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Historical Calendar Project in Tuscumbia, Alabama

A photo of MaryThe weather in Tuscumbia has been topsy turvy.  One day it’s in the high sixties and the next in high thirties to low forties.  Last Wednesday we have a nice warm day and Thursday the temperatures were dropping all day.  Freezing rain, sleet, and snow started during the afternoon rush home traffic.  With the warm temperatures no one expected the predicted snow flurries to cause driving problems, but a 15 to 20 minute white out froze on the two bridges and Wilson dam crossing the Tennessee River backing up traffic for miles on both sides of the river. 

I was in Tuscumbia delivering a calendar to one of the home owners I had met a few weeks back while taking pictures for next year’s calendar when the snow started.  I excused myself telling Mrs. Askew that time's a wasting, I needed to grab my camera and ride the streets.  When I left she was outside taking cuttings from her camellia’s which were in full bloom.  She was using a cane, and I worried about her slipping on the snowy porch, so before leaving the immediate area, I swung back by and made sure she made it back into the house.  The snow was blowing so hard, it was hard to see the homes in the pictures I took. I did get some nice shots in Spring Park after the snow stopped.  Cold windy weather limited visitors to the park and the ducks and geese kept following me fussing they wanted something to eat. 

When you live in a town founded in 1815 by the Michael Dickson family who were the first white settlers at Coldwater now known as Tuscumbia, you have a lot of historical sites to choose from when making a calendar.  The 1820 the town was laid out with a town commons by planner General John Coffee.  A commons is an area set aside for the good of the people. Things like schools, parks, churches and cemeteries are found along a commons. Boston is the only other city in the USA that has a commons. 

The calendar, two years in the making was well received. Surprisingly in since ifs in January, I had to get a couple of runs printed.  I kept selling my personal copy and had requests from friends who missed out on the ones I printed before Christmas.   I couldn’t decide which picture to use for the cover, so I made a collage of pictures which didn’t make this calendar, but are in consideration for next years calendar. I wanted the pictures which I’d like to share with you, to be framable, so the history of each photo in the 13 month calendar is on the back cover . In doing this project, I learned a lot about the history of my home town that I didn’t care to learn as a child.  I also drove Ninon Parker at the Tourism Bureau  crazy sending her pictures asking her the name of this house and that house and supplying me with information on the homes.  A rare large foot deep snowstorm aided in the production.

   Tuscumbia cover 

Cover – Stained glass window at Our Lady of the Shoals Catholic Church from old church; Thompson House; Cooper-Rand House;  William Reese Julian House; Bell-Prout House, Dr. Robert Towns Abernathy House; William Cooper House; Lesley Temple CME Church; Scared Tears by Branko Medenica  in Spring Park. 

   Jan 2012 Depot 

January - Tuscumbia Railway Depot:  Built in 1888 by the Memphis and Charleston Railroad as a district headquarters between Memphis and Chattanooga. This brick building marks the site of the first railroad west of the Appalachian Mountains, which was chartered in 1830 and completed in 1832.  It connected town with the Tennessee River at Tuscumbia Landing and utilized a horse-drawn car. 

   Feb St Johns Church 

   February - St. John’s Episcopal Church:  This small wooden “Carpenter’s Gothic” church is the oldest such structure standing in Alabama and is typical of the style favored by American Episcopal congregations during the mid-nineteenth century. It was built in 1852 to serve a congregation which began meeting in the 1830’s. Union troops stabled horses in the church during Federal occupation of the town during the Civil War.  Damaged in 1874 by a tornado, the building was strengthened by iron rods and the later addition of concrete buttresses. 

   March Spring Park Falls 

   March – Spring Park:  Michael Dickson and his family arrived at Big Spring around 1815-1817.  The place was called Cold Water by the Chickasaws who first inhabited the area. When the town was established it was called Cold Water until the name was changed to honor the Chickasaw Chief Tuscumbia. Horse racing occurred here until the horses were removed to Kentucky during the Civil War.  The park was the site of a duel between two unknown men who arrived in town together by train.  Both were fatally shot and as the instructions in their pocket instructed, they were buried where they fell.  The pavilion and bridge were built as WPA projects of the 1930’s. The waterfall is a man-made enhancement of the natural spring, which utilized natural stone. 

   April Stonecroft 

   April - Stonecroft: The name “Stonecroft” is a reference to the high limestone foundation walls which enclosed a basement dining room and kitchen.  James W. Rhea built the house around 1825.  He operated the Tuscumbia Inn and was also a merchant.  The imposing home features a two-story portico and sweeping grounds.  A rear portico mirrors the front of the house. 

   May Christian Home 

   May – Governor Robert Lindsay House (Christian Home):  Was once home to Robert B. Lindsay, Governor of Alabama from 1870 to 1873.  Built in the 1820's or early 1830's by A.S. Christian, this mansion was occupied at various times by the Christian, Winston, Lindsay, Merrill, and McWilliams families" Currently this is the club house for the Tennessee Valley Country Club. 

