“Solidly Built and Architecturally Beautiful:” The Preservation of Seney-Stovall Chapel

Chaffin was involved in the Foundation’s movements to save the Fire Hall from demolition for a new Civic Center, advocate for the passage of the Historical Preservation Ordinance, and convert the former Church-Waddel-Brumby House into the Athens Welcome Center. Of even more interest in this collection is Chaffin’s behind-the-scenes work with some of the earliest Heritage Foundation projects.

One of the benefits of working with archival collections is the opportunity to see how history, architecture, and people are connected. While working on our extant collections, I began to explore MSS 059 Ethel T. Chaffin papers. Ethel T. Chaffin (1921-2018) was a founding member of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, as well as a graduate student and instructor in dance and theater. Chaffin donated her papers to the Heritage Room in 2002 and continued to update the collection over the intervening years prior to her death. Her collection began as the notes for her Master of Arts thesis project “Professional Theatrical Entertainment in Athens, Georgia: 1865-1888” which she finished in 1982. But, as deep dives into the archives show us, everyone is multifaceted! As I sifted through her later donations, I was excited to see stacks of newspaper clippings and documents from the founding of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.

Founded in 1967, the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation (now known as Historic Athens) was formed to save the Church-Waddel-Brumby House, Athen’s oldest residence, from demolition to make room for a new federal building in an Urban Renewal Program. Chaffin was involved in the Foundation’s movements to save the Fire Hall from demolition for a new Civic Center, advocate for the passage of the Historical Preservation Ordinance, and convert the former Church-Waddel-Brumby House into the Athens Welcome Center. Of even more interest in this collection is Chaffin’s behind-the-scenes work with some of the earliest Heritage Foundation projects.

One of the Heritage Foundation’s most talked about projects was the preservation of buildings on the former Lucy Cobb Institute site – most prominently, the Seney-Stovall Chapel.

A picture of the octogonal chapel taken from the side. The stairs to the front door are located on the left. The building is made out of orange brick, with Victorian detailing.
A picture of the restored Seney-Stovall Chapel from Digital Library of Georgia

The Seney-Stovall Chapel was a project that was on the radar of members of the Athens community prior to 1980. The New Georgia Encyclopedia entry on Lucy Cobb notes this about the preservation of the Chapel:

In the 1970s a group of Athens preservationists, many of them children or grandchildren of alumnae, received a federal grant to renovate the exterior of the institute’s Seney-Stovall Chapel. This renovation effort was led by historian Phinizy Spalding, the grandson of alumna Nellie Stovall, who was instrumental in the original construction of the chapel.


Sarah Case, “Lucy Cobb Institute”

From my reading of Ms. Chaffin’s correspondence, however, it became clear that the preservation of Seney-Stovall was not just led by Spalding, but also by the behind the scenes work of Ms. Chaffin and through a community effort.

Chaffin clearly received community support for her work: T.M. Tillman states in 1981 that he “has been working on the University to take care of, and improve the Lucy Cobb property for twenty (20) years, and I hope you have better luck than I have had in the past” (Figure 1) and Spalding reveals that he “marvel[s] at your [Chaffin’s] ability to come up with so many good ideas in relation to this one project” (Figure 2).

Furthermore, Chaffin’s correspondence demonstrates that she worked tirelessly as the face of the project by writing letters to local newspapers about the project, organizing events, and other community building efforts. Included in the collection are handwritten and carbon copies of letters written to local newspapers (The Red and Black and Athens Observer) in 1980 expressing her support for the preservation of the Chapel.

This correspondence sets the scene for the preservation of the Chapel circa 1980-81: fairly bleak. It is partially Ms. Chaffin’s renewed passion for and interest in the project that resulted in the completion of preservation work in 1997. By putting her energy and passion into researching the history of the building, the importance of the architecture, and the potential uses it had for the university and community, Ms. Chaffin helped ensure that this building would remain standing for generations to come.

