It’s been a busy and fascinating week out here on the road. Wildflowers are blooming everywhere here in Alabama and it is truly magical to see all the beautiful colors along the side of the road. We’ve had some pretty serious April showers here as well, but when the sun is out the temperatures have climbed into the 80’s. I’ve made a big loop this week from southeast Alabama to west-central Alabama, and gotten a lot of history to think about along the way. From the Civil War to Civil Rights, this part of Alabama is both fascinating and tragic. I spent a few days in the state capital of Montgomery and am winding the week up here in beautiful Selma. I’ve had my hustle on this week, but with the longer days I’ve been able to cover a lot of ground. HERE is this week’s map if you like to follow along!
When I finished writing last week’s This Week post, I did, in fact, head on to Dothan, a small city which I really enjoyed. Dothan is in a region called The Wiregrass which extends into southwest Georgia and the Florida panhandle. The downtown area was compact and walkable and absolutely packed with beautiful murals and statues. I really enjoyed just wandering around and having a look and, of course, taking lots of photos. I love when I can explore somewhere that’s totally new to me and somewhere where I go in with no idea of what I’ll find there. Sometimes it’s a real treat, as was the case here. I strolled around until well after the sun was down, and then went for a wonderful dinner at the local and family run Hunts Seafood Restaurant south of town. I got a half-order of oysters there which was enough to feed me twice. It’s always a good sign when you pull into a small-town restaurant on a Wednesday night and the parking lot is completely packed.
I spent much of the following morning wandering around downtown as well. I visited the wonderful Wiregrass Museum of Art and took a lot more photos around this cute little city. The photos resulted in a great post you can see and read HERE. Leaving Dothan, I headed up Route 431 until I got to Abbeville. The sign for Abbeville read: Home of Huggin’ Molly, and I’ll admit that they got me with that one. I just had to know what that was all about, so I headed on into town. It turned out that there are two Huggin’ Mollys in Abbeville: a local legend and a legendary eatery. The local legend is of a giant woman named Molly who roams the streets of town after dark looking for children out past their curfew. If she catches one, she’ll give the child a big hug and scream in their ear. That doesn’t sound particularly scary to me today, but I’m sure it would have been terrifying when I was a child. The restaurant Huggin’ Molly’s, named after the strange hugging phantom, is amazing in its own right. Stepping into it is like stepping back in time. I’m not talking about some Johnny Rocket’s version of a fifties diner, but a real, authentic old soda shoppe. This place is magnificent. Like a cherry on your shake, they also have in their back room the rifle used in the film Old Yeller (don’t worry, it was just a prop - no dog died in the actual filming!). If you’re ever anywhere near Abbeville, you really have to stop and check this place out. The rest of the small downtown area displayed a lot of cool old vintage signs and memorabilia. It was also a little strange, but in a very cool way. I wasn’t there for very long, but it is definitely a neat place for a stop.
I headed out of town on the 95 and made my way north to Eufaula, a really pretty town on the Chattahoochie River and right on the Alabama/Georgia border. This is another town I really liked and spent hours just wandering around and taking photos. There are some beautiful old antebellum and Victorian mansions lining Eufaula and Randolph Avenues north of downtown, and some really great old buildings in the Main Street area. You can see all my photos of Eufaula in the post that resulted HERE. Super hungry after walking around all afternoon, I had a wonderful burger that night at the River City Grill on Broad Street. I only get a burger maybe once a month, so I try and choose where I partake wisely. This was an excellent choice and one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time. Burgered up, I retreated to my hotel room - the first I’ve stayed at since I was in the Wigwam Village in Cave City in October. There was supposed to be a big storm coming through with hail and tornadoes, and if I know one thing about tornadoes it’s that they have an insatiable appetite for mobile homes. I enjoyed my night in, got a lot of work done and slept through whatever storm came through in the night without waking up once.
