Saturday, June 27, 2009
From the time my parents carried me there when I was around four years old, Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park at Pine Mountain, Georgia, has been one of my favorite summer destinations.
From its beautiful views, waterfalls, rock formations, Liberty Bell shaped swimming pool, cabins, campground, picnic areas and hiking trails to its proximity to such other destinations as Callaway Gardens, Warm Springs and FDR's Little White House, the park is a magnificent place to escape for an afternoon, a few days or even a week during the summer.
FDR State Park is steeped in America's Presidential history. Future President Franklin D. Roosevelt fell in love with the sweeping vistas and natural beauty of Pine Mountain when he first arrived in nearby Warm Springs in 1924 to try the pools of natural warm water as a possible treatment for his disabling polio. Over the years that followed, he purchased a farm at the mountain and his Little White House became the only home he ever owned.
Roosevelt often drove the then rocky and rough roads atop the mountain in his famous hand-controlled car, stopping to talk to neighbors and viewing the scenery. Dowdell's Knob, within today's state park, was the President's favorite picnic area during the difficult days of the Great Depression and World War II. A statue of Roosevelt can be seen there today and visitors can still picnic near the President's stone barbeque grill.
Today's state park was a favorite Depression era works project of the President. He told sometimes skeptical neighbors that he could envision a day when Pine Mountain would become a great destination for residents of the coastal plains. His prediction was prophetic. More than 750,000 people visit the mountain and other area attractions each year.
To learn more about Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park and other points of interest in the area, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fdrstatepark.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Located high atop the tallest point in Alabama, Cheaha State Park is a jewel among Southern state parks.
Mt. Cheaha rises to 2,407 feet above sea level and can be seen for miles. The elevation keeps the summit much cooler than the land below. Creek Indians, impressed by the massive mountain, gave it a name that white settlers later interpreted as "cheaha." It means, roughly, "high place."
The park area was once part of the Creek Nation. Following the nearby Battle of Talladega in 1813, Red Stick Creek warriors retreated to safety in the mountains of the Cheaha area after they were defeated by Andrew Jackson and his Tennnesseans.
By the early 20th century, the forests around the mountain had been been largely cut over. The state and Federal governments, however, both saw potential in the thousands and thousands of acres of mountain land surrounding Mt. Cheaha. The state began work on Cheaha State Park in 1933 and President Franklin Roosevelt issued a proclamation establishing the Talladega National Forest in 1936. Both were Depression-era works projects and many structures built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers can still be seen at the park.
Today, Cheaha State Park is a major gateway to the beautiful scenery of the Talladega National Forest and also features a hotel, restaurant, cabins, chalets, campgrounds, picnic areas, overlooks and more. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/cheaha1.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
With much of the Deep South gripped in a heat wave, I thought I would spend some time over the next week or so telling you more about some of my favorite summer escapes.
White Rock Mountain is located in the Ozarks of western Arkansas. An easy drive (if you don't mind a few bumps and dirt roads!) from Fort Smith and Fayetteville as well as the growing Northwest Arkansas Metro, the mountain is part of the Ozark National Forest and offers some of the most spectacular views in the region.
Historically, the mountain is unique because it overlooks some of the rugged land popular as hideouts for guerrilla bands during the Civil War and the rough years that followed. The park on the top, along with its beautiful old stone cabins and lodge, was a Depression-era project that is now more than 70 years old. The cabins and lodge have been restored and the park is among the most beautiful in the South.
What makes White Rock Mountain such a great hot weather escape, particularly for those suffering in the heat and humidity of the Arkansas River Valley, is the fact that the overlook on the point of the mountain projects out over two connecting valleys. The breezes swirling up to the point are cool and refreshing on almost any summer day. The temperature on top of the mountain is well below that down in the valleys.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/whiterock.
Friday, June 19, 2009
One of the few significant encounters of Andrew Jackson's final invasion of Spanish Florida took place on April 1, 1818, near the present city of Tallahassee.
U.S. troops had invaded Florida in March, pushing down the Apalachicola River to the site of the old "Negro Fort" where they built a new outpost, Fort Gadsden, to serve as a base for their operations. Turning northeast from the fort, Jackson's army pushed for the key Seminole towns of Tallahassee Talofa and Miccosukee in present day Leon County, Florida, receiving substantial reinforcements on the way.
Jackson reached Tallahassee Talofa ("Old Fields Town"), from which the modern city of Tallahassee takes its name, on March 31, 1818, but found that its residents had fled on his approach. The town was torched and its houses burned to the ground.