   June Ivy Green 

   June - Ivy Green Birthplace of Helen Keller: The main house, built circa 1820-1830 by Helen Keller’s grandparents, David and Mary Fairfax Moore Keller, related to Robert E. Lee and a direct descendant of Virginia’s colonial governor, Alexander Spotswood.  The name of the house came from the abundance of English Ivy which once covered the grounds.  Helen Keller was born in 1880 in the small cottage that stands a short distance from the main house. She became a symbol of courage respected around the world. 

   July Kohn House 

   July - Kohn House:  The original lots were owned by the Thomas Warren family. In 1908 Herman and Rebecca Kohn purchased the property for $700. By 1911 a two story frame house had been erected evident by a mortgage for $1620.00.  The Kohn's also built the building that currently houses Coldwater Books. Mr. Kohn ran a Mercantile there until early 1939.  

   August Almon House 

   August - Almon House:  This gabled Victorian house features a highly decorative staircase in the entry and a back service staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms.  Original stained glass is preserved in the dining room windows.  Evidence of a system of bells used to summons help throughout the house may still be seen. The house was built in 1888 by U.S. Congressman Edward B. Almon, who was partly instrumental in the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and getting the post office to do home delivery.  Before home delivery, a notice would appear in the paper that you had mail at the post office. 

  September Winston Home

   September  - Winston Home:    Begun around 1830 by planter Clark T. Barton, its construction was finished by William Winston (brother of Isaac Winston of Belle Mont). This is the largest surviving antebellum structure in Tuscumbia. Brick walls are beautifully laid in Flemish Bond pattern with limestone lintels. A “widow’s walk” observatory atop the roof afforded a panoramic view of the surrounding cotton fields, the Commons and the town beyond. William Winston’s wife, Judith, was killed as the spiral staircase fell when a tornado struck the town in 1874. Deshler High School is named for a young brigadier general in the Confederate Army, James Deshler, who was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga. 

   October Locust Hills 

   October - Locust Hill (Rather-Kirk House):  Known in the area as “Locust Hill”, the name came from the many locust trees on the grounds.  The house was built by Colonel William Winter in 1823, with brick walls measuring 13” thick.  A book, “Locust Hill”, written by artist/author Mary Wallace Kirk, tells of her life at the home. 

   November Belle Mont 

 November - Belle Mont (Isaac Winston House): Built circa 1828 by Dr. Alexander Mitchell, this home exhibits Jeffersonian-Palladian architecture, rare in Alabama. It is thought that Thomas Jefferson or one of his associates influenced its design and its hilltop setting.  The house features a two-story central pavilion with flanking wings embracing a courtyard. Isaac and Catherine Winston acquired the home in 1832 and it remained in this family for many years.  


   December Court House 

   December - Colbert County Courthouse:  Construction of the courthouse was begun in 1881.  In 1908 a fire gutted the building and it was rebuilt using the original walls.  The dome, porticoes and columns were added at this time.  Colbert County was formed in 1867 and named for Chickasaw Chief George Colbert, who was half Scots, and operated a ferry on the Natchez Trace. 

   January 2013 Stagecoach stop 

   January 2013 - Stage Coach Stop: This log cabin dates to Tuscumbia’s pioneer period, circa 1815-1830. According to oral tradition, it served as a stagecoach stop on Andrew Jackson’s Military Road. It is possible that this house was one of a “series of log cabins on Spring Hill” operated as a hotel by Michael Dickson, the town’s first white settler. It was relocated from its original location, which was across Dickson Street. 

All is not well on the resolution front both with the hooligans and myself.  I’ll discuss those on my next post along with Japanese iris. 

mary carton
1/25/2012 4:07:20 AM

Thanks Cindy. Just about got the photo's picked out for the next calendar unless we have a good snow. With temps in the 60's again this week, it's looking more like 2 yrs ago, when we had snow & a hard freeze in March after a warm Jan & Feb and lost our fruit including strawberries, & blueberries. Dave it's sad that a community doesn't value it's heritage. It's like cutting down a redwood. You never know whats there until you start looking. Thanks to you both for taking the time to comment.


cindy murphy
1/24/2012 5:22:01 PM

Beautiful, Mary!!! What an impressive bit of history accompanying each photo. It's no wonder you've had to reorder so many copies.


nebraska dave
1/24/2012 4:43:58 PM

Mary, your calendar is quite the history lesson of the town. Sadly my city is not too much into preserving the historical buildings of the past. There still is a small two block section of town that's called the "Old Market" which has novelty shops and over priced eateries. Some of the old warehouses have been remodeled into high end apartments in the down town area. I expect there would be some buildings scattered throughout the city if I had a mind to search for them. Maybe I should find out what my city heritage is. I watched a special on our public network about Omaha and the different transitions it has gone through. It was quite fascinating. Have a great historical day.