Located in Northport, AL
Photo © 2007 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Jemison Center History
The history of the Jemison Center, often strangely called "Old Bryce," seems to be mired in half-truths and speculation on the internet. The earliest information found dates back to when the land was a plantation, called Crab Orchard back in the 1820s, due to the many crab apple trees located on the property. It was owned by William Jemison, who then passed it down to his son, Robert Jemison Jr., a successful politician and businessman. The 4,000 acre tract in Northport was later known as Cherokee Place, where Robert would live until his new home was completed in Tuscaloosa in 1862. Jemison was a major advocate for the establishment of a hospital for the insane in Alabama, and is considered a major influence to select the area as the site for the first asylum in the state - the Alabama State Hospital for the Insane (Bryce Hospital).
By the 1920s the asylum had become severely overcrowded, and satellite institutions were created nearby to relieve the pressure, such as the Alabama Home for Mental Defectives (later known as Partlow State School). In 1939, the site of the Cherokee Plantation was purchased and transformed into the State Farm Colony for Negroes (the old Bryce Hospital grounds only housed white patients during the Jim Crow era). The former plantation house on the hill was razed and in its place the state of Alabama constructed the Jemison Institute, a three-story brick institution with detached heating plant for $161,000.
History seems to fade from there; it's assumed the Jemison Center operated as a state work farm, where able-bodied African American patients would work the fields to produce food for the hospital, as well as performing other kinds of labor (weaving, mending, etc). Desegregation orders from the government and changes in labor laws seemed to put an end to the Jemison Center; all farming operations at Bryce ceased in 1977. A mid-19th century structure was also erected on the property, called the S.D. Allen Intermediate Care Facility; it was used as a nursing home until it closed in 2003.