Court Square

I don't have a ton of information to add to the text of the historical markers in today's post, but I think it's a pretty interesting look into the founding of Montgomery nonetheless.  Following the end of the Creek War and the ceding of Creek lands to the U.S. government, General John Scott led the first group of settlers to buy land in Montgomery County.  They established Alabama Town about two miles down the Alabama River from present-day downtown Montgomery in 1817.  A few months later, a second group led by Andrew Dexter, Jr. bought another parcel of land to the east of Alabama Town.  The Dexter group named their town New Philadelphia, and it immediately began outpacing Alabama Town.  This prompted the Scott group to relocate closer to New Philadelphia, and start over with East Alabama Town.  

Though the two towns initially saw themselves as rivals, on December 13, 1819 they merged to become Montgomery.  The only lasting evidence of Montgomery's split origin is the orientation of the streets on either side of Court Square, with the New Philadelphia streets running north-south and east-west while the East Alabama Town streets run parallel or perpendicular to the Alabama River.

The first two photographs show Court Square looking north towards the former site of East Alabama Town, both in 1867 and today.  After that you'll see the two sides of the City of Montgomery/Court Square historical marker, along with transcriptions of both sides.  The final photos show a plaque on the ironwork of the fountain, along with a closeup of the fountain itself.

Court Square looking north in 1867, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama (photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Court Square looking north, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

City of Montgomery historical marker, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

City of Montgomery

Two small villages, New Philadelphia, founded by Massachusetts lawyer Andrew Dexter in 1817, and East Alabama, established by Georgians led by John Scott in 1818, united in 1819 to form Montgomery, named for Revolutionary hero Gen. Richard Montgomery. Connecting at Court Square, the two towns’ principal streets were Philadelphia’s Market Street (Dexter Avenue) and East Alabama’s Main Street (Commerce Street). First courthouse stood to west of artesian well which City enlarged in 1850s. Fountain erected in 1885.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1992

Court Square historical marker, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Court Square

Historic hub for business in Montgomery. Exchange Hotel built in 1848 on NW corner of Commerce and Montgomery Streets; rebuilt 1906; demolished 1970s. Cast iron-fronted Central Bank of 1856 on NE corner of square; Winter Building, site of telegraph office in 1861, on SE corner since 1840s. Historic processions passing along Dexter Avenue to the Capitol included Jefferson Davis Inaugural, 2/18/1861; Gen. J.H. Wilson’s Cavalry Corps, 4/12/1865; 167th Infantry Regt. Rainbow Division, 5/12/1919; Selma-Montgomery Civil Rights March, 3/25/1965.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1992

Court Square Fountain plaque, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Court Square Fountain

Placed by City over Artesian Basin and crowned by Hebe, Goddess of Youth and Cup-bearer to the Gods. Fountain was cast by J.L. Mott Iron Works of New York. Restored by Robinson Iron of Alexander City in 1984 during administration of Mayor Emory Folmar.

Court Square Fountain, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama


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.


Why "Goat Hill"?

Because it's a cool name, next question ... ok, it is a cool name, but I didn't pull it out of thin air.  It's time for a history lesson.

The Alabama Territory was split off from the larger Mississippi Territory in 1817.  The territorial capital was placed in St. Stephens, a town that doesn't even exist anymore.  Two years later, Montgomery was officially incorporated, and about two weeks after that Alabama became the 22nd state.  Huntsville was the first state capital during the constitutional convention, but one of Montgomery's founders had a vision of his centrally located town as the ideal capital location, so he set aside a piece of prime real estate.  A year later the new legislature chose Cahawba as the "permanent" state capital, but the founder was hopeful, so he kept the prominent hill empty, and left it to his goats.  Following catastrophic floods in 1825, Cahawba was devastated and the capital was moved ... to Tuscaloosa.  

Many, many goats lived and died on that hill, but Montgomery was patient.  Finally, in 1846 the good people of Alabama saw reason, Montgomery was announced as the new state capital, and preparations were made to turn Goat Hill into Capitol Hill.  Luckily for us, that's a boring name, and so through the years locals have held on to the original.  There's even a store inside the capitol building that retains the Goat Hill moniker.

Goat Hill Museum Store, inside the Alabama State Capitol building

Goat Hill is a great, evocative name, and I couldn't think of anything better to use for this website.  I went downtown to get some photos of the site that really show off the hill, and hopefully give you an idea of what it might have looked like back in 1845 when the goats were served their eviction papers.

Alabama State Capitol, looking uphill and east from the Court Square Fountain

Alabama State Capitol, looking up from the base of the steps

Grounds of the Alabama State Capitol, from the north

So, now you know where the name Goat Hill comes from, and you've seen that it really is a pretty decently sized hill.  A lot has happened around that hill, both before the big white building was put there, and since.  Montgomery really was the most logical choice for a state capital.  It's almost smack dab in the middle of the state.  It's on the banks of one of the major rivers.  The old Federal Road went right through town ... but now I'm getting ahead of myself, those are all stories for later.  Once again, welcome to Goat Hill History, hope to see you again in the future.