Phenix City councilman wants to establish city museum

Phenix City Councilman Jim Cannon wants the city to embrace its past – all of it – in a city museum.

Cannon said Monday he plans to introduce a resolution to council Wednesday to establish a museum advisory committee, with an eye toward forming a non-profit organization that would operate the city museum.

“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time,” Cannon said. “Of course, when I campaigned (for city council) that’s what I campaigned on.”

Cannon wants to establish a museum that reflects the city’s entire past, from the frontier days when Creek Indians lived in the area, to the ex-slave bridge builder Horace King, to 1970s country music star Freddie Hart to the 14 Phenix City athletes who have played professional sports.

Hart, whose hit “Easy Loving” topped the charts in 1971, now lives in Burbank, Calif., and would like to donate memorabilia to a local museum, Cannon said.

It would also include the city’s more infamous past, he said. The era dominated by organized crime, when whore houses and honky tonks dominated the streets and the sound of slot machines filled the air, would be well documented. In the past, movements to establish a city museum have drawn criticism because many have opposed dwelling on that era.

“That’s what the opposition has been through the years. But we overcame all that. The good people of Phenix City overcame that,” Cannon said. “It took martial law and the death of Albert Patterson, but the city overcame all that.”

Martial law was declared in 1954 after local lawyer Albert Patterson was slain, many say by the gangsters he was working hard to root out. Patterson had just been elected attorney general, running on a platform of cleaning up Phenix City.

Patterson’s son, attorney John Patterson, was elected to the seat vacated by his father’s death and played a central role in cleaning up the city. He would later be elected governor of Alabama. In his 90s now, Patterson has expressed interest in donating some family memorabilia to a Phenix City museum, Cannon said.

“Time is not on our side,” Cannon said. “The people from that era aren’t getting any younger.”

Cannon said council will discuss the museum at a work session today and then to vote on establishing the advisory committee Wednesday. He would expect the city to support the museum by providing utilities and such, he said, but the museum would be operated by volunteers and a non-profit board of directors.

The popularity of other local museums combined with the current civic momentum make now the time for the project, he said.

“We want to be a complement to Fort Mitchell, the Columbus Museum, the National Infantry Museum,” he said. “With everything going down on our side of the river and on the Columbus side, with Troy University, the Marriott, the Riverwalk, whitewater I believe either it’s going to happen now or it’s never going to happen.”

Cannon, a retired pharmacist, had a large display of historic photos on display at the CVS Pharmacy in Phenix City. He said he would gladly donate his collection to a city museum.