On the morning of April 1, 1818, the army pushed for the nearby Miccosukee towns. The primary center of the eastern branch of the Seminoles, the towns stretched for ten miles down the western shore of Lake Miccosukee, a large but shallow lake northeast of modern Tallahassee.
As the soldiers approached, the warriors of the towns took up a position on a point of land in a swampy pond. Their plan was to fight a delaying action to allow time for the women, children and elderly of the massive towns to escape. As Jackson detected the resistance, he swung part of his army of more than 3,000 men into line of battle to oppose the 200 or so warriors. A severe firefight erupted and continued until a portion of the army moved to flank the Indian position.
The stand by then had achieved its purpose in allowing the evacuation of the towns and the warriors fell back through the villages and across Lake Miccosukee. The soldiers followed, wading the lake and attempting to catch up with the retreating Indians, but they were unable to do so. The did, however, burn over 300 Indian homes.
The exact site of the Battle of Miccosukee is not known today, but traces of the massive villages have been found all along the western shore of the lake. There are no markers for the battle. To learn more about the Battle of Miccosukee, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/miccosukee.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The last major campaign to conclude during the Civil War was a dramatic sweep through Alabama and Georgia carried out by thousands of Union soldiers under the command of General James H. Wilson.
Leaving the Tennessee River Valley, Wilson pushed south from North Alabama through the heartland of the state. Striking hard at the fledgling iron industry at the state, Wilson's men destroyed ironworks around today's Birmingham area including the furnaces at what is now Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park.
Leaving Tannehill and other ironworks in the area, Wilson drove on Montevallo and from there to Selma, battling the forces of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest as he advanced. Forrest did all he could to stop the Federals, but he was unable to assemble enough men in time. The climactic battle of the Alabama phase of the campaign took place at Selma, where Wilson overran Confederate defenses forcing Forrest to withdraw his outnumbered men. The massive industrial complex at Selma was destroyed.
From Selma, Wilson turned east to Montgomery, the state capital, which fell virtually without the firing of a shot. Then, dividing his force into two columns, he struck the Georgia cities of West Point (Fort Tyler) and Columbus, fighting the last major battle of the Civil War on April 16, 1865. Robert E. Lee had surrendered one week earlier and while fighting would still take place at Palmitto Ranch in Texas and still later at Hobdy's Bridge in Alabama, the taking of Columbus represented the last major battle of a planned campaign.
The northern column of Wilson's command pushed on to LaGrange, Georgia, where Colonel O.H. LaGrange encountered unexpected resistance from the Nancy Harts, Georgia's famed all female militia company.
The two columns met again at Macon, where news was received of the formal end of the Civil War. The damage inflicted on the remaining industrial might of the South had been severe and the campaign witnessed the fall of Selma, Montgomery, Columbus and Macon, four of the few remaining untouched cities in the Confederacy.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/wilsonsraid.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
When the city of LaGrange, Georgia, was left defenseless as regular Confederate troops were ordered from the area to the front lines, the Southern ladies of the town decided to do something about it. They formed the Nancy Harts.
Named for a Georgia heroine of the American Revolution, the all female militia company was formed in 1862 and included around 40 women. Nancy Morgan was elected as their captain and the company also included a slate of lieutenants and other officers.
Although the women of the Nancy Harts later laughed about their earliest drills, over time the company began to develop military precision. They marched and learned infantry tactics and also participating in target practice directed by a wounded Confederate soldier. After practicing twice each week for 3 years, the all female company was efficient and determined by the time LaGrange was threatened with attack in 1865.
Following the Battle of West Point in April of 1865, a Union column of thousands of men made its way up the road to LaGrange. The movement was part of General James H. Wilson's raid through Alabama and Georgia and was commanded by Colonel Oscar H. LaGrange, who oddly enough bore the same name as the city he was approaching.
As the Federals approached LaGrange, the women of the Nancy Harts mustered on the lawn of Lieutenant Mary Heard's home (seen above). Forming ranks, they marched out to meet LaGrange's oncoming Union soldiers under the command of their captain, Nancy Morgan.
When the two forces met, Morgan wheeled the Nancy Harts into a line of battle but quick intercession on the part of a captured Confederate officer prevented bloodshed.
To learn more of the fascinating story of the Nancy Harts, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nancyharts.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
After years of work by the National Park Service, historic Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Florida, can once again be reached by car.
Hurricane Ivan destroyed the only road leading down the 7 mile stretch of Santa Rosa Island to the fort and it has taken years for park service employees to work their way through a tangle of regulatory and funding issues to repair the road. It finally reopened to vehicular traffic at the end of May and can once again be used to access the historic fort.
