Culture & Heritage

Alamuchee Bellamy Covered Bridge, photo courtesy Rural Southwest Alabama

Alamuchee Bellamy Covered Bridge, photo courtesy Rural Southwest Alabama

Sumter County History:

Home to one of the South’s oldest covered bridges, Sumter County is located in the west-central part of Alabama in the Black Belt region. Sumter County was also the birthplace of Ruby Pickens Tartt, who helped to collect African American narratives and local musical traditions, and of Vera Hall Ward, a blues singer whom Tartt helped bring to fame. The County was also home to Julia S. Tutwiler: a pioneer advocate of women’s education, prison reform, and women’s rights, and wrote the state song.    Sumter County was created by the Alabama legislature on December 18, 1832, from former Choctaw Indian lands ceded to the United States in the Choctaw Treaty of 1830, also known as the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Sumter County was named in honor of General Thomas Sumter of South Carolina, a Revolutionary War hero.  In 1832, Livingston became the first and only county seat. The first courthouse was built of logs in 1833 and a second framed courthouse was built in 1839 on the same site and burned in 1901. In 1902, the third and present courthouse was built on the same site – a domed, brick structure that has undergone several renovations yet is still in use today.  The earliest settlers came to the county from the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. Some of the first towns included Gaston, Gainesville, Paynesville, Bluffport, Warsaw, Tompkinsville, and Sumterville, of which half are now only county roads.  Because of Sumter County’s diverse and rich history, as the Choctaw Indians, French, British, and Spanish have all settled or inhabited parts of the county, it is home to numerous historical markers, sites, homes, and churches; there are approximately 128 historical sites in Sumter County.  Sumter County is governed by an elected six-member commission and includes the incorporated cities of Livingston and York and the incorporated towns of Cuba, Emelle, Gainesville, and Geiger.

Tourism:

Sumter County has approximately 130 historical sites including one old depot, one historic bridge, one historic courthouse, three historic districts/downtowns, three Civil War sites, six historic cemeteries, 10 historic markers, 12 historic commercial and/or school site, 20 historic churches, and 71 historic homes.

The Sumter County Fine Arts Council, UWA, and the Coleman Center for the Arts in York provide quality entertainment, arts education programs, and arts exhibitions to the West Alabama community. UWA hosts the annual Sucarnochee Folk life Festival each April, and both UWA and the SCFAC have hosted numerous plays, theatrical troupes, local performers, and orchestral performances. The Coleman Center houses a small art gallery and hosts educational arts programs for the local community.

For the avid golfer, we have the Livingston Country Club and Sumter Country Club in York. Sumter County is well known for its plentiful hunting lands. Southern Sportsman Lodge is one of several private hunting facilities, and there are many public facilities as well. Many private and public lakes including Lake LU, the Tombigbee River, and the Sucarnochee River make fishing and boating excellent recreational activities. There are three privately owned fishing facilities: Sweet Apple Farms, Dreamlake, and Southern Sportsman Lodge. Other hunting/fishing facilities include Ed Vaughn Hunting, P-Arrow Plantation, Cameron Quail Preserve, Triple D Ranch, and Jug Branch Fishing. UWA hosts games of all major sports including football, basketball, baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, soccer, rodeo, and cross country. UWA is also home to the Sumter County Nature Trust Nature Trails, located at Lake LU, which provide walking, running, picnicking, boating, fishing, and bird-watching opportunities.

Arts and Culture

The Arts:

The Arts is very important in the Black Belt and especially in Sumter County.  There are several local artists and art organizations in the area that provide art classes, art galleries, continuing education courses, workshops, etc.

One popular local artist is Sheila Hull of The Studio.

The Studio, SH Designs Art Studio, is located on Marshall Street in downtown Livingston.  Art classes are offered every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; starter kits and canvases are available or you can bring your own paints/supplies. Studio Strokes is offered every other Thursday from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm; all supplies are included.  Sheila also creates custom paintings and portraits. In addition, her Hand Painted Ornaments are very popular.  Not only does she paint them to order, but also has been commissioned by the Alabama Supreme Court to paint ornaments of all the county courthouses, by Alfa Insurance to paint Farmers Federation, and was chosen to paint all of the ornaments for the 2011 National Christmas Tree display in President’s Park in Washington, D.C.  Sheila’s artwork has been so popular that it has been included in several published magazines including Alabama Living and Friends & Family.

Please visit her website at www.studiostrokes.com and her hand painted ornament website at www.handpaintedornaments.homestead.com

Another local artist is Karen Castleman of Treasure’s Boutique, Consignment & Tanning.

Karen teaches art at Sumter Academy and teaches art classes at her boutique.  She offers one on one charcoal, paper mache, and acrylic classes for children. She is also known for her painted furniture and whimsical canvases. Her artwork is displayed on the walls of Sumter Academy’s daycare, in her boutique, and in various businesses.