Friday I headed north towards Phenix City, which sits right across from one of my favorite cities in Georgia: Columbus (see the post I did on Columbus HERE). I pondered crossing the river for a scrambled dog, but had to keep moving. I headed on to Opelika where I got out for a brief meander, and then headed on to Auburn. The weather was challenging all day with storms coming in and out, so it wasn’t a great day for exploring or photography. It was a good day to get some work done, and I got my oil changed and ran some much needed errands as well. That night I hit downtown for a few drinks before calling it a night.
Saturday dawned a beautiful day, so I went back downtown and wandered around the Auburn campus for a while. Then I stopped into Toomer’s Corner for some of their legendary lemonade. I had to see it to believe it, but there were easily 25 people there getting a lemonade when I walked in. I’ve never seen such a popular lemonade place before. I’ll have to admit it, it was pretty delicious lemonade. Maybe the best I’ve had. I sipped on mine as I headed on out of town.
My next stop was Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, located at Moton Airfields outside of Tuskegee, Alabama. I had been to this site before, but only in its infancy when they were running a visitors center out of a trailer. It has expanded greatly since my last visit, and fills two hangars at the historic airfield where the nation’s first black Air Force pilots trained. There were a lot of interesting artifacts and exhibits there, and I spent the rest of the afternoon learning about these pioneering airmen and the battles they faced both at home and abroad. Many who came from the north had never experienced the kind of Jim Crow treatment that prevailed in the south at the time, and were rightfully shocked and angered when they encountered it. I really liked this site and would definitely recommend a visit.
From there I headed straight to Montgomery so I could get a jump on some evening photos of the capital city. I got in and took some great shots of the Alabama State Capitol building and some of the downtown landmarks. It was really quiet around town, and I had a good time shooting photos until well after dark. I even had a nice lady stop me so we could talk about photography for a while. She was trying to get some practice shooting models at night, and was putting into practice what she was learning on YouTube. I volunteered to be her model and we were both really pleased with the shots she got. She wanted to photograph her kids the next day in their Easter outfits, and left confident in her ability to do just that. I stepped out for a beer and some music that night, but the place I went was just too smoky. I really hope these last few states will follow the rest of us and ban smoking in bars in the near future. I think I’ve finally hit the point where I’m just not going to go anymore.
Sunday morning was also beautiful, and I headed downtown to celebrate Easter with the Methodists at the historic Dexter Avenue UMC, now run as River City Church. I had seen the church the night before and looked up their schedule online and saw their Easter service began at 10:30. The congregation was incredibly diverse and very welcoming to a stranger from out of town. I was happy to find a group of people who included what they referred to as their “neighbors in need” into their community. They prepare a meal once a week for the community and welcome everyone to their services to come as they are. The service was nice, with uplifting music and a good message. It was nice to share in this holiday with some great people in Montgomery. I spent the rest of the day taking photos around town, and then met up with some friends outside of town in Prattville in the evening for some bowling and pool.
Monday I had to get back in the gym and back in the library, so I spent the morning catching up on both. In the afternoon I went to visit the Legacy Museum in the heart of downtown. This is a fascinating museum which explores the legacy of slavery right there in Montgomery, one of the largest and most important slave centers in the entire history of the country. The museum begins with an interactive exhibit where you go into the slave pens, and holograms give you an idea of what it was like for those held there and their stories. The main part of the museum shows the transition from slavery to mass incarceration and the role both have played in the history of African Americans and the country as a whole. There was a great timeline of Supreme Court rulings throughout the country’s history regarding civil rights which I thought was fascinating. This is a deep and thought provoking museum, which is definitely worth a visit if you are in the region. You do need timed entry tickets to enter, so be sure you get them in advance HERE.
I spent the rest of the day taking photos around town and then headed out to Martin’s Restaurant for dinner. This is a wonderful, old, family run meat-and-three spot just outside of downtown. They had some pretty good fried chicken and I got some wonderful rutabagas, cabbage and paradise salad to go with it. I was pretty full after that so I spent the rest of the evening in the library trying to get moving on my next podcast.
