Spotlighting special towns across the country, Good Towns is about the character, the history, the people and the unique things that make a town a special place.
The recent transfers came a long way to visit Troy University’s expansive campus. And it looks like they’re not going anywhere any time soon.
Meet China’s famous Terracotta Warriors. East meets West at Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park thanks to replicas of the soldiers archaeologist Zhao Kangmin unearthed in 1974. The original warriors guarded the burial site of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, for centuries. Now, they stand sentinel in the Warriors Unearthed exhibit that surrounds an amphitheater and walking trail.
There are 200 in all – generals, standing archers and kneeling archers – and they give this southeastern Alabama campus a unique feel, while drawing looks from students in shorts with backpacks headed to class, and curious onlookers, alike.
The warriors would be proud to know Troy made its name on the athletics field, especially in football, as a modern-day giant slayer. The aptly named Trojans have earned a reputation by going on the road and upsetting the likes of LSU and Nebraska in recent years.
Troy’s academic reach stretches across the globe, with 60 teaching sites in 17 states and 11 countries. The warriors are here because of that reach, as well as the school’s investment in the park, the adjacent International Arts Center, and the Huo Bao Zhu Gallery, which houses a revolving gallery of art and visiting exhibits. At the gallery, one can learn about the Warriors Unearthed exhibit of artist Frank Marquette, which provides a written account of the terracotta soldiers.
Troy, our latest Good Town, is a mix of academia, arts and athletics. But our adventure begins downtown, where you can seemingly step into a classic movie set to begin your day.
“A Ham Biscuit Like Mom Makes Back Home”
If visiting the additions from China is a new tradition, perhaps the oldest for Troy alums and students is grabbing breakfast or lunch at Byrd Drug Company.
“It’s a step back in time,” explained Jenna Dimoff, the pharmacy’s office manager. “People expect the same level of service that their parents or grandparents received in a simpler time.”
Order the pimento cheese or a chicken sandwich, and you’ll get what pre-World War II students tasted when Mama Byrd was doing the cooking. Byrd Drug Company opened in 1940, when the winds of war in Europe still seemed distant to Americans. Marvin Byrd founded the store, and Joe and Evelyn Byrd Watson, Marvin’s daughter, have operated it successfully for over half a century.
Little has changed.
Wooden floors, old ceiling fans and a luncheon counter dominate the front. In the back is where the pharmacy operates. While the setting looks to be straight out of an Andy Hardy movie their grandparents perhaps enjoyed, incoming Troy first-year students quickly become accustomed to the environs.
“The students come here and want a ham biscuit like mom makes back home,” Dimoff added. “And it’s the same with the pharmacy. We deliver. Parents call us before their student steps on campus and ask, ‘How do I set up an account?’”
Byrd Drug Company opens early, drawing a diverse crowd until the deli winds down at 4 p.m. Students worried about finding a seat or getting caught in the rush can phone in their orders. The regulars like to go at their own pace, arriving early, staying late and sharing the news of the day over a meal or coffee as Troy’s downtown square fills up.
Three Notch Antiques, like Byrd Drug Company, offers visitors another step back in time. The gallery is housed in a 1900 mercantile store featuring the original stained glass windows, brick walls, exposed wood timbers and an old vault that doubles as a tornado shelter.
Three Notch draws customers of all ages because of its quirky collection of memorabilia, from collectible Breyer Horses to vintage magazines to history books focusing on World War II and the Civil War.
It’s a great place to meander after a visit to Byrd and an excellent place to take in the casual pace of the square on a workday or weekend.
Paintings of the Mind
Wiley White may have the best job in all of the Wiregrass.
A longtime editor and publisher of the arts, White is now the exhibition’s coordinator at the Johnson Center for the Arts, a three-level gallery that hosts some of the region’s top artists just a few blocks off the downtown square. The Johnson Center is just over a decade old, at the site of Troy’s original 1910 post office.
“Troy is the cultural arts center of Pike County,” White explains. “I lived in Montgomery all my life but fell in love with what all that is going on here – especially with the work of the International Arts Center at Troy.”
On one level, visitors can find a Bud Harris exhibit, which is endorsed by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. His watercolors of churches, sharecroppers and other scenes across the Black Belt, draw comparison to Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, two of his original inspirations.
Underground, one can tour works by regional artists at their preferred leisure.
Across the street, a half-dozen local artists spend a day in a studio in the middle of Art by the Tracks, the unofficial name of the district that surrounds the Johnson Center, working on pieces for upcoming exhibitions.
A recent exhibit featured the work of Ruth Walker, a local artisan who grew up in Pike County and is a self-taught painter, “I am fortunate to be able to work in several mediums: Pencil, ink, watercolor, acrylic and oil,” she said.
An avid gardener, Walker finds inspiration from flowers and nature, children and horses. “Sometimes I like to take a blank canvas and paint what my mind sees as a place where I would like to be,” she said. “I call these, ‘Mind Paintings.’”
An Adrenaline Rush 5 Stories High
Head out of town, down Butter and Egg Road, and you won’t find 40 acres and a mule. Instead, you’ll find a zip line at treetop level zooming 30 miles an hour five stories above the grassland below.
Butter and Egg Adventures – set on 40 acres, of course – is the brainchild of Troy University baseball hall of famer Ron Pierce and his wife, Susan. It started as a baseball camp in 2001 and gradually morphed into a haven for outdoors enthusiasts, drawing groups for corporate team building exercises as well as school and church field trips.
Pick your adrenaline rush from the 23 zip lines to outdoor laser tag to a mystical maze for the day’s fun.
Ron just wanted somewhere for his son, Brett, to practice taking ground balls when he began playing baseball. So he bought the land and fashioned his own Field of Dreams. Eighteen years later, it’s about much more than baseball.
In fact, it’s the ability to fly between trees that keeps people coming back. Not only can you zip from one to another and over a lake, there are lines set up for skateboards and bicyclists to maneuver the heights.
“One of the most awesome parts of my job is seeing people who arrive nervous and scared of heights,” said Natalie Carnley, Ron and Susan’s daughter. “Then, by the end of the day, they’re saying, ‘I crushed that.’”
Natalie was in the sixth grade when Camp Butter and Egg opened. While Brett chose baseball, she opted for tennis. But the lure of the great adventure brought her back to work with her parents. Her husband, Christopher, a Montgomery Police officer, still helps with the massive upkeep of the sprawling property on off days.
The height of the camp’s season is during the school year. Most of the guides come from the Troy University population. But the sense of wonder, whether from elementary school students or middle-aged execs from a Lockheed Martin team-building excursion, remains universal.