Preservation on Full Display at the Old 280 Boogie in Waverly, Ala.
When I was growing up in Alabama, we often passed through the small town of Waverly as we travelled along Highway 280 on the way to Auburn football games. I remembered the town primarily for its cemetery with a distinctive stone wall and a collection of small frame houses close to the road.
I had not been through Waverly in years, but, at the end of September, I was fortunate enough to spend a perfect fall day there at an event called the Old 280 Boogie. The Boogie is an outdoor concert that brings together all kinds of people -- musicians, music lovers, artists, and entrepreneurs -- to enjoy, enliven, and be inspired by this historic town in east central Alabama.
Actually, Waverly isn’t a small town. It is a tiny town, with only 145 residents and a total area of 2.7 square miles. Back in 2000, the Alabama Department of Transportation decided to widen Highway 280, but doing so through the center of Waverly would have destroyed the town. Ultimately, the road was re-routed to the south, and the first Old 280 Boogie was held in April 2001 to celebrate the preservation of Waverly. Today, the Boogie is held in both the fall and the spring, with other concerts in between.
Watching this year’s Fall Boogie unfold from a shady spot under a sassafras tree, I was struck by how many forms of preservation were on display and interacting with one another.
A property with several historic buildings has been repurposed into the studio of graphic design firm and Boogie organizer Standard Deluxe without sacrificing the authenticity or the integrity of the buildings or the landscape that surrounds them. A new addition on one of them is an excellent example of compatible design. Sometimes, bands perform on the front porch of another that is vernacular perfection with its sawtooth details and mixed media piers.
None of these buildings has been restored at great cost, but they are made of the hardiest of materials, and all the basics are taken care of -- they’ve got metal roofs, well-ventilated foundations, windows that open and close, and vegetation kept at bay. Most importantly, they are loved and used.
In between the buildings, a stage has been built that features a historic billboard from the Heart of Dixie motel, long a landmark on Highway 280, now protected and re-purposed as a new kind of landmark.
During breaks in the music at the Boogie, people wandered respectfully around in the historic cemetery across the road, reading the gravestones of people born in the 18th century and taking pictures. Or they purchased food or crafts from businesses (like the The Overall Company, the Curious Fox, Wilton’s Catering, and Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Que) that operate in historic buildings or commercial districts and whose very existence helps communities maintain the economic viability that preserves their historic fabric.
Moreover, the day’s musicians all referenced earlier forms of American music and instruments. (Saw playing, anyone?) And, just like the great Delta blues artists, headliner Jason Isbell’s lyrics document and preserve the cultural landscape of a particular moment in a particular place -- north Alabama of the 20th century, including the TVA’s Wilson Dam (completed in 1924 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966), nearby Seven Mile Island, the ubiquitous Alabama pines, my own hometown of Jacksonville, and even a notorious speed trap where I’ve been caught too many times.
There is still much to be done in Waverly and in so many places like it around the country to preserve them for the longer term. But events like the Boogie are reminders of how positive and expansive preservation can be. At its best and most transformative, preservation is about all kinds of people using and enjoying and gaining inspiration from historic places.
While I was at the Boogie, my friend Ben remarked, partially in jest, that the Boogie isn’t just an event; it’s a state of mind. I think the same is true of preservation. I would like to think it is a positive state of mind that encompasses so many things that make people happier and communities stronger. So, with apologies to the geniuses behind the Boogie, I’d like to borrow their slogan -- Preservation: No Haters Allowed.