Couple Finds New Home, Passion in Alabama Preservation

I wish I could remember the date of my conversion to the cult of Preservation, but I can remember the circumstances. A friend living in Tuscaloosa sent me a newspaper clipping about an upcoming Spring Ramble inthe Black Belt, sponsored by an outfit named the Alabama Preservation Alliance. It sounded like fun. Paula and I reserved six seats on the tour, and invited the parents. Was this 1997?

Paula and I live in an old house, not a preserved house, just a humble house. We like it, but at the time of this tour, we really didn’t know any preservationists, or anything about the preservation movement. But something happened that Saturday of the Ramble. We met wonderful, passionate, interesting, informed people on those buses. Our hosts were gracious. The Alliance volunteers were a wealth of knowledge. And before our eyes appeared an Alabama we knew nothing about. History was living right there in front of our eyes, accessible to us as we toured and snooped and asked our silly questions. Paula and I wanted more of this: more of these people with a story to tell, more of these towns rich in history, more of thisatmosphere that makes Alabama so unique.

Maybe it was 1998. Anyway, we joined the APA, now the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation. Gradually, I changed how I approached my day. I got off the Interstate. I took photographs of things that interested me. I visited cemeteries. Took more pictures. Started a scrapbook of Alabama cemetery monument pictures. Stopped and talked to people throughout this state and listened to their stories. We started eating in joints and quit the franchises, started going to the Farmer’s Market. Paula began collecting Southern cookbooks, and I started rescuing threatened Alabama native plants.

Our friends are Preservationists, and I guess we are as well. Neither Paula nor I can claim to be native Alabamians, but we proudly claim Alabama as our home. Thank all of you on that tour. Our life is much richer since that Black Belt Saturday (1999?).

Mike Rushing (St. Clair County)

A Visit with the Stone

After attending a meeting in Mobile, we decided to return home via Highway 43 that heads north from Mobile along the western side of the state. Living in east central Alabama it is so easy to follow I 65 south. It is the fastest way but like so many other interstates not very scenic. Returning via this route we would see a large sweep of the southwestern side of the state, which offers many interesting choices of Historical sites.

After eating breakfast in the Trellis Room at the Battle House Hotel, we headed north with high spirits anticipating a special fun-filled day. Not far north of Creola and Axis we passed a historical marker announcing the Ellicott Stone. Although it was not shown on the state map, I knew it was associated with Maj. Andrew Ellicott’s line of earthen survey mounds that once loosely marked the original dividing line between the U.S. territory and Spanish west Florida.

Although we were not far into our trip, we quickly decided to turn back and see this stone. The marker located on a long straightaway was easily accessible. After stopping we read the entire historical marker – both sides. The marker indicated the stone was located some 900 yards due east down a wide winding woodsy path. We felt as though we were walking on a giant cushion, due to the fresh fallen leaves and straw. To our delight, we soon encountered a train track. I think trains bring out the child in all of us both young and old. Soon up ahead there appeared a wonderfully designed gazebo. This structure was built to protect the stone and it’s inscriptions from further wear. Located underneath, the stone is anchored in cement surrounded by a high iron fence for even more protection. The stone at first might appear small to some but when one stops to think that this is coastal plains Alabama one realizes that there aren’t any rock in this area. This stone undoubtedly was hauled in by wagon from another region. It is flat on both sides with carved inscriptions on each side. Not being fluent in Spanish, all we could make out on the south side was 1799, but this was very prominent. Even the north side wasn’t easy to read as the stone had weathered over the years. Standing in silence for awhile, we contemplated the historical significance of this stone.

As we walked back to the car I smiled to myself thinking 210 years ago we would have been visiting in a foreign country. Even when we speed off to encounter other historical sites in this land of alluring beauty, I mused further: if the political climate hadn’t changed what would be carved on the stone today? The north side probably would say “DANGER beyond this point travel at your own risk”. No doubt the south side would read “WELCOME to the sunshine country BEWARE of the alligators”. Personally I’m glad things turned out the way they have.

Stop along your own paths to see, observe, and enjoy these gems of the past which have been preserved for you to celebrate by fellow preservationists.