By Tia Lynn Lecorchick staff writer
Morgan County has signed a lease agreement for the historic seven-acre Benjamin Braswell estate property, off Route 83 in Bostwick, to transform the currently overgrown land into a public park for the entire community to enjoy. Charles Merritt, the Morgan County probate judge in charge of the Braswell Fund, which includes the estate, agreed to lease the property to the county for the purpose of cleaning up the property and offer recreational activities. “Our hope is to do passive recreation on it. We would like to have trails and picnic tables, things like that,” said Michael Lamar, county manager. According to Lamar, the county is currently applying for state trail grants to help cover the cost of making trails along the Braswell estate. “The Braswell estate has been part of the fund for 197 years,” said Merritt. “It’s so rough and overgrown. We are glad the county wants to clean the place up and put it to good use for the entire community.” The grave of Benjamin Braswell is all that remains on the property. Morgan County Commissioner Philip Clack is supportive of the project. “Several concerned citizens voiced their desire to me last year to put the property to good use once again,” said Clack. “It’s an important part of Morgan County’s history and it’s been neglected for too long.
As a major part of Morgan County’s history, we need to preserve and take care of it.” Merritt must approve any and all changes the county proposes for the property, but Merritt believes the county shares his vision for the property. “I work very well with the county and county manager, so I don’t expect any problems. We should get the place fixed up very nicely. According to Merritt, many decades ago, some improvements were administered to the property, like a gazebo and picnic shelters, but have since rotted and caved in. “The property has been out of use for quite some time now,” said Merritt. “It will be a good thing to make it usable for the community once again.” Benjamin Braswell, a wealthy planter from Madison, set up a fund to benefit orphaned children after his death in 1817 and established a school for impoverished children. According to Merritt, the Braswell fund, which started with $75,000 was invested over the years and now has grown to nearly $340,000. Each year, five percent of the fund is distributed to children in Morgan County who have lost one or both of their parents to help cover the cost of post-secondary eduction. This year, the Braswell fund gave out 12 scholarships for $1300 each, totaling $15,600. “We want the fund to continue to grow so we can continue to help needy children throughout the county.” “We are very proud of how the fund has been handled,” said Merritt. The application deadline for the scholarship is in March of each year.