Barton Academy

Barton Academy, 504 Government St., is a Greek Revival building built 1836-1839 by James Gallier Sr. and the Dakin Brothers and housed the first public school in the state of Alabama.

In the late 1820s, Willoughby Barton and several others bought a track of land in downtown Mobile for $2,750 to build a school. Funding from a state lottery helped raise the remaining money needed to open Barton Academy, which became a collection of private and church schools. Barton, a member of the state legislature, sponsored the legislation that created the Board of School Comissioners for Mobile County.

Henry Hitchcock chaired the committee to raise funds for the building, a large part of which came from his own fortune. Hitchcock hired Gallier and Dakin and the building was completed in 1839. The Cast iron fence came from New York in 1839.

Following completion, the Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County allowed the building to be used for private and denominational schools, with some funding from the commissioners. An act in 1846 allowed for taxes to be collected for the establishment of a free Methodist school by the commission

In 1852, Barton became Alabama's first public school building, with 400 students in primary through high school grades. The school quickly grew to 1,012 students.

It was used as a Union hospital after the fall of Mobile in 1865. It closed for a few years after the Civil War, but reopened. The Girls High School reopened in 1865, followed by the Boys High School in 1870. At the time of the school's centennial, in 1936, Barton offered just the seventh-grade.

It continued to serve as a school building until the 1960s when it was converted into the Central Office for the Mobile County Public School System.

The school board relocated its central office in 2007 and was initially working with preservation agencies in an effort to have the building restored. The restoration effort stalled in 2009 when the school board delayed a decision on setting aside an additional $700,000 for the renovation of Barton. The board had already dedicated $2.3 million to the restoration effort, but two board members stated opposition to spending any of the money on the structure.

Restoring the outside is estimated to cost up to $8.3 million. The building is structurally sound, according to a recent study.