Please visit her website at www.treasuresboutique.net

The Coleman Center for the Arts:

The Coleman Center is continually supporting their community with creative art programs.  Their programs include a community based artist-in-residence program that produces socially engaged public art projects; an exhibition program that features the work of local artists as well as regional and national artists completing CCA projects; and an education program that offers year round educational opportunities for area youth.  For more information on their exhibitions, programs, and events, visit www.colemanarts.org

Sumter County Fine Arts Council:

This organization is responsible for providing art and seasonal theatrical performances in Livingston. The organization has featured various theatrical troupes, local performers, and orchestral music performances open to the public.  For information regarding specific events, please visit www.scfac.uwa.edu

UWA’s Division of Educational Outreach:

The Division of Educational Outreach is comprised of bby Publications, the Black Belt Museum, Center for the Study of the Black Belt, and Continuing Education which seek to meet the social and cultural educational needs of the Alabama Black Belt region while promoting the historical, cultural, and natural resources of the region.  Mosaics, fused glass jewelry, and Loops at Land (which is quilting, stitching, knitting, etc) are some of the classes offered through their Continuing Education Program.  For more information on the programs offered, visit www.uwa/eucationaloutreach/

The following are also offered through these various artists and organizations:

  • Museums: Black Belt Museum (Livingston), Coleman Center for the Arts (York), and Cuba Museum (Cuba)
  • Murals: there are murals painted on four of the buildings in Downtown York
  • Pottery Heritage: Center for the Study of the Black Belt (UWA, Livingston)
  • Artist Workshops: The Center for the Study of the Black Belt, Coleman Center for the Arts, and The Studio (Livingston)
  • Artists in Residence: Coleman Center for the Arts
  • Summer arts camp: Colman Center for the Arts
  • Glass/ceramics studios: Divison of Educational Outreach’s Continuing Education Classes

Cultural Programs:

Center for the Study of the Black Belt:

The Center for the Study of the Black Belt sponsors programs that focus on the history, culture, and literature of the Black Belt region.

Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area:

The Black Belt Heritage Area’s mission is to partner with local communities, state agencies, and non-profit organizations to shape a sustainable future for the Black Belt region through the preservation, interpretation, and marketing of unique cultural, historical, and natural assets, and to create a better quality of life for its residents through education and development of community capacity and pride.  The Black Belt Heritage Area is composed of 19 counties in Alabama’s Black Belt region and is represented by a task force of 60 members, consisting of local citizens and leaders (representing these 19 counties).

Source: Informational material from the Center for the Study of the Black Belt

Black Belt Conservation Institute:

This institute fosters the protection, promotion, and restoration of the Black Belt’s unique environment.  They partner with private and state agencies such as The Nature Conservancy, the Alabama Forestry Commission, Alabama Treasure Forests, County Soil and Water Conservation Districts and area Farmer’s Federations to provide timely information on issues that affect private citizens and landowners in the region.  Also, the institute focuses on promoting the natural environments of the Black Belt region of Alabama.  Although this region supports a natural mix of forests, rivers, lakes, and swamps, it is distinguished by the remnant tall-grass prairies found here.  In addition, the BBCRI sponsors an annual conference highlighting different environments of the Black Belt Region, and offers certification courses to promote landowner stewardship and best management practices on private property.

Source: Informational material from the Center for the Study of the Black Belt

College of Liberal Arts Theatre Program:

The UWA Division of Fine Arts presents several theatre productions each year for students, faculty/staff, and the local community.  This fall’s production is titled “Middleton” by Will Eno and is directed by Arthur Grothe, Division of Fine Arts Chair and Assistant Professor.  These productions count as course credit toward the student actors’ theatre minor.

Source: University of West Alabama Website

Fulbright Scholar Program:

Committees were designated in each college to review the Directory of Fulbright Visiting Scholars to identify a scholar or scholars whose research and lecture topics would be of interest not only to faculty and students in their college, but also to community groups and the general public.  Any of 800 Fulbright Visiting Scholars who are in the United States for an academic year may accept guest lecturing invitations at colleges and universities throughout the United States. In fact, Fulbright Visiting Scholars are strongly encouraged by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) to maximize the impact of their exchange experience by giving lectures to various US audiences.  Thus, CIES provides travel awards through their Occasional Lecturer Program for this activity. The Colleges of Business, Education, Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences and Mathematics will invite to the campus of the University of West Alabama a Fulbright Visiting Scholar to speak to faculty, staff and students, as well as community groups and the general public.   Scholars have been chosen by each college and invitations have been extended.  The series of lectures that will be given by the four or five scholars who accept invitations to come to our campus will comprise the Fulbright Lecture Series.

Source: Informational material from International Programs