Figh-Pickett House & Barnes School

The Figh-Pickett House was built in 1837 by John P. Figh, Sr.  Figh was a brickwork contractor, and his portfolio included the original campus of the University of Alabama and the first state capitol building in Montgomery.  Sadly, both were destroyed by fire, but Figh recovered some of stone flooring from the capitol and incorporated them into his home.  His services were retained for the building of the current capitol building in 1850.

The Barnes School in 1934 (photo courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society)

In 1858 Figh sold the house to Albert James Pickett.  Though trained as a lawyer, Pickett made his name as Alabama's first published historian.  His two volume History of Alabama was published in 1851, and he was working on a comprehensive Southern history when he bought his new home.  Unfortunately he died before his family was able to move in, but they lived their after his death for nearly half a century.

Following the end of the Civil War, the Union Army forces sent to Montgomery requisitioned the Pickett home for use as their headquarters.  Following their departure, Pickett's widow, Mrs. Sarah Pickett, was forced to operate her home as a bed & breakfast.  Mrs. Pickett died in 1894, and in 1906 the Pickett family sold the home to Elly Barnes.

Justus McDuffie "Mack" Barnes in 1912 (photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives & History)

In 1898, Justus McDuffie "Mack" Barnes and his son Elkanah Ruff "Elly" Barnes resigned their teaching positions at Highland Home College to open a new school in Montgomery.  The Barnes School opened in the same year, but Mack only stayed on as a teacher until 1904.  In 1906 Elly bought the Pickett home and renovated it to serve as the new campus for his nearly one hundred students.  The Barnes School operated as the premier private school for boys in Montgomery with Elly Barnes as headmaster until 1942, when the loss of faculty members to serve in World War II forced its closure.  Starting with the one room Strata Academy on a farm in 1856 and ending in 1942 in downtown Montgomery, the Barnes family provided nearly a century of education to central Alabama.  It's only a rumor that I haven't been able to verify yet, but I've even been told that Elly Barnes sold the majority of the school's supplies and materials to another institution that started up later in 1942, Montgomery Bible School.  MBS became Alabama Christian College in 1953, and in 1985 it split into Faulkner University, Alabama Christian Academy and Amridge University, so it's possible the Barnes legacy is still technically alive today.

Following the closing of the Barnes School, the building served as a car dealership, a church, a paint store, and a convenience store.  In 1996 it was slated for demolition to make room for the expansion of the federal courthouse.  The Alabama Historical Commission stepped in and partnered with the Montgomery County Historical Society to save the building and have it moved to its current location.  The Society immediately set about restoring it to a more historical appearance, and the building currently serves as their headquarters. It is the oldest surviving brick home in Montgomery County.   The photos below show the two sides of the Figh-Pickett House historical marker, as well as a current look at the front of the building.

Figh-Pickett House historical marker, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Figh-Pickett House

John P. Figh, a native of Maryland, built this, the oldest surviving brick dwelling in Montgomery, ca. 1837, at the corner of Clayton and South Court Streets. Figh was one of the chief contractors for the construction of the Alabama State Capitol. He also served as city alderman. In 1858, Figh sold his house to Alabama’s first historian, Albert James Pickett, from North Carolina. Although Pickett died just before moving in the house, his family lived here for more than 50 years.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1997

Barnes School historical marker, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Civil War - Barnes School

In April 1865, the Union Army command made this house its headquarters. Mrs. Pickett hid her silver on an inside ledge of the cupola. Later, former Confederate Generals Hood, Bragg and Walker visited here. In 1906, Professor Elly Barnes bought the house for use as a private school for boys, which rapidly achieved fame for its quality. The Barnes School closed in 1942. In 1996, the house was rescued from demolition with the help of the Alabama Historical Commission and moved to its present location by the Montgomery County Historical Society.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1997

Figh-Pickett House, former home of the Barnes School, current home of the Montgomery County Historical Society


The Marks House

The Marks House from the south, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

For about five years around 1930, the small town of Monroeville, Alabama was home to two children who would go on to literary fame.  Harper Lee was born and died in Monroeville, and we'll discuss her in depth in later posts, but Truman Capote was only passing through.  He had been born in New Orleans, and before he was 10 he had moved to New York City, but for five years he lived in rural Alabama, and those years were recounted in several of his works.

Truman Capote and Harper Lee signing copies of In Cold Blood - 1966 (photo courtesy of Steve Shapiro/Corbis)

Two years after the release of his masterpiece, In Cold Blood, Capote's short story "The Thanksgiving Visitor" was published in the November 1967 issue of McCall's.  The story is, at least in part, autobiographical, and deals with a young boy and his struggles with the local bully.  The same year the story was published, a TV movie version aired.  The Thanksgiving Visitor starred Geraldine Page, and she earned her second Emmy for the role.  It was also filmed right here in Montgomery County, at the Marks House.

