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'Once it's gone, it's gone forever': Efforts underway to save Native American landmark

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Posted at 7:00 PM, Nov 30, 2022

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (LEX 18) — On the final day of Native American Heritage Month, a piece of Native history is top of mind for one Scott County man.

“It’s not often that you get to discover something that has been largely undiscovered,” said Dr. Chip Richardson.

The Georgetown ophthalmologist purchased a chunk of land ten years ago. At the time, he didn’t realize he’d acquired a critical piece of Native American history.

Sitting on his 170 acres is Choctaw Academy, a Native American school established in 1825. Unlike missionary schools aiming to strip Native Americans of their culture, Choctaw Academy was secular and offered a diverse curriculum.

According to Richardson, “The Choctaw Nation knew one of the key elements of their survival during this period of colonization was education.”

Choctaw Academy educated more than 600 boys from 17 tribes. Some students went onto Transylvania University and studied law and medicine.

Today, only one structure of the academy still stands. Built with stone is a dormitory where students would have stayed. Richardson worked with members of the Choctaw Nation to create a protective roof over the building, but he says more needs to be done to ensure its longevity.

“If we have floor rot, beam rot, we're going to have an implosion, so I don't know how long it's going to last. Once it's gone, it's gone forever, and sadly it's dangerously close to being gone."

After stonework, timber carpentry, and a historic architect, Richardson estimates he’ll need upwards of $300,000 to keep Choctaw Academy standing.

“The weight of the importance of this place rests on my shoulders,” said Richardson. “As its owner, I feel like I'm the caretaker of this place, and I never give up, and this is one of those things that I hope I don't die trying. I want to get this restored so people can come and visit and understand that this was probably the most important place in antebellum America.”

Richardson will announce updates on donation opportunities in the coming weeks. You can learn more at Save the Choctaw Academy on Facebook.