For about three decades in the late 19th century, Pickett Springs was the place people in Montgomery went to "get away". The Western Railroad of Alabama bought the plantation formerly owned by Albert Pickett's father-in-law and turned it into a park and resort that would tempt people to ride their rails. Automobiles and movie theaters led to the decline of places like Pickett Springs, and about a decade into the 20th century the Salvation Army began using the site as a camp for the homeless. The outbreak of World War I led to the site's transformation into Camp Sheridan, which we'll look at in a later post.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, I missed my first post date last Thursday, but we're going to get back on track today. Starting in the early days of the Civil War, the United States Army decided to start providing horses and mules for all cavalry and artillery units with funding from the federal government. In previous wars, work animals were often provided by the officers of individual units. Procurement and training of horses and mules was provided by the Quartermaster Corps, and in 1908 the Remount Service was set up as a division of that Corps. Purchasing centers were established in Idaho, Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming, Texas, Colorado and California, while Fort Reno in Oklahoma was established as processing and distribution center for the new military animals. In 1918, the Remount Service even ventured into breeding its own new horses and mules.
The U.S. Army established Camp Sheridan on the north side of Montgomery in July 1917, and we'll cover the camp in more detail in a future post. That same summer a remount depot was established on a 160-acre plot closer to downtown. The depot was built near the Keyton Station train stop, while Camp Sheridan was established near the Vandiver Park stop. The new depot had room for 5,000 animals, and including a blacksmithing school to train new farriers.
The next two pictures show the two sides of the historical marker, and as always I've included the transcriptions. The third photo shows the marker's current setting.
Rufus Payne was born in Lowndes County, Alabama in 1884. By 1890 his father, a mule-driver, had moved the family to New Orleans. Rufus was drawn to music, and eventually learned to play jazz and the blues. He also learned to drink, and was given his nickname "Tee-Tot" as a sarcastic shortening of the term "teetotaler". By 1915 he was back home in Alabama, and Tee-Tot was developing a musical following. He would play wherever he could find a job, from Montgomery down to Greenville, and sometimes even further south. In 1932 Tee-Tot was playing down in Georgiana when he met a 9-year-old boy named Hiram. Hiram would sell peanuts and shine shoes for all of the workers as they passed through the railroad station. He already had a guitar, but he couldn't play like Tee-Tot, so he convinced Tee-Tot to teach him.
Like many Americans during the middle of the Great Depression, Hiram and his mom were always moving, but they stayed in the region so Hiram could play with Tee-Tot. They left Georgiana for Greenville, then spent a year in Garland before moving back to Georgiana. In 1937 Hiram and his mom moved to Montgomery, and he started singing in front of the WSFA studios downtown. That fall he won a talent show at the Empire Theater, and a producer at WSFA invited Hiram to starting singing on the radio. Hiram decided that Hank was a better name for a country music singer, so Hank Williams was born. Tee-Tot moved to Montgomery and continued to play with his pupil. Hank started a backup band, the Drifting Cowboys, and dropped out of school in 1938 to start touring full time. Tee-Tot died the next year and was buried in an unmarked grave in Lincoln Cemetery. There are no surviving photographs of Tee-Tot Payne, and he was never recorded playing music, but he left a lasting mark on county music through his star pupil, Hank Williams.
The next few photos show the Rufus "Tee-Tot" Payne historical marker, the reverse side with general information on Lincoln Cemetery, the large stone memorial to Tee-Tot erected by Hank Williams Jr., and the front gate of the cemetery.
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.
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.
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.
Rosa Parks. "The First Lady of Civil Rights". "The Mother of the Freedom Movement". Anyone who has ever sat through a U.S. History class knows Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat, and that arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Boycott was one of the first effective attacks against the Jim Crow Era in the South, and as a result Mrs. Parks became one of the faces of the Civil Rights Movement. There are several sites and historical markers dedicated to Rosa Parks, and we'll cover all of them eventually, but today we're going to go to the spot where she took her first step into the spotlight.
Rosa Louise McCauley was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913. Her father was a carpenter, and her mother was a teacher. When she was still young, her parents separated, and her mother moved Rosa and her younger brother to Pine Level, Alabama in the extreme southeastern corner of Montgomery County. When she was 19, Rosa married Raymond Parks, a barber from Montgomery. He was already a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and with his encouragement Rosa finished her high school diploma and went through the extreme hardships and discrimination that came with registering to vote.
Rosa joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, and was chosen as the chapter's secretary. Around the same time, she worked at Maxwell Air Force Base. Later she worked for the Durr family as a seamstress and housekeeper. Rosa and the Durrs became close friends, and with their encouragement and backing she spent the summer of 1955 at the Highlander Folk School in Grundy County, Tennessee. Highlander was dedicated to providing training for anyone who wanted to take an active leadership role in social justice movements.
Now we need to pause to take a quick look at the rules and laws regarding buses in Montgomery in 1955. An ordinance from 1900 made it legal to racially segregate bus seating, and gave the driver the power to set aside sections for one race, but the ordinance clearly protected anyone from having to give up their seat once they had obtained it. Over time, that policy was overruled by practice. By 1955, the standard setup had a sign that marked the first four rows of a bus as "White Only", but the sign could be moved. Since 75% of all Montgomery bus riders at that time were black, the sign didn't have to be moved often, but if the "White" section filled up, the bus driver could move the sign back a few rows and force anyone sitting there to get up. This was the system Rosa had experienced her entire adult life.
After her summer at Highlander, Rosa came back to Montgomery and got a job as a seamstress at The Fair Store, located at 28 Monroe Street. On December 1, 1955 she left work around 6 p.m. and walked out to the closest bus stop to get a ride home. You can see the spot of the bus stop in the center of the next photo, with the location of the store back and to the right of the small park.
Rosa boarded #2857 and took a seat in the middle section, behind the "Whites Only" sign. The original bus is now an exhibit at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, and you can see a photo of it below.
Rosa rode the bus for two stops before it pulled up in front of the Empire Theater at 214 Montgomery Street (current location of the Rosa Parks Library & Museum). The "Whites Only" section of the bus filled up, so the driver came back, moved the sign back a row and told the four African-Americans seated there to get up. Three of them complied, but Rosa refused, and the driver called the police. The next image shows the arrest report, with J.F. Blake (the bus driver) as the Complainant, and F.B. Day and D.W. Mixon as the responding officers. I've also included a transcription of the Complaint.
Rosa was booked and spent a day in jail. E.D. Nixon (president of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP) and Clifford Durr (Rosa's former employer and friend, and a prominent social justice lawyer) were able to bail her out the following evening. We'll end the story here, for now, with Rosa's mug shot. I know we're just getting to the good stuff, but I need to save something for the other historical markers dedicated to the Movement that finally got off the ground when a seamstress from Alabama decided she was tired of being treated like she didn't belong.
The following historical marker sits on the former site of the bus stop where Rosa boarded. The first side discusses the Boycott, while the second gives a brief biography of Rosa. Photos and transcriptions of both sides are included below, along with another marker placed in the ground by the group who sponsored this historical marker.
As always, I've included a map of the marker at the bottom of the post. You can also click on the Map link to see the Goat Hill History Master Map, which includes every location we've covered to date. I'm not going to spoil our next post, but I will say that it involves geology.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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 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.
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.