Built during the 1830s, Fort Pickens played a vital role during the Civil War. One of three Southern forts held by Union troops throughout the war (the others were Fort Tayler and Fort Jefferson, both also in Florida), the troops in the fort participated in major artillery battles with Confederate forces on the mainland in November of 1861 and January of 1862. The outer camps of Fort Pickens were also a target of Confederate troops during the Battle of Santa Rosa Island in October of 1861.
Now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, Fort Pickens is open to the public daily from 8 a.m. until sunset. In addition to the historic fort, the Fort Pickens section of the national park includes concrete fortifications dating from 1898-1945, 7 miles of pristine white sand beaches, a historic cemetery, the site of the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, picnic areas, trails, campgrounds and more. The entrance fee is $8, which is good for a full week.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortpickens1.
The iron and steel industry played a major role in the development of the modern South, particularly in the state of Alabama.
Iron and steel production was the foundation upon which the city of Birmingham was built and also gave rise to other important communities in the state, including nearby Anniston. The industry has a rich history in Alabama and undoubtedly the best place to explore it is the Alabama Iron and Steel Museum.
Located at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park near Birmingham, the museum explores the role that iron and steel production have played in the development of the state. Visitors to the outstanding museum can explore displays that allow them to walk through the history of iron and steel production in Alabama. Displays feature rare artifacts from the industry's past and life-sized exhibits demonstrating different aspects of the work involved in the production of the iron and steel that helped fuel the country's industrial explosion.
The exhibits focus around the operation of the ironworks at Tannehill in particular. These furnaces helped produce thousands of tons of iron for the Confederate war effort before they were destroyed by Union troops during Wilson's Raid through Alabama and Georgia. Displays in the museum include artillery shells and a cannon produced using Alabama iron.
The Alabama Iron and Steel Museum is open daily. For more information, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/tannehillmuseum.
Monday, June 15, 2009
One of the best preserved historic homes of its nature in Alabama, the Sadler Plantation House is located in the community of McCalla on the outskirts of Birmingham.
Located just up Eastern Valley Road from Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, the Sadler House dates back to the days when early settlers first moved into the area following the Treaty of Fort Jackson that took hundreds of thousands of acres from the Creek Nation.
The original core of the house was a square "single pen" log cabin built somewhere between 1817 and 1820 by John Loveless. Tradition holds that he selected the site for his home because it was an old Indian field that had already been cleared. Loveless died within a few years of building the cabin and his widow sold the farm to Isaac Wellington Sadler.
Using the original cabin as the frame for one side of the house, Sadler launched a major expansion project during the 1830s that resulted in the two-story, "dog trot" style house that is visible today. "Dog trots" were so named because they were open hallways that dogs often trotted through, but they also offered cool breezes that helped cool homes.
The Sadler Plantation House is now owned by the West Jefferson County Historical Society, which maintains it in beautiful condition. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sadlerhouse.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Thousands of cars moving up and down Interstate 65 between Birmingham and Montgomery pass by the signs for Alabama's Confederate Memorial Park each day, yet the park is usually quiet.
Covering 102 acres on the site of the state's former Old Soldiers Home for Confederate Veterans, Confederate Memorial Park in Mountain Creek, Alabama, is one of the more moving such tributes to be found in the South.
From 1902 to 1939, the state operated a complex of more than 20 buildings here to serve its aging population of Confederate veterans. As many as 800 people lived here at one time or another and at its height the home served 91 veterans and 19 widows of veterans. By the time it closed, the last Confederate veteran had passed away and only 5 of the widows remained.
Today, a visit to Confederate Memorial Park is a moving experience. The ruins of the old complex can be seen, along with the graves of more than 300 veterans and widows buried in two cemeteries on the grounds. Particularly fascinating is the new museum at the park, which features outstanding exhibits on the history of the home as well as Alabama's role in the Civil War. Numerous artifacts are on display, including original flags, weapons and more.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/confederatepark.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Located just minutes from downtown Birmingham, Alabama's Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park is a major Civil War landmark.
Covering 1,500 acres of beautiful rolling country, the park centers around historic ironworks that once produced up to 22 tons of iron per day for the Confederate war effort. Tannehill iron was used to manufacture everything from cannon and artillery projectiles to cookware for the Southern military.
The massive furnaces at Tannehill were built using slave labor between 1859 and 1863. An estimated 500 workers lived on-site, operating the charcoal fueled furnaces to produce iron from locally mined ore. The product of the operation was shipped by wagon to Montevallo and from there by rail to the massive Confederate industrial complex at Selma.
