Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Montgomery, The Capitol Building and The Civil War

We moved on to Montgomery planning to stay five days to tour the capitol and several historical sites in the area.  Montgomery was at the center of the beginning of the Civil War in the 1860's and then 100 years later at the center of the Civil Rights movement. We soon realized there was more to see and do than we could handle in five days so we added a couple more days to our stay at the Gunter Hill Corps of Engineers campground. 
The capitol building was built on Goat Hill in 1850-51 and replaced an earlier building at the same site that burned.  The design is Greek Revival with a central dome topped rotunda and three wings to house offices and the legislature.  The east wing shown on the right was added in 1885, the south wing with the columns was added in 1906-07 and the north wing on the opposite side was added in 1911-12.  An east wing addition added in 1989-92 is at street level and below ground. 
Looking down Dexter Avenue there are other government buildings and a few businesses lining the street.  This area has undergone a major redevelopment in recent years.
The Court Street Fountain at the foot of Dexter Avenue was built in 1885.  This area was once the center of commerce. 
The capitol looking up from Dexter Avenue.  The statue on the left is Jefferson Davis who was sworn in as the president of the confederacy in the capitol. His inaugural parade with the band playing Dixie took place along Dexter Avenue.
A memorial to all those from Alabama who have given the last full measure since 9-11-2001.  The memorial is in the capitol's old Supreme Court Chamber.
The old House of Representatives chamber has been restored to its 19th century appearance with plain whitewashed walls.  Much different from the more ornate chambers we have seen in other capitols.
The dome over the rotunda has plasterwork and a stained glass skylight.  The eight murals were painted by Roderick MacKenzie between 1927 and 1930.
The historic murals range from the hostile meeting of Spanish explorer, DeSoto and Tuscaloosa, an Indian Chieftain (center) to the first established French colony near Mobile (right) through the post Civil War agriculture, commerce and industrial development (left).  Of course there are also murals about the wealth and leisure of the Antebellum period and the secession of the confederate states.  While I do understand the importance of history I still find it hard to understand the celebration of a lifestyle and economic system based on suppression and use of slaves for labor.    
The restored old Senate chamber where Davis took the oath of office as the president of the confederacy.
Following the Civil War there was a 10 year period of Reconstruction where the Federal government oversaw the government of the Southern states.  With Union troops here to assure that former slaves were given the rights that were created by the post war Constitution Amendments, many Blacks were elected and served in the Alabama legislature.  When the troops left in the late 1870's groups like the KKK began to intimidate and deny Black citizens their newly won rights leading to a period of Jim Crow laws. 
In 1985 the House and Senate moved into the new Alabama State House, while the governor and other officials still have their offices in the capitol building.
We even got to see the legislature in action or is it "inaction".  They were debating the budget bill and it was very interesting seeing and hearing how the wheels of government slowly turn.  They did pass a budget, but the governor did not sign it so they will be back in special session when they come to an agreement with him.
The leadership on the rostrum as two legislators debate at the podiums.  The gallery, which is behind glass, was filled with many people who we assume were staffers and lobbyists.
Here are some of the other attractions to add to your to do list in Montgomery.
Near the capitol is the first white house of the confederacy that was the home of Jefferson Davis until the capital was moved to Richmond in the summer of 1861.
Located downtown is a Hank Williams Museum and statue of this famous Alabama native.  Hank's career started here when at 14 he won a local talent contest.  The museum has memorabilia of his very short but highly successful life from Montgomery to the Grand Ole Opry.  There are suits he wore, his many records and the car he was riding in when he died in 1953 at age 29.  His funeral in Montgomery was attended by more than 25,000 people.  A visit to this museum is a very worthwhile trip down memory lane with the many famous songs Hank wrote. No photos were allowed.
Another neat stop is the replica of the Wright Flyer.  The Wright brothers opened the first civilian aviation school in the United States in Montgomery in 1910.  The field where the school was located is now Maxwell Air Force Base.
We even found a brew pub, Railyard Brewing, in Montgomery.  The beer was very good, the food was OK and we met several people there and learned a bit about Montgomery.

Other major attractions around Montgomery are those related to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 60's.  There are many so that will be the subject of the next blog.


Ray/Wendy said...

We stayed at Gunter Hill on our way to FL in the fall for a couple of nights. We didn't adventure into town... missed a few things... next time.

heyduke50 said...

Hey thanks for taking us back through Montgomery...

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

Gunter Hill is so nice, wish all campgrounds were so good. Thanks for the histroy lessons, we ususally miss a lot.

Chuck and Jan Moore said...

An interesting read! Sounds like we need to get down to that area. Thanks for sharing. J&C