How You Can Leave Your Mark
By Tara Wilson
In early 2018, RCI, Inc. and the RCI Foundation, Inc. were contacted by Michael Breeding of Michael Breeding MEDIA in regards to the potential restoration of a crumbling stone building, once the site of the Choctaw Academy. The building has stood the test of time, maintaining its structural integrity since its opening in 1825 in Great Crossing, KY, just outside of Lexington.
The Choctaw Academy was the first federally funded, racially integrated, non-military, and non-missionary school in the history of the United States. The school, operated on the plantation of the ninth Vice President of the United States, Richard Mentor Johnson, brought together the sons of 17 different Native American tribes, educating over 600 students in its 23-year run.
What makes the story of the Choctaw Academy so fascinating is that it sheds light on the convergence of the traditional players in antebellum America in a way rarely seen. The Academy provided a meeting ground for politician and plantation owner, slave and freedman/woman, and Native American youth, as they worked to assimilate into a new culture in order to save their own.
As is so often the case, the story was not all good, but it remains one of empowerment, diversity, and perseverance. It produced a great many doctors, lawyers, and tribal chiefs who went on to champion for their people, even as they were pushed west. After its closing in 1848, the school continued to stand as a model for colleges still in operation today.
In 2012, Kentucky ophthalmologist Dr. William “Chip” Richardson purchased a parcel of land that included the remaining structure, already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Not long after, the roof collapsed, taking with it a portion of the back wall. Through the engagement of the Choctaw Nation, their Foundation, and community outreach, a pole barn roof was constructed to protect the interior from the elements. While a great temporary relief, it remains critical to restore a permanent roof to prevent the complete collapse of the building.
The history and current situation of the Academy has now caught the attention of RCI, Inc., because after all, what is a restoration if not skilled craftsmanship on the envelope of a building? Preserving a tangible piece of Native American history is something that does not come along often. Providing this service to the nation also allows us to shine a spotlight on the skills of our members, the value of our industry today, and the meaning of our work for generations to come.
As RCI continues to strive in its efforts to be the building envelope resource for consultants and the public at large, it is faced with the task of not only providing educational and networking services, but assuring that it is inclusive of professionals from every background and gender. In short, we are stronger together, something echoed in the history of the Choctaw Academy.
Along with the restoration, Michael Breeding MEDIA intends to create multiple documentaries, already in contract with PBS affiliates across the nation. One of these documentaries showcases a group of local elementary/middle school children who are already active in public outreach for the site, not only in the history, but the actual construction work. Another will focus on the restoration and history, and another will be a donor film, showcasing the people and organizations who have and will be contributing to the initiative. We see this as an unprecedented opportunity to show the public the value of a skilled building envelope professional, while also piquing the interest of the next generation into the building envelope industry as a career.
On June 19, 2018, representatives of RCI, Inc. joined various stakeholders, including professionals in our industry, archeologists, the Humanities Council of Kentucky, the Kentucky Heritage Council, and historians to discuss the initiative. During this visit, RCI, Inc. signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the historical site as the primary source of fundraising for the restoration of the Choctaw Academy. The MOU also includes the signed support of the RCI Foundation, Inc.; Dr. Chip Richardson; Michael Breeding MEDIA; and, potentially, the Choctaw Nation.
During this meeting, it was also discovered that Dr. Richardson has been in contact with the National Parks Service (NPS), noting that the Choctaw Academy has been noticed for potential inclusion onto the United States’ prestigious list of National Historic Landmarks, assuring federal protection into perpetuity. The one problem? As noted by an NPS representative, the structure must be in solid shape. Our landmarks must not be in jeopardy of collapsing.
In short, RCI, Inc. will be asking our members and industry colleagues to join us with their support. We will need to raise funds in the ballpark of $400,000 to accomplish this goal, with two years to complete it. Support can come in the form of monetary donations, donations of material, marketing, and of course—expertise from our members—the best in the industry.
We look forward to bringing you more information and progress updates along the way. Please join us as we look to the future, by first preserving our past.
For more information and an additional perspective, read local media coverage in the Lexington Herald Leader about the site and RCI’s involvement.