Campus History: What do we take with us?

I’m currently in my fourth year at Auburn, and in that short time there is one event in particular which stands out to me in terms of its historical significance. Two years ago, The Auburn City Council was informed that the Cullars House, a historic house built in the late 19th century at the intersection of S. College St. and Samford Ave., would soon be torn down.

For over a century this house had stood as a landmark in Auburn. In fact, the Cullars of the Cullars House were a family of builders who were responsible for much of the construction of Samford Hall after Old Main burned down. The house had not been a residence for over a decade, but even as office space it was considered by many to be an important part of Auburn’s past. Regardless, a developer in Birmingham had bought the property and wanted the lot cleared.

Dozens of citizens across Auburn started a campaign to try to save the house. There were plans to buy back the lot, to pay off the developer somehow, or to attempt to move the house elsewhere. This last option became the focus after the developer said he would only sell the property for a *lot* of money. So, the groups and individuals who wanted to save the Cullars House began to devise ways to move the house. The problems that come with moving a house that more than 100 years old are not trivial. How do you move it? Where do you move it to? What do you do with it when you put it there? Unfortunately for the residents who wanted to preserve this house, all of the answers to those questions came with hefty price tags.

I don’t remember exactly how much it would have cost to move the house, but I do know that it was over $1 million. There were debates in City Council about publicly funding the project, and I think the questions that were asked and answered in the dingy courtroom which served as council chambers two years ago speak to how we as rather intelligent primates understand the history of our surroundings.

I say that because the ultimate decision reached by the Council and most of the residents was that this house was not worth the cost to save it. Instead, people said they preferred that the City spend money on public transportation or infrastructure repairs. Even though this house was clearly historic, not enough people in the community believed it held enough value to be saved from the oblivions of time. This, I think, gets back to the title of this entry. How do we, as a collective, decide what pieces of our past to take with us? We obviously can’t keep everything; there’s only so many bookshelves, hard drives, or property lots. So, in the deluge of modern construction and production, what do we deem worthy of preservation? Furthermore, what do our answers say about our present?

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