The Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center is located in Russell County adjacent to the Fort Mitchell National Historic Landmark. The center, dedicated during a Native American heritage celebration on October 4-5, 2002, features a sculpture and other installations honoring the Creek Indians. The center is administered by the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Association.
The idea for the Heritage Center was conceived in 1987 by Doug Purcell, executive director of the now-defunct Historic Chattahoochee Commission (HCC), to commemorate the legacy of the Creek Nation, whose important towns and governing bodies were located in eastern Alabama and western Georgia in the area partially encompassed by what is known as the Chattahoochee Trace. The Creeks were once the most powerful Indian nation in the Southeast but were systematically driven from their lands during the first half of the nineteenth century to make way for white settlement via the Federal Road and other routes. Purcell envisioned a place where visitors, area residents, and school children could assemble to learn more about the Creek Indians and to honor the memory of those who lost their lives during the period of Creek Indian Removal. In 1988, the HCC founded the non-profit Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Association, which served as the fundraising arm for the project. Fort Mitchell was selected as the site for the center because it was a major assembly area for Creek Indians prior to their removal west to Arkansas, Texas, and eventually Oklahoma.
The project involved a number of state, local, and military entities, including the HCC, the Russell County Commission, and the U.S. Army at Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning), Georgia, which designed and constructed the parking area and other minor aspects of the project. Board and advisory committee members of the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Association represented many other organizations, including the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians as well as local chambers of commerce, tourism bureaus, and institutions of higher education. It has been underwritten by donations and a variety of grants over the years.
The center itself consists of a large multi-piece sculpture, a ballfield modeled on the traditional stickball fields of the Creeks and other southeastern Indian peoples, and numerous interpretive trails bordered with plantings that represent the traditional species used by the region’s Indian groups. The focal point of the park is a 21-foot-high steel and bronze sculpture representing the Sacred Fire that sat at the heart of every Creek town; it is surrounded by other symbols sacred to the Creeks. The four granite blocks represent four ears of corn placed on the fire, and at the base, four granite slabs point in the cardinal directions and represent the four logs of the fire. The entire sculpture is set inside a ring of four planting beds representing the four cardinal directions and holding four large horizontal bronze panels inscribed with the names listed on the Creek Indian census of 1833. The design is a symbolic recreation of an Indian town square.
The design for the sacred fire sculpture was conceived by artist-designer Kathy Hamrick and her husband, architectural consultant Mike Hamrick, who both worked for monument and sculpture studio J. J. Jaxon Company in Eufaula, Barbour County. The piece was executed by sculptor Branko Medenica of Birmingham, funded with a $100,000 development grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the efforts of then-congressman and future governor Bob Riley.
The stepped beds are used as seating by groups of students and other visitors who come to the center during informal educational programs. Periodic public programs are scheduled at the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center by Columbus State University in cooperation with the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Association. The facility is open to the public during operating hours of Fort Mitchell Historical Park and is available for tour groups from area schools, scouting groups, and the general public. Interpretive signs help lead visitors along the nature trail, and the stick ball field is occasionally used for games and Creek Indian cultural demonstrations and programming. Three historical markers and several bronze plaques help explain the facility design elements and the purpose for which the center was constructed.