Yesterday was a really busy one as I had a lot left to see in Montgomery and also wanted to move on to Selma in the afternoon. I started the day at the Alabama State Capitol and took a self-guided tour around the building. Not as big or grand as many of the state capitols I’ve seen and with a lot of empty rooms, it was still nice to explore and full of history. The governor and her staff are still located in the building, but the legislative and judicial branches have moved elsewhere. There were some beautiful stairways, and the central rotunda was pretty awesome. I will say that it was a little shocking that, from what I saw, there was one small portrait of George Washington in the old senate chamber and no other U.S. President anywhere in the building. Jefferson Davis, however, was in the rotunda, had two large portraits and a massive statue at the top of the steps out front. While I understand that this was where the Confederacy was formed and where he took his oath of office as the president and I can understand there may be some reason to have him there somewhere, the prominence of Davis over anyone and everyone else really makes me question both the loyalty of and patriotism of the state of Alabama. My next stop was at the First White House of the Confederacy right across the street, where Davis lived for four months before the Capital moved to Richmond. This is a fascinating historic museum, and I think the perfect place to house all of those likenesses of Jefferson Davis in a far more appropriate setting.
The History Museum of Alabama, also right across from the Capitol, was a really great museum that didn’t seem to pull any punches. It began with a look at the land and its history and that of the prehistoric inhabitants of what is now Alabama. The museum gave the Creek Indians a fair shake and described the wars and treaties which eventually pushed most of them west down their own Trail of Tears. The museum then delves into the settling of Alabama and its turn towards cotton and slavery which led to the Civil War. Through the war and Reconstruction it then takes a serious look at the struggle for civil rights in Alabama and how the state fared through the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression. There were amazingly produced short videos throughout, enough artifacts to be interesting but not cluttered, and enough to read to fill in the gaps without being tedious. I really loved this museum and it should be your very first stop in the city.
Finding myself a bit peckish, I stopped into the legendary Chris’ Hot Dog Stand, a place that’s been around for over a century and served four U.S. Presidents, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis and Hank Williams. The secret chili sauce is the key ingredient, and I have to say it was pretty good. After my hot dog, my last stop in town was the Hank Williams museum. An Alabama native, Williams was an unquestionably massive influence on the history of country music, and this museum houses the largest memorabilia collection to Hank in the world. Included in the collection are the car he was in when he died, way too young at just 29, and the outfit he had on at the time. Both are on lone from his son Hank Jr. The museum has a pretty steep price tag at $10/person, but I’m glad I went.
As the day was getting on, I made my way out of town and headed on towards Selma along the route of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965 to secure voting rights for African Americans. The campsites which were utilized during the 4 day, 50+ mile march were marked, and the route ends (or rather begins) at the now infamous Edmund Petty Bridge. The bridge gave me the chills to drive over, and doubled down on them when I walked back over it today. I visited the fascinating National Park Service interpretive center here which gives a great overview of the march, its causes and aftermath. The rest of the time, I’ve been walking and driving around Selma and have been completely in awe of the place. It was obviously a great city once, but has really faded and crumbled in recent years. It’s currently in a pretty decayed state, but one which is fascinating to see and photograph. Expect a full post sometime this week.
And that’s it for the week. Whew, I feel like I covered a lot of ground this week and saw and learned so much. From here, I’m off to explore a little more of Selma before heading out to see the first state capital ruins at Cahaba and then heading on to Demopolis. I plan to spend the weekend in Birmingham, and then head to Florence and Muscle Shoals in the northwest of the state, which is probably about where I’ll be this time next week. I hope you can all get out and learn some history this week - we have so much to explore in just the brief history of our own country - but it really helps to give some perspective on where we are. I hope you have a wonderful week wherever you are, and I’ll see you right back here at this same time next week. Thanks, as always, for reading!