A Virtual Tour of Alabama

Submitted by GFSLball@aol.com


Editor's Note: This was written as a presentation for the Alabama SIG, and is presented here for those who missed it.


Alabama: the name means "brush gatherers" in Choctaw and refers to the Alibamu tribe, members of the powerful Creek Nation is tonight's virtual tour. I want to thank you for attending, and hope that you find this enjoyable as well as interesting, and if you DO enjoy it, please send me any comments in private email, as I will use them to determine whether or not Southern SIG will make any more tours available in the near future. This particular tour has 63 quick stops and by no means covers every single square inch of the state, please feel free to share your family stories or facts at the end of our tour. We'd love to hear from you!

For now, lets begin: 

  • Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Beinville, first settled here in 1711, and transferred his main base of operations to what he called Fort Conde', after a disastrous flood in the original settlement, Fort Louis de la Mobile. The British took Mobile in 1763 changing the name to Fort Charlotte. 17 years later, the Spanish sailed into the bay and occupied the town, holding it for more then 3 decades until 1813, when it became the possession of the United States.

  • 3 Churches still remain in Mobile, the 1835 Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and two 1830's Churches; Christ Episcopal Church and Goverment Street Presbyterian Church.

  • Barton Academy memorializes Mobile's boom years in the 1830's, when it leading citizen, Henry Hitchcock, commissioned a series of buildings here.

  • Oakleigh, built between 1833 and 1838, by cotton broker James N. Roper. Cox-Deasy House, built in the 1850's, and Carlen House of 1842, are still standing and available for tours as museums.

  • Bellingrath Home, built in 1918 by Walter Bellingrath and his wife on 800 acres of riverside woodland near Therodore, is one of the larger residences still in it original form.

  • Guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay are 2 forts, Fort Gaines completed in 1857, and Fort Morgan constructed between 1819 and 1834. Both seized by Federal troops in the Spring of 1865.

  • The WireGrass Area: The far southeast corner of Alabama is called the Wire grass region, for it's stiff native grasses. The regions chief trade center, Dothan, did not really prosper until 1889, when the rail road reached the town.

  • The town of Ozark is supposed to have received its name in 1855 from a postmaster, who happened to be reading about the Ozark Indians at the time.

  • Near the town of Troy, seat of Pike County, is Pike Pioneer Museum, a complex comprised of 10 structures including tenant houses, split-log house, and a general store.

  • Eufaula, on the edge of the Wiregrass region, made it an important trade center on the dammed river forming Lake Eufaula. The 1884 Shorter Mansion, the 1837 Sheppard Cottage and the 1843 Hart House also contain historical memorabilia.

  • The mid-section of Alabama, covering 4,300 square miles, known as the Black Belt Region, takes its name from the rich, black, limestone, not from the commonly mistaken idea of the slaves who once worked here. The first cotton gin came to the region in 1800, and most Black Belt residents lived on the land, not in the cities, and at the height of cotton's reign, 70% of them were black slaves.

  • Tuscaloosa, which means Black Warrior, in Choctaw, copies its name from a nearby 1809 Creek settlement. The current city was established in 1816.

  • Among the more stately monuments in Tuscaloosa are the historic buildings of the University of Alabama. The Gorgas House, built in 1829 as a dining hall and steward's residence, named for Dr William Crawford Gorgas, a pioneer in the prevention of yellow fever.

  • The 1841 President's Mansion, was almost burned to the ground during the capture of Tuscaloosa in 1865; the President's wife, however, talked Federal Troops out of destroying her home.

  • The Federal troops also left one old classroom intact, the Old Observatory, built in 1844, which also has a floor named for Gorgas' wife, Amelia Gayle Gorgas.

  • The Battle-Friedman House was built around 1835, by plantation owner, Alfred Battle. Battle was financially ruined by the war and sold the house and land in 1869 to the Friedman family.

  • The Strickland House, built in 1820 by Moses McGuire, a Revolutionary War veteran and the county's first probate judge.

  • Moundville Archaeological Park is the site of 20 mounds of an ancient city nestled in wild woodlands. Probably 3,000 people, ancestors of the Choctaw, lived here during the 12th and 13th centuries, and another 7,000 people living in smaller towns along the Black Warrior River.

  • Another county seat, is the town of Livingston, named for Edward Livingston, Andrew Jackson's secretary of state.

  • French refugees, exiles from the defeat of Napoleon, founded a colony in 1817 near the Tombigbee River. The colonists settled here on the bluff above the river, and then at Aigleville, and tried to raise olives and grapes. Neither would grow and in the middle of the 1830's the disappointed French dispersed, however their settlement did later become the town of Demopolis.

  • Gaineswood, originally a plain log house, transformed between 1842 and 1860 by General Nathan Bryan Whitfield into a elegant villa.

  • Greensboro hosts over 150 historic homes, buildings, and structures from the 19th century. One, the Noel-Ramsey House was built in 1820 by the French settlers Thomas and Anne Hartel-Noel. It also served as a Catholic Church for settlers of the Vine and Oliver Colony.

