North American Properties (NAP), the original developer of Cascades Park, unveiled two landmarks this morning at the historic new Cascades Plaza.
Since 2017, city officials and historians have been meeting regularly to discuss plans for building the exhibits after the NAP promised to shine a light on the city’s untold history.
What was once the Leon County Jail on Gaines Street now houses the Civil Rights Monument. The prison attracted attention in the 1960s after civil rights activists were thrown into jail after refusing to post $300 bail for staging a nonviolent protest against segregation.
The exhibit is over eight feet tall, with a width of over 30 feet. The structure is made of corten steel and has a dark rust color.
“We made the corten steel memorial that lasts forever,” said Shawn McIntyre, NAP’s managing partner for Florida. “It’s the whole idea that this story will last forever.”
The monument is double-sided, with 14 panels in total. The six smaller panels on the front display images with captions below, describing the events leading up to the prison. On the back of the middle panel is a replica of a letter Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to activists while they were in prison in 1960.
There were many different organizers for this project, from city officials to activists who spent nights sleeping on the floor of the original prison.
“When we started this process, the only people who knew about the significance of this area were those who had lived through it,” said Althemese Barnes, founder of the John G. Riley Home and Museum and member of the Cascades Historical User. Group. said.
A key organizer on the team to help bring this idea to life was the Reverend CK Steele. He was among the activists arrested during the protest. He was 16 at the time.
“The fact that they focused on my story and what we were trying to do at the time,” Steele said. “It means a lot to me.”
The second, smaller exhibit in the plaza depicts Tallahassee’s “Four Corners of History,” a reference to the significant Art Moderne architectural heritage located at the intersection of East Gaines and South Gadsden. Historic structures on display are the Old City Waterworks, the Caroline Brevard Grammar School (the former Leon County Health Unit), and the former jail site.
“Although not everything remains,” said Jennifer Koslow, a member of the Cascades Historical User Group. “It is a pleasure to see several buildings preserved and rehabilitated for new purposes.”
The memorial is on the corner of Gaines and South Gadsden streets.