Local history lovers enjoyed a quick unveiling of the new historical marker at Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center on Saturday before heading inside to the air conditioning.
The new marker, provided by the Rutherford County Chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, celebrates Bradley for its historical and architectural significance in the community.
“Bradley is being recognized as the first place for education in Rutherford County,” said Katie Wilson, chairwoman of the board of directors for the cultural center, located at 415 South Academy Street
The original school was a log building constructed in 1806, with classes beginning in 1909. Students were white males only.
The 11th president, James K. Polk, was one of the academy’s students, as was U.S. Representative John Bell, who was defeated by Lincoln in the presidential election prior to the Civil War.
In 1884 the school was changed to serve male and female African-American children.
The current school building was constructed in 1917, with classes beginning the following year and it is this year that is denoted on the new marker.
Eventually, the school was closed, and it became a storage place, a maintenance hub for county busses and a warehouse. It was briefly used as a school again when overflow students had to be moved in 1959. Wilson was one of these students.
“They had some seventh-, and all the eighth-graders here. I was in eighth grade,” she recalled.
Being reopened before the desegregation of schools, Bradley was once again open to black students.
The building was turned over to the Head Start programs in the 1960s before being used again for storage in the 1970s, according to Wilson.
“Several people approached the county about using the building for a museum. It had to be renovated and in 1999, almost 10 years later, it opened as a cultural center,” Wilson said.
However, Bradley Academy as it is now is not the original school built more than two centuries ago. In fact, there have been five different buildings in four different locations known as Bradley Academy.
Dr. George Smith explained the long history of the academy in a presentation to those who attended the marker’s unveiling.
“Bradley Academy has such a rich history,” Wilson said.
Denise Carlton, president for the Rutherford County Chapter of the APTA, agreed heartily.
“It was the first county-built African-American school. This was a big difference, that the county was providing education to African-American children,” Carlton said.
She explained that the association strives to preserve buildings of historical and architectural significance. The structures must be at least 70 years of age.
“We are an awareness organization,” Carlton said. “Our way of preservation is keeping the age and significance of the building in front of you through these markers.”
Each marker is made by a local blacksmith, Carlton said.
The Rutherford County chapter of APTA marks a different place — including churches, stores, private residences, museums and historical sites — each quarter. It recognized the Sam Davis Home last year and hopes to add the Oaklands to the list next year.