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  • #MyMGM: A Family Legacy Lives

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    Promoting historic preservation is in Collier Neeley’s blood, and he’s excited to follow in the footsteps of his grandmother, noted historian Mary Ann Neeley, with his service to and support of Montgomery’s Landmarks Foundation.

    “Being at Landmarks Foundation is one of my earliest memories,” said Collier Neeley. “As kids, we were up here all the time, so this work has always been ingrained in who I am.” That work— historic preservation—is a family affair for Neeley, who served as the interim director of Landmarks Foundation from September 2019 until this past January. He’s the grandson of the late Mary Ann Neeley, a beloved Montgomery historian and author, making the role particularly meaningful for him. Mary Ann spent nearly 25 years at the helm of Landmarks, developing many of its programs and principles that remain today.
     
    “There were actually a handful of times that she and I talked about me doing this job. When the board of directors asked me to do this, I said, ‘Of course.’ I know she’d be excited that I am doing this work,” Neeley said.
     
    Today, Neeley is fresh into a new role as Executive Director of Landmarks. The job offers him the chance to continue his life’s calling while remaining in and contributing to his hometown of Montgomery. “I have always loved the community development aspect of the work I do. I love the idea we are not only preserving and enriching a community’s identity, but also fostering a place that is worthwhile and a place where people can be proud to live,” Neeley said. “I love having friends from out of town visit, and they are surprised at the cool things going on here.”
     
    Neeley feels strongly about his continued connection with Landmarks. “This place is a part of me; it’s a part of my identity. I will always do everything I can to support it,” he said.
     
    The History of Landmarks Foundation
    The Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery was founded in 1967 to lead the city’s historic preservation movement. With early leaders like businessman Jimmy Loeb and Milo Howard, a former director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the small group of local visionaries wanted to ensure that historic buildings in the city were saved, rather than torn down in the rush to spruce up Montgomery’s downtown.
     
    In 1967, Landmarks made its first purchase: the Ordeman House at the corner of Hull Street and Jefferson Street. It began a unique partnership with the city of Montgomery that has resulted in the preservation of 50 authentically restored 19th and early 20th century structures stretching six blocks through downtown Montgomery.
     
    Many of these structures are clustered together in Old Alabama Town, which is open for public tours complete with actors and immersive learning experiences. More than 30,000 fourth- graders from all over the state visit Old Alabama Town every year in addition to adult tour groups and tourists. “The school groups are our lifeblood; it is truly astounding how many kids come through here. It is fun to see them experience 19th-century life. They have to process the thought of not having electricity and having to walk outside to get water,” Neeley said.
     
    The other buildings owned by Landmarks are income properties, rented out to other nonprofits or businesses needing office space. The rent covers much of the expenses of running Old Alabama Town; memberships and private donations help too.
     
    The organization is unique among its peers in that it’s focused on both interpreting history and preserving it. That duality provides a dynamic foundation for its continued growth.
     
    THE FUTURE OF LANDMARKS FOUNDATION
    The conversation surrounding revitalization and business growth has, perhaps, never been louder in Montgomery. With significant changes happening throughout the city, Landmarks Foundation is just as relevant today as it was when it was founded. Public and private investments have again brought life and commerce to once-boarded up buildings in Montgomery’s downtown. Also, the idea of making the old new again is trendy.
     
    Neeley said, “Part of our work in historic preservation is understanding what makes your community unique. In Montgomery, our history is probably one of our biggest assets. It’s one of the things we market quite heavily. In the same strain, our physical structures are part of that history, and understanding that even if a building is built for a certain purpose, it can be used for something else, and something very profitable, is important. We have seen some great examples of that in recent years.”
     
    Neighborhoods in Montgomery have also transformed, as young families have moved into and renovated old homes. In fact, Landmarks is also behind the wildly popular Renovators Open House, which allows neighbors and old-house lovers the ability to tour historic homes during the construction process.
     
    “We are standing on the shoulders of all these people who have created this place for us. I learned that firsthand from my grandmother in all of those years of traveling with her to speaking engagements, visiting Civil War battlegrounds and watching her pour over history books. It’s our responsibility to be good stewards of what we’ve been given,” said Neeley. “To me, preservation is not just clinging to our past. It is an important part of our future.
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