  • Cahaba, southwest of Selma, was once among the primary cities in the state. In 1819, it became the state capital, for a short 6 years, due largely to frequent flooding, the capital was moved.

  • Selma, located in the heart of the Black Belt region was named by one of it's founders, William Rufus King, from a place in a favorite poem. Located on the Alabama River, it made an important trade stop and agricultural area since it was platted in 1819. Sturdivant Hall, built over a 3 year period beginning in 1853, by Thomas Helm Lee, still stands in Selma.

  • The history of the railroad industry is housed in the 1891, Old Depot Museum, that exhibits the 3 rail lines that came through Selma, The Louisville and Nashville, the Western Railway, and the Southern Railway.

  • Just Northwest of Montgomery is the town of Prattville, named for Daniel Pratt the state's leading industrialist, who founded a much improved cotton gin factory in 1833.

  • Toward the top of the Black Belt Region are several towns with local historical museums, including Confederate Memorial Park, on the site are 22 buildings of Confederate soldier's homes.

  • Montgomery City and Montgomery County, were named for two different Montgomery's, both military men. The city is named for General Richard Montgomery, a Revolutionary War hero, founded in 1819, within just a few years was a steamboat port, a stage coach stop to the east, and by 1851 rails headed both northeast, and southwest.

  • The Alabama Department of Archives and History contains a fine collection of Native American artifacts, a large number of Spanish, French, and English trade goods, military artifacts, as well as many examples of art and cultural items. A room is devoted to William Rufus King, who was elected to Vice President in 1852.

  • The Rice-Semple-Haardt House was moved from its original location on Monroe Street to South Court Street, and it was built by local judge Frederick Rice in 1855.

  • St. John's Episcopal Church built in 1855, the church of Jefferson Davis family, still stands in Montgomery with a pew "marked" for his family.

  • Court Square, a focal point of downtown, holds the county courthouse erected in 1822. The Winter Building, an early 1840's structure is the building in which the telegram was sent investigating the attack on Fort Sumpter.

  • The Murphy House built in 1851 by John H. Murphy, a cotton factor, also stands in court square.

  • About 12 miles northeast of Montgomery, is a park that recreates 2 forts that once stood here. The first, Fort Toulouse, created in 1712, by French settler Beinville; the second Fort Jackson, was built by Andrew Jackson during his war against the Creeks.

  • East of Montgomery is Tuskegee, its name a corruption of a local Native American word designating a village that once stood nearby. The Creek, French, and British have all occupied the area, however, the town's enduring fame is owed to Booker T. Washington, a man who founded the Tuskegee Institute in 1881. Also on campus is the George Washington Carver Museum, containing everything from Dr. Carver's plant collection, to his art and needlecraft.

  • White settlement in the Northern Alabama region came very early, with settlers from the Piedmont of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. This is where a group of fiercely independent small farmers proposed seceding from the Union and set up their own state of "Nickajack".

  • Birmingham sits in the Jones Valley, surrounded by hills so red with iron hematite that one is simply called Red Mountain. The valley was first settled around 1813, by a man who gave the place his name. A few small villages grew up during the 19th century, the most important being a hamlet called Elyton, named for the land surveyor who managed the sales of land plots. Despite a cholera epidemic and a national financial panic within two years of its founding, in 1871, Birmingham was bound for boom times.

  • Sloss Furnace, constructed in 1902, gives a clear idea how natural it was to make iron here; the furnaces operated until 1972.

  • The Southern Museum of Flight displays a large variety of antique planes and equipment. Though not widely known, the Wright Brothers opened America's first flying school near Montgomery in 1910.

  • Arlington Home and Gardens once part of Elyton is now the only antebellum home left in Birmingham. It was built by Judge William Mudd, in the mid-19th century. Mudd was one of 10 founders of Birmingham. The subsequent owner, Robert Monger, renovated the house in the late 19th century.

  • Industrialist, Henry F DeBardeleben, founded Bessemer in 1886. The pioneer homes, however, pre-date the town's founding. The Sadler House, was begun as a log home in 1815, owned currently by Jefferson County Historical Society, it has many personal artifact of the Sadler Family. 2 other 1840's homes still exist as well, the McAdory House and the Owens House.

  • Tannehill Ironworks State Park curls around the 1855 blast furnaces that were among the first iron-processing facilities in Alabama. There are also 40 restored log homes and early stores on the 1,500 acre property.

  • Cullman, a prosperous farming town was founded in 1873 by Colonel John Cullman, who envisioned an agricultural community, peopled with the industrious immigrants from his native, Germany. Within a year Cullman had imported 5 families from his homeland, and when he finished, he was responsible for the immigration of 20,000 Germans to the town.

  • The back country east of Cullman, is Blount County, a hilly landscape, once the territory of the Creek Indians, it remains relatively untouched by the industry nearby.

