The view of the Capitol from the bottom of the hill on Market Street was pretty amazing. See?
My honey got out of work early Friday afternoon and we headed out to see what we could see of the city herself. When I was there, I rarely had a chance to explore the city and didn't get to see many cultural attractions other than the Tuskegee museum and the downtown area at night. The first thing we did was go for a drive through downtown, checking out all the possibilities to explore.
We're both history nuts, with a strong inclination towards the Revolutionary and Civil War eras as opposed to 20th century. Montgomery was a pivotal area for the Civil Rights movement, with lots of museums to reflect its role, including the Southern Poverty Law Center's Civil Rights Memorial and Troy University's Rosa Parks Library and Museum. While both of those sound interesting, and I hope to visit them at some point, this trip we focused on something more walkable - we found Old Alabama Town.
Old Alabama Town was created by moving old buildings from all over the state into a three block area just south of downtown. They created two blocks - one for working, one for living - that give you an idea what it was truly like to live in a town two hundred years ago. It was so easy to lose oneself in these ancient (by US standards) buildings that it was disconcerting to look up and see the modern city rising behind the drugstore, or the pottery. The day we were there, we were the only guests wandering around and had the whole place to ourselves. It was brisk, but a great way to spend an afternoon.
Because it's spread out over a couple blocks, it's very easy to spend a couple hours wandering from building to building. A few of the buildings have knowledgeable guides who explain how the house was constructed, who used it for what, etc. The only structure original to its current location is a townhouse built in the 1850s. In the back was a stable that still had two buggies in it - a family conveyance (right) and a single doctor's buggy. I loved being able to see these horse-drawn vehicles and picture how a family would look taking the buggy out for church on Sunday (or how horrible it would be if you had to take a trip to New Orleans... or Mobile... or even Selma, getting caught in the rain and riding down dirt trails in a carriage that might or might not be well-sprung). I must confess, these old vehicles allowed my imagination to spark in a way old houses usually don't.
On a few different trees throughout the walk, I saw branches that had bottles inverted over the ends. At the Bottle Tree Pottery studio, the artist finally explained what on Earth was going on. This was apparently a tradition the slaves brought over from West Africa. They believed that evil spirits were attracted to glass, especially brightly colored glass. The spirits would enter the bottles and be trapped, sparing the family inside. Whenever the wind blows through the trees and the bottles, the moans were the trapped spirits' voices. The studio, which is in the working section of Old Alabama Town, is an actual pottery studio manned by a great artist, who shows off her thrown pottery and explains how it's created as she sells her wares.
The working section also had a school building that was used from the 1870s until 1940s in a small town. It's a one-room schoolhouse, with different desks provided by the different families of attending children. There's a pot-bellied stove to heat the room in winter, and large windows on either side of the room to ventilate in during summer. Do you see the small white cone in the corner hiding under the American flag? It truly is a dunce cap - it had the word written down the side! The children would be arranged from youngest up front to the oldest in the back, and one teacher usually taught anywhere from 20-40 kids ranging from 5-16 years old. I can't imagine what that would have been like! Just the idea of trying to maintain control of so many children and spacing out the lessons so that everyone had the opportunity to learn, without too many distractions, leaves me faint of heart. I trained to be a teacher during college, but was focused on learning how to teach middle and high schoolers their history lessons - I can only imagine incorporating them into a room with first and second graders. Oh, and the history nut in me flipped when I found out they had McGuffy's Readers (Levels 1-5) for sale in the giftshop! I didn't pick any up, but I might have to go back and get some. For those who don't know, the McGuffy Reader was essentially the standard for children to use when learning how to read. I flipped through the second grade equivalent and it was tough! It reminded me of some tests I'd seen from the 1880s which students would have to pass in order to earn their diplomas - they were questions I couldn't begin to fathom (asking about weights of bales, corn prices on the Exchanges, etc.) The standards were certainly different then.
Once we finished at Old Alabama Town, we were frozen! (I mentioned it was brisk outside, right?) So we hopped in the car and thawed out while driving around to see more of the Capitol area. Unfortunately, it was getting late in the day, so we weren't able to go in anywhere else but we enjoyed the drive. The State Capitol is beautiful, situated on top of a hill. It had this great clock that showed time from every angle, which I originally thought was just one face.
First White House of the Confederacy, is across the street from the state capitol?? I didn't, until this trip. Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as president of the Confederacy at the Capitol, so I guess it makes sense that the White House is across the street. It's definitely on my list of places to visit.
After all the touring, and walking, and driving we'd worked up an appetite. For dinner we decided to try Roux, a New Orleans inspired restaurant a few blocks from downtown. Fair warning, the drive goes through a rather rough-looking neighborhood, but it is close to downtown. It's in a little regentrified area called Old Cloverdale, which looked like it would be amazing to drive through during the day. When we arrived it was after 8, so we only had to wait 10-15 minutes for a table. We chose to sit at the bar and people watch while I tried a Hot Apple Pie, which was A-MAZING. It's hot apple cider with vodka and topped with whipped cream. Simple, but phenomenal. Since it was so late, we decided to have a couple appetizers, then try a dessert. I had the soup of the day, which was a lentil and andouille sausage stew, and a beet salad. I haven't tasted a better lentil stew. It blew my mind. The salad was definitely different - I haven't tried beets in recent memory and wanted to see if I liked them. They have a very distinct taste, but it was good. Hubby had the fried gulf crab claws, which were okay. Somehow, hubs didn't realize that the fried claws would be fried... and he's not much of a fried seafood fan, so he didn't really care for it. I thought it was okay, but nothing to write home about. I tried a Pimm's Cup, which sounded a bit like a Julep to me, but it wasn't that good at all. We seriously contemplated dessert, but ultimately decided to pass. Ultimately, for the price it wasn't as good as I expected and hoped. While the stew and the hot apple pie knocked it out, the crab claws, Pimms cup, and salad were okay at best.
Overall Montgomery definitely left me with much better memories. I'm glad I was able to visit again and get some much more pleasant memories of a beautiful jewel of the South.