“Our town has struggled financially during the last few years, particularly after losing International Paper in 2014 when most Courtland families lost jobs/income. The library budget was cut and there was no money to purchase supplies, books and replace equipment, nor to pay a librarian,” Evans said. “At this time Sherry Hamilton, library director, agreed to work without pay and continued this for one year. The city had just began paying her salary again when COVID-19 created more financial hardships.”
Though the Courtland Library was forced to close its doors to the public in 2020, and social distancing mandates in the wake of the pandemic thwarted plans for public events later that year and into early 2021, Evans and Peebles said the library’s summer reading program and other community outreach projects were able to resume by the summer.
Courtland also saw the return of annual events including Courtland’s Picnic in the Park, a July 4th Independence Day Celebration, the town’s Summer Super Soaker event, an October Car Show, and Courtland’s Third Thursday Slow Down and Vintage Market monthly events return to downtown this year.
In addition to the AHA recovery grant, Peebles said the Courtland Public Library received $8,500 in 2021 thanks to donations and grants from Lockheed Martin Corporation, Dollar General, Porch Creek Indians organization, Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) state funding, and through funds generated from Courtland’s annual Car Show, which resumed this fall after being canceled in 2020.
AHA recovery grants were awarded to humanitarian organizations across the state thanks to funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Peebles said assistance from the AHA grant will help Courtland further its recovery efforts in 2022. She said details regarding the SOS monthly events will be announced early next year as scheduling and plans are finalized.