Now the chapel stands as a unique testament to what happens when preservation and reuse are combined. Rather than simply leaving the building preserved as an almost mausoleum to the past, the Chapel is instead restored for use by a variety of university groups, community groups, and individuals, from a UGA undergraduate production of Company to hosting author Jeff Vandermeer to serving as a recording site for R.E.M, the Chapel allows for the interaction of past and present.

Have more questions? Email us at heritageroomref@athenslibrary.org.

Works Consulted:

Case, Sarah H. “Lucy Cobb Institute.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 21 August 2013. Web. 24 June 2020.

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Community Web Archiving in Athens

The Heritage Room works actively to collect the culture and history of Athens-Clarke and the surrounding counties and cities. With the advent and rise of online communication, much of that culture and history is produced on the internet. Remember when we all thought that everything on the internet would live on forever? As it turns out, that is the furthest thing from the truth — at least without the proper archival practice, which is where web archiving comes in!

The Heritage Room has been using Archive-It to archive community websites and preserve them since 2018. This project, however, relies on our community support. We want to preserve what is important to you — our community. This post serves as a hub to explain what web archiving is, why institutions web archive, and to describe how you can get involved.

What is web archiving?

Web archiving is the process of collecting portions of the World Wide Web to ensure the information is preserved in an archive for future researchers, historians, and the public.

Parham Habibzadeh

Web archiving is the process of preserving copies of websites and pages at a certain point in time. This process preserves the function of the website and the look of the website, and allows users to access a “copy” of the page even if the page or site is taken down.

Archived webpages are not just an image of the page: it preserves the functionality of the site itself. The look and feel and “clickability” of the site are all preserved. Since sites often change, web archiving will “crawl” the same site repeatedly over multiple months and years to continue to preserve updated information. All of these copies are available in a web archive.

A common example of web archives is the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Try clicking on the link and entering the URL of a website you know well. On the site timeline, click on the first year you see activity. What has changed? This information is all captured through web archiving. Note how the site operates just like a regular website! This is what we mean by preserving functionality of the site.

Why is this important?

Despite what we were told in the 90s, the internet is ephemeral! As websites are no longer feasible to maintain or no longer relevant to the moment, they are often taken down and that information is lost to time. This means that information like a local political campaign or website for a local event may be lost.

Web archiving further preserves materials that may have been designed to be viewed online. A screenshot of an image is not proof, and may not contain all of the possible information. By preserving the full “interactive” element of a website, a web archive ensures that no information is lost.

How to Get Involved

The Heritage Room, and broadly the Athens Regional Library System, has been using the online tool Archive-It to create an archive of regional websites. You can view our archive here (link opens in a new tab). As of the time of writing (July 2020), we are collecting under eight main categories:

  • Business and Industry
  • Contemporary Visual Art, Music, and Literature
  • Food Culture
  • History and Community
  • Politics, Government, and Activism
  • Athens Regional Library System (library websites)
  • Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room
  • Athens, Georgia Area COVID-19 Response

Our parameters for collecting are general in these areas. Websites must relate to the Athens-Clarke County area, or surrounding counties, and must relate to the topic of the collection. We periodically crawl the sites to make sure that they are up to date as well.

Most importantly, however, we can’t grow this collection without community input. This archive is built for the public to use and thrives on public input. We would love to hear from you, especially about suggestions for what to archive. We are asking for community feedback on our web form here: http://www.123formbuilder.com/form-5563923/document-athens-now-submission-form (link opens in new tab).

The Heritage Room also recognizes that you or your group may feel uncomfortable with submitting your website without speaking with a staff member or introducing us to your organization. We are truly here for the entire community and would love to be in touch about how we can build a community with you and your organization. Please get in touch via phone (706-613-3650 ext. 350) or email (heritageroomref@athenslibrary.org) if you would like to talk with us in more detail.

