MONTEVALLO, Ala. (WIAT) — Tom Walker is a bit of an American history geek.
It’s something he continually reads about but also has experience with through his family. Walker’s uncle served in the Navy during WWII while his grandfather served overseas during WWI.
“He used to take me to veterans meetings,” Walker said.
It’s memories like that Walker continues to cherish. However, they are also memories that he feels are being forgotten across America.
“The fact is this: America is losing its memory of its foundation,” he said. “History is what our country’s memory is to each of us. If we lose our national memory, we could forget those who sacrificed their lives for this country.”
By the 1990s, Walker began working with a purpose to keep America’s memory alive. The result was starting American Village, a museum in the form of a large 180-acre recreation of America during the Revolutionary War. On Monday, the interactive location celebrated its 20th anniversary, the same day as George Washington’s birthday.
The museum, which also holds monuments to servicemen from different wars as well as a veteran cemetery, is a mainstay for classroom visits in the area, with over 35,000 students visiting the village every year to learn about America when it was in its infancy.
“I think what they leave with is a heightened understanding is that we are a blessed country and we stand on the shoulders of people who came before us,” Walker said.
At American Village, 11 actors put on shows for classes, dressing in attire from the late 1700s as well as showing children what life was like for a young America in those days. Nancy Estes is one of the few actors who has been with the village since the beginning.
“I’ve seen this place become a pillar of this community,” Estes said. “I’m just very proud and pleased to see that take place.”
Ann Harrison, a fifth-grade teacher at Thompson Intermediate School, has taken classes to the village a few times and said that for students who cannot afford to go on the school’s annual trip to Washington, going to American Village an equally wonderful and informative and experience for them to learn about American history.
“It’s great for all ages out here,” Harrison said. “Both my boys went there when they were younger.”
Chris Long started as an actor at American Village and now is in charge of the military programs and historical research at the museum. Like Estes, Long has been with the museum since the beginning.
“Now, I’m the same age as the commanders during the Revolutionary War,” said Long, who started off playing soldiers during reenactments.
For Long, American Village captures a time that many people have no concept of today.
“When I first came here, it was unusual to do Revolutionary War history in central Alabama,” he said. “How important this mission is to expose young people to the foundation of our country.”
As part of its 20th anniversary, American Village is now underway with a project to create a replica of Independence Hall with a wing that will focus on the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
“I believe we are blessed that we have it right in our backyard,” Harrison said.
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