  • A town perched on a high bluff above the Tennessee River; Florence, was once inhabited by the Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and earlier tribes at various times. The first white settlers leased land from Chief Doublehand, as early as 1807. But Florence owes its name to a surveyor, an Italian named Ferdinand Sannoner; who named the town. Four monuments are preserved in Florence. The Indian Mound Museum, holding pottery dating from Paleolithic times. Pope's Tavern, a slave-built tavern built around 1920, and W.C. Handy Home, the home of the businessman born in 1873. The Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts, housed in a 1918 building, exhibits a memorial room to Hiram Kennedy-Douglass, an important figure in local history.

  • Just south of Florence, in the town of Tuscumbia, birthplace of another famous Alabamian, Helen Keller, Ivy Green, a one-and-a-half story frame cottage built by David Keller Helen's grandfather, in 1820.

  • A busy market, railroad, and industrial center, Decatur is named for the naval hero Commodore Stephen Decatur. By 1832, it had become an important railroad terminus, the first West of the Alleghenies.

  • All but a few buildings of old Decatur were destroyed during the Civil War. One, the 1833 Old State Bank houses old maps and other artifacts. The 1829 Daney-Polk House, built by the town's founding citizen, and the Rhea-McEntire House, a 1836 mansion, built by merchant, John S. Rhea, are among the only few left standing today.

  • West of Decatur is the famed plantation dwelling of Alabama's most famous general, Fighting Joe Wheeler, commander of the Confederate Cavalry.

  • Founded in 1818, Mooresville, is the oldest town in the region, and preserves an unusual number of early buildings.

  • Athens was also founded in 1818, as Athenson; and later renamed Athens. The Pryor House, built in 1836 was home to Senator Luke Pryor from 1854 to 1900. The Beaty-Mason House was built in 1826 by planter Robert Beaty, it also has a slave cabin still preserved on its grounds, and the Houston House, built in 1835 was home to George S Houston, the first democratic governor after Reconstruction. It also houses a museum of local history and the local library.

  • In 1805, a Virginian named John Hunt was looking for a place to settle, and decided to stay in the mountain-backed valley of Northern Alabama. The first susbtanial settler, Leroy Pope, arrived 4 years later, promptly naming the town for his namesake Alexander Pope's residence, Twickenham. Huntsville was later the chosen name of the town, although there is a Twickenham District. The Leroy Pope Walker Home built in 1814 by Leroy Pope is possibly the oldest brick home in Alabama. The Weeden House built in 1819 by William Weeden was also home to poet and artist, Maria Howard Weeden.

  • Alabama Constitution Village is a living historical village consisting of 4 buildings and their numerous outbuildings from the period 1805 - 1819. The village commemorates the 1819 Constitutional Convention.

  • On top of Monte Sano is the Burritt Museum and Park, built by a local physician, it houses an excellent collection of local history and collections of Native American artifacts.

  • The little town of Stevenson, was a crucial depot during the Civil War, as it was a junction of two railroads

  • Russell Cave National Monument, was inhabited by Native American's roughly 9,000 years ago. A self-guided tour passes exposed archaeological digs representing occupancy for over 8,000 years.

  • Valley Head, was an important Cherokee center before the arrival of white settlers. The Cherokee leader Sequoya, lived here during the first quarter of the 19th century, in a nearby village, where he invented an alphabet for his people, and made possible the first Native American newspaper.

  • Gasden, is an important industrial city bisected by the Coosa River. The area was settled as early as the 1830's, following a long occupation by the Creek Indians. A pioneer village at Noccalula Falls Park comprises some late 18th century structures.

  • The town of Ashville was founded in 1820 and for many years served as half a county seat. The rugged Beaver Creek Mountains were so impassable, it was necessary to split the county.

  • Along an important railroad route are a series of towns that lie on the curved edge of the Talladega National Forest. Jacksonville, at the northern-end of the Appalachian Hills, founded in 1822 was named to commemorate Andrew Jackson. Built about 1850, by a local general practitioner, Dr JC Francis, was the doctor's practice, which was continued to be used by doctors until the 1960s.

  • Anniston, a contraction of "Annie's Town", referring to a local industrialist's wife, wasn't founded until 1872, when an iron smelter from Georgia and a Connecticut Capitalist name the important iron town, Anniston.

  • Heading south is the town, Talladega, one of the oldest white settlements in eastern Alabama; it is a rough spelling of two Native American words, Italua and Atiti, meaning "Border Town." The 1836 courthouse is the oldest courthouse still operating in the state. In the southwest corner of Talladega National Forest, is the Isabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts Center, a local historical museum with a grand collection of Native American artifacts as well as iron work dating from the time of De Soto.

  • De Soto Caverns founded by Hernando DeSoto during his month long stay in the area in 1540, had been discovered by Native Americans long before. A 2,000 year old Coopena Indian burial site, was excavated in 1964. A trader, I.W. Wright, carved his name here in 1779, and the Confederates used the caves to store gunpowder during the Civil War.


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