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Local History

Rich Piece of African-American History in Springfield Gets New Life

bartleydecatur.JPG
Michele Skalicky

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/rich-piece-african-american-history-springfield-gets-new-life_18412.mp3

 

As he shows me through the newly-renovated Bartley-Decatur Neighborhood Center, the pride in board chairman and executive director Mark Dixon’s voice is evident.  He’s excited about the possibilities the center will offer...

"You might have folks in the neighborhood who want to form some kind of association, some folks who like to garden or some folks  that like to sew.  I had some kids that I was kind of previewing the site with the other day and I said, 'how many of you know how to sew?'  And they were a couple of them that did, and I said, 'you know for a fact anybody in your neighborhood that also sews?'  And they said, 'no.'  I said, 'but, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume there probably are some people?'  They said, 'sure.'  I said, 'what if we could identify those people and you all got together and shared those interests?'   

The center, at 918 E. Calhoun, offers a meeting room complete with a Smart Board, a conference room and a community computer room that will have designated hours for public use.

The building has a rich history in Springfield’s African-American community.  It was once owned by the Springfield Colored Welfare Association and was used as a hospital, convalescent home and a daycare center, serving the black community in Springfield for nearly 100 years.

It’s named after Roberta Bartley—founder of Kiddie Kove Day Care and her sister Olive Decatur.  They worked as school teachers in Springfield both during and after segregation.

The effort to save the building started in 2002 when a group of concerned citizens met to discuss what could be done to protect the property, which had fallen into disrepair...

"It was really bad--windows broken out, grafitti, all kinds of debris, things torn up inside, some papers and books and things of that nature, toys that were left from Kiddie Kove strewn about.  It was pretty bad and eventually got even worse." 

An organization was formed—Bartley-Decatur Neighborhood Center, Inc.—and then-Senator Kit Bond helped the group secure money for renovations.

Now, renovations are nearly complete, and Dixon is glad that they’ve reached this point...

"I am extremely excited, relieved in some respects because there were certainly days where I wondered whether the project was going to go all the way--I'd seen some ups and downs in that process and a lot of hoops to jump, you know, and building codes and all kinds of rules and regulations, so it's really a relief in that respect." 

The public can see the results of the board’s hard work Saturday.  The Bartley-Decatur Neighborhood Center board will host a Community Open House from 10 am to 4 pm.

For more information, visit http://www.bartley-decatur.org.