DECATUR, Ala. (AP) -- Decatur may have been the first city in the state to name a school in honor of George Washington Carver, and a group of local historians is trying to secure a historical marker for the site that Carver once visited.
"This school is an important part of the city's history and should be recognized as such," said Wylheme Ragland, a retired pastor and historian who recently found a 1938 editorial in The Decatur Daily that called for a marker to be placed at the school.
"It's time," he said.
Carver, who was born a slave, became a botanist and a prominent scientist and inventor, as well as a teacher at Tuskegee Institute. His work with peanuts led to the creation of more than 100 products, including dyes, plastics and gasoline.
Local historian Peggy Towns said Carver visited Decatur in 1935 and that Carver Elementary (known today as Horizon School) on Church Street was named in his honor.
"It is believed to be the first African American school in Alabama named in honor of the well-known scientist," she said.
During his visit, Carver spoke to an integrated audience of more than 1,000 Decatur residents for the Decatur Negro High School baccalaureate ceremony at the Princess Theatre.
In a letter to Superintendent W.W. Henson after his 1935 visit, Carver wrote: "The Carver School far exceeds my expectations. It is a most beautiful building and I hope that it will be able in every way to integrate itself into the up-building and the development of the splendid possibilities which lie all around you."
The school was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in March 2012.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said if the school meets specifications as a historic site, he will secure funding to pay for the marker.
Decatur City Schools still owns the building and is using the site. Superintendent Michael Douglas said he has received an email about placing a historical marker at the school and he doesn't anticipate any opposition from the school board.
The board amended its naming policy about six months ago to require board approval for any markers placed on school property.
Towns said Carver School sits on the highest point of Church Street and the brick building was constructed in 1927. Students started attending classes in the building on March 2, 1928, and before being named in honor of Carver, it went by several other names, including Gibbs Street School, East Decatur Colored School, and Albany Negro School.
"The segregated facility was significantly important because it was the only school that provided public education to blacks in the eastern portion of the city," Towns said. "Secondly, it is the oldest remaining historic black school building in Decatur."
At some point in 1938, the city of Montgomery named a school in honor of Carver, according to newspaper accounts.
This is when the editorial appeared in The Daily saying, in part: "Decatur already has such a school, and The Daily still believes it would be a good idea to place a marker on the highway, close to the institution, so that visitors could observe it."
Carver closed as a neighborhood school in June 1966, in part because the black community known as Oklahoma was torn down, Towns said.
The school district used the site for storage until 1974, which the facility reopened as a developmental center. Since 1992, the site has been called Horizon School and has served as an alternative school for students.
"Carver School deserves the recognition and the school building is one of the historic gems of our River City," Ragland said.