North side of the Marks House, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

The Marks House was originally built in 1825 by William Mathews Marks.  Additions were made by members of the Churchill Marks family in the 1920s, and in 1957 the home was sold to Dr. Woody Bartlett.  The house was the set of the film a decade later, and a year after that began its stint as the Pike Road Community Club Center, a role it still fills today.

South side of The Marks House, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

The Marks House historical marker, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

Marks House
Circa 1825

Built by William Mathews Marks, who immigrated from Oglethorpe County, GA, on acreage purchased from the U.S. land office in Cahaba, AL for $1.25 per acre.
Foundation is pegged-together heart pine; framing is 3” by 9” timbers; mantles, dados, and all the brick are hand made. Kitchen, baths a rose garden and pavilion for dancing were added by the Churchill Marks family in the 1920s. House was purchased by Dr. Haywood B. (Wood) Bartlett in 1957.
In 1967, the movie of Truman Capote’s “Thanksgiving Visitor” was filmed in the house. The facility has served as the Pike Road Community Club Center since 1968. The Pike Road Arts and Crafts fair is held here annually on the first Saturday in November. The house suffered extensive fire damage on August 28, 1997 and was subsequently restored by the Pike Road Community.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1998

The Winter Building

We're back to downtown Montgomery for this post.  John Gindrat wasn't one of the original inhabitants of the city of Montgomery, but he was one of the early power players.  He built the first brick house in the city, and served as mayor on two separate occasions.  He also donated part of the land for the original First Baptist Church.  In 1841 he built what would become the Winter Building on Court Square to serve as the Montgomery branch of the Bank of St. Mary's.  John Gano Winter operated the Bank out of Columbus, Georgia, and soon John Gano Winter's son Joseph married John Gindrat's daughter Mary Elizabeth.  In 1848, Joseph Winter and his father-in-law opened a new bank, J.S. Winter & Co., in the Winter Building.  John Gindrat died in 1854, and the building passed to his daughter Mary Elizabeth.

On February 4, 1861, the Montgomery Convention convened at the Alabama State Capitol.  The purpose of the Convention was to organize the preliminary government of the Confederate States of America.  The Convention's most famous attendee was former President John Tyler, who served as one of the delegates for Virginia until his death less than a year later.  The Confederate States Army was established in March, and P.G.T. Beauregard was commissioned as the first Confederate general officer.  He was immediately sent to  Charleston, South Carolina to take control of the siege of Fort Sumter.  That same week, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, and was immediately saddled with the Fort Sumter crisis.

On April 6th, Lincoln notified the government of South Carolina that the U.S. was sending supplies to their troops at Fort Sumter, but he did not communicate to the C.S.A. government in Montgomery.  South Carolina governor Francis W. Pickens notified General Beauregard of the pending re-supply mission, and Beauregard sent word back to Montgomery.  C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis met with his cabinet on April 9th, and the decision was made to have Beauregard make one final demand to surrender the fort.  If the U.S. forces refused, Beauregard was ordered to destroy the fort before the supplies could arrive.  The Montgomery office of the Southern Telegraph Company was on the second floor of the Winter Building, and on April 11th the final pre-war communication from President Davis to General Beauregard was sent by C.S.A Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker.  In local lore, this has gone down as the Telegram Which Began The War Between The States.  This telegram is the Winter Building's biggest claim to fame.

The next three photos show the Winter Building from Court Square in 1890, 1938, and today.

The Winter Building in 1890, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama (photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives & History)

The Winter Building in 1938, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama (photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives & History)

The Winter Building from Court Square, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Our next photo shows the front of the Winter Building, followed by the Winter Building historical marker and its text, the reverse side showing the Telegram Which Began The War Between The States and its text, and finally we have a map showing the location of the marker and the building.

Front of the Winter Building from Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Winter Building historical marker, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Winter Building

Built in 1841 by John Gindrat to house the Montgomery branch of the Bank of St. Mary’s. In 1854 was willed to his daughter, Mary Elizabeth, wife of Joseph Winter. On April 11, 1861, Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker sent telegram from second floor offices of Southern Telegraph Company to Charleston authorizing Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard to fire on Fort Sumter. Subsequent bombardment was first military action of War Between the States. Building placed on National Register of Historic Places, 1972, and restored in 1978.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1981

Reverse of the Winter Building historical marker, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Telegram Which Began War Between The States

Montgomery, April 11, 1861

General Beauregard, Charleston:

Do not desire needlessly to bombard Fort Sumter. If Major Anderson will state the time at which, as indicated by him, he will evacuate, and agree that in the meantime he will not use his guns against us unless ours should be employed against Fort Sumter, you are thus authorized to avoid the effusion of blood. If this or its equivalent be refused, reduce the fort as your judgement decides to be most practicable.

L.P. Walker
Sec. of War, C.S.A.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1981

The Winter Building has been empty for several years now, but it is currently planned as one of the centerpieces of the new Montgomery Market District.

Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church

We're leaving the big city behind for this post.  Everyone in central Alabama knows US Highway 231.  It takes you from Montgomery down to Troy and then on to Dothan.  Eventually it will take you all the way to Panama City, Florida.  But before all of that, US-231 takes you to the southeastern corner of Montgomery County.  

Just before you hit the county line, take AL-94 north.  A few more turns will bring you to the Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church.  I assure you, if there is a single historical marker in Montgomery County that no one has ever accidentally passed by, this would be that marker.  But that's a shame, because the church and its grounds are beautiful.  I don't have a lot of information to share about the church, so this post will mostly be about the photos, but if you ever find yourself wanting to go for a drive in southern Montgomery County, this is definitely a spot worth visiting.

Wide view, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

As you can see, the church is exceedingly well cared for, with exceptional landscaping and a picturesque stone wall surrounding the cemetery on both sides of the church's rear.  You can read the historical marker text in the quote or in the next photo.

Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church

Constituted on August 27, 1842 on this site with six charter members including Moses and Sarah Rushton, Susannah Rushton, William and Emily Miley, and James Gardner. First structure built of logs by master carpenter Jesse Yon on land given by Moses Rushton, who moved to Montgomery County from Orangeburg District S.C.

Present Colonial Revivial building completed in 1931. Architect was Frank W. Lockwood and landscape architect was Graham M. Rushton.
— Alabama Historical Association, 1989

Historical Marker, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

The current building just entered its 85th year.  

The next four photos show a closeup of the church's front, as well as closer views of the cemetery and the Dinner On The Grounds pavilion on the north side of the property.

Front view, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

South side cemetery, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

Building, grounds, and pavilion, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

North side cemetery and pavilion, Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

I also stumbled across this U.S. Geological Survey marker in the ground just a few feet from the cemetery wall on the south side of the church.

U.S. Geological Survey marker, Pisgah Primtive Baptist Church, Montgomery County, Alabama

As you can probably tell from the shadows in the earlier pictures, I was really racing the light by the time I got to the church, so I decided to stick around for a few minutes to get a shot of the sunset.  This was taken from the church's front steps.

Sunset, Grady, Alabama

As I mentioned earlier, there isn't a lot of history in this post.  The church is technically in Grady, but it's really in the middle of nowhere.  The original congregation came together four years before the state capital moved to Montgomery, and they were celebrating their tenth anniversary when the final touches were put on the current capitol building.  To make up for the lack of historical facts, our next post will take us to Selma to learn which Alabamian is the highest office holder in the history of the United States.


The Lions of Court Square

We're looking at out first historical marker today, but it's not the traditional roadside metal plaque on a post you might be thinking about.  This is a stone stele in downtown Montgomery with 4 lion heads around the top.

Decorative Lions Heads on their stele on the north side of Court Square, Montgomery, Alabama

If you've ever been to Court Square in Montgomery, you've certainly seen the fountain that dominates the roundabout.  We'll cover the fountain in a later post, but just northeast of the fountain is a small triangular park, and you'll find the lion heads on the western tip.  Drivers probably pass them all the time and think "why did someone put four lion heads on a post?"  If only they all read Goat Hill History.

In 1888, Montgomery's largest business was the Moses Brothers Banking & Realty Company, and they built the city's first "skyscraper", a six-story building on Court Square.  That building was demolished in 1907 to make way for the new twelve-story home of the First National Bank of Montgomery.  The top of the building was lined with a few dozen lion heads, as you can see in the next photo.

First National Bank of Montgomery in 1960 (photo courtesy of the Alabama Dept. of Archives and History)

The name of the bank changed a few times, and in 1978 the the building received the most significant renovation in its lifetime.  The lions were left homeless, and the next photo shows the end result for the "skyscraper".

The Rensant Bank today

Someone at the bank decided that at least a few of the lion heads were worth saving, and the existing monument is the result of that effort.  You can read the plaque's inscription here, or see the next photo.

Decorative Lions Heads
1907 - 1978

Presented to Montgomery by the First Alabama Bank of Montgomery, N.A.

These decorative terra cotta lions heads, typical of the ornamentation used in commercial style architecture in the early par of the 20th Century, were utilized by the First National Bank of Montgomery on the cornice of their 12 story building from 1907 to 1978. Organized on April 18, 1871, the first location of the bank was on Dexter Avenue which was then called Market Street. In 1975, the name of the bank was changed to First Alabama Bank of Montgomery, N.A. Extensive renovations to the 12 story building in 1978, including the removal of the lions heads, created a new look for First Alabama and the downtown Montgomery area.

Decorative Lions Heads plaque, Court Square, Montgomery, Alabama

Closeup of the Decorative Lions Heads, Court Square, Montgomery, Alabama

The lion heads didn't alter the course of the nation, or even the course of the city, but they're a fun little oddity.  Be sure to check back next week, where we'll venture way out of town for the most remote historical marker in Montgomery County.