Jennie Lou Mattox: Athens’ Housing Advocate and Volunteer

Note: Normally the Heritage Room would be changing out our display cases for the summer months right about now. However, with the closure of the building, only a few patrons got to see the exhibit put up in March featuring important women from Athens. Instead we’ll be posting a brief blog post about each woman here. Check back to see more of our virtual exhibit series.

Jennie Lou Mattox. Photo donated by LaToya Hill.

Prior to closing the library building back in March 2020, the Heritage Room received the start of a new collection focused on the life of community activist and volunteer Jennie Lou Mattox (1935-2015). While processing this collection, I began to dive into the life of Ms. Mattox and all of the organizational work that she did for the Athens area over her life. Broadly involved in volunteer work and activism across the area, Ms. Mattox focused primarily on issues of housing in Athens. In a time when it is increasingly clear that we must help our neighbors, Ms. Mattox’s legacy of community outreach is a model from which we can all learn. Through this post, I’ll be focusing on a few of the outreach programs that Ms. Mattox was involved with over the years.

The Inter-Community Council (ICC) and Athens Housing Authority

Founded in 1973, the Inter-Community Council is a nonprofit organization that serves as a representative body for all residents living with the Athens Housing Authority and seeks to prepare residents and families for the world. They comprise resident leaders from each AHA community and address residents’ concerns and other social service issues. The Council also provides services like job skills training and educational opportunities (Athens ICC Facebook).

Mattox was a member of the ICC from 1999 until her death in 2015, and served as board president for a decade (from 2004 to 2014). She received the ICC Leadership Award for Outstanding Community Service from 2009-2015 as well. In her memorial included in the AHA June 2015 newsletter, Mattox is remembered with joy for her enthusiasm for racing money for ICC and her constancy in the lives of everyone at AHA. Mattox’s work with the Parkview Community Center from 1974 to 1992 was also recognized by the AHA.

Her advocacy and presence led to the renaming of the community resource center that houses the ICC to the Cameron-Mattox Resource Center to honor the contributions Mattox made to the community.

Mattox was also elected to the Athens Housing Authority Board of Commissioners as a Resident Representative, furthering her advocacy for her neighbors. She served on the board from 2011 to 2015. For her service, the Georgia Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authority awarded her their Recognition Award for Selfless and Dedicated Service in 2013.

St. Paul CME Church

Ms. Mattox was also an active member of St. Paul CME Church located in the heart of Athens-Clarke County. She was an active member of the church choir, receiving an Outstanding Leadership award for her time as Choir President from 1988-1990. She also extended her compassion and leadership to the children of the church as a volunteer with St. Paul CME’s Vacation Bible School. On top of all of these achievements, she also received a CME Church 6th Episcopal District Christian Training Award in 2014.

Recognition

Clearly, Jennie Lou Mattox was loved by the Athens community. Her relentless volunteer work aided her community and made her beloved by many. Beyond the work mentioned above, Mattox also volunteered with the Morton Theatre, the Parkview Recreation Center, and other community organizations. For this work, former Athens Mayor Gwen O’Looney presented Mattox with a Key to the City in 1992, commemorating the years of dedicated service Mattox provided to the citizens of Athens-Clarke County from 1974-1992.

Ms. Mattox passed away in 2015, but her legacy lives on through the work that she completed in the community. She was also honored by the renaming of the 200 block of S. Franklin Street as Jennie L. Mattox Street. Mattox’s family originally pushed for the section of Flint St. occupied by St. Paul’s CME to be renamed, but later picked S. Franklin Street because of resident concerns on Flint St. The proposal for renaming was successful in early 2019 and the block was renamed after a ceremony held at Clarke Central High School in March 2019.

Mattox’s contributions to the Athens-Clarke County community are commemorated not only by awards and renamed streets, but also by how she’s remembered by the countless folks who worked with her while volunteering and were aided by her work. While the Jennie Lou Mattox collection is brand new here in the archives, we do also have resources related to housing in Athens, Community Centers here in Athens, and the Morton Theatre.