The Tannehill furnaces operated until just weeks before the end of the war. On March 31, 1865, the ironwarks was seized by 3 companies of the 8th Iowa Cavalry as part of General James H. Wilson's raid through Alabama and Georgia. The wooden structures of the ironworks were burned and the massive stone furnaces damaged.
Now beautifully restored, the Tannehill furnaces are the historical centerpiece of a massive park that also preserves other historical structures and offers a wide array of recreational opportunities including cabins, campgrounds, a miniature train, picnic areas, hiking trails and more. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/tannehill.
Friday, June 12, 2009
San Antonio's most famous landmark, of course, is the Alamo. The scene of an epic battle in 1836, the old mission actually has a long and multi-cultural history.
Authorized in 1716, the mission of San Antonio de Valero (today's Alamo) slowly became a reality over the next three decades. The present site was selected in 1724 and the cornerstone of the current structure was laid in 1744.
The oldest of five missions built to serve the Native American population of the San Antonio area, Mission San Antonio de Valero was the center of a large an active community. The friars provided religious instruction to their converts, but also supervised large farming operations and other aspects of community life.
After nearly 50 years of service, the old mission was abandoned by the Church in 1793. Ten years later it was occupied by the Spanish military. Among the units assigned there was the Second Flying Company of Alamo de Parras and many believe it was from this company that the name "Alamo" originated. Others believe it was adapted from the Spanish name for a grove of cottonwood trees that grew near the old structure.
In 1835 the converted mission was occupied by revolutionary forces from Texas and in 1836, of course, it was the scene of the monumental 13-day Battle of the Alamo when General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna attacked the small garrison there.
Today, the Alamo is the centerpiece of San Antonio and one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. To learn more about San Antonio and the Alamo, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanantonio.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
One of the most beautiful urban settings in the world, the San Antonio River Walk has delighted millions of visitors to the beautiful old Texas city.
For hundreds of years the San Antonio River was a vital water source for the community of San Antonio and the Indian villages that existed at the site before the arrival of the Spanish soldiers and missionaries. Not only did the river provide drinking water, it was also a source for irrigation of fields planed along its banks.
Over the years, though, the river also brought its share of misery to San Antonio. Annual floods caused great hardships and at times left death and destruction in their wake. In 1921, for example, a horrible flood killed more than 50 people in San Antonio and left millions of dollars of damage in its wake. The flood also left behind a desire on the part of the people of San Antonio to do something about the remarkable, but deadly, natural resource that flowed through their city.
After much debate, the dream of architect Robert H.H. Hugman to create a waterfront that he thought could rival the beauty of the Italian city of Venice became the driving force behind the San Antonio River Walk project.
The River Walk now encompasses 13 miles of land on both sides of the river, right through the heart of downtown San Antonio. Not only does it link numerous historic sites, it also provides a center for entertainment, art, dining, shopping and more.
To learn more about this remarkable free attraction in the heart of historic San Antonio, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sariverwalk.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
The beautiful old "Spanish Governor's Palace" in San Antonio, Texas, is one of the most striking buildings of Spanish architecture in the South.
Begun during the 1720s and probably completed in 1749, the building was actually the residence and office of the commandant of the Spanish garrison in San Antonio. In 1772, the captain of the San Antonio garrison also became the governor of Texas, and it is likely that the name "Spanish Governor's Palace" dates from that time.
The structure served military purposes for almost 100 years, but by 1821 had become the civilian residence of the former captain of the presidio (fort), Ignacio Perez. His family lived in the palace for many years. It later served a variety of roles, ranging from saloon to pawn shop.
Acquired by the city of San Antonio in 1928 and beautifully restored, the "Spanish Governor's Palace" is now a museum. Located at 105 Military Plaza in downtown San Antonio, it is one of the more economical such attractions in the South. The cost to visit is only $2 for adults, $1.50 for senior citizens and children ages 7-13. Children 6 and under are admitted free.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/governorspalace.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
The beautiful San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio is one the most beloved structures in Texas.
The cornerstone for the magnificent building was laid in 1738 and the dome of the original church was the point from which all distances were measured during the Spanish occupation of Texas. In 1836, when the church was nearly 100 years old, it played a critical role in the Battle of the Alamo. Mexican commander General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna raised a blood red flag from the original church tower to warn the defenders of the Alamo that they could expect no quarter.
After the battle, the remains of the Alamo defenders were gathered from the ashes of Santa Anna's funeral pyres and buried in the church. They were discovered in 1936 and are now housed in a marble casket on display at San Fernando.
The church was greatly enlarged during the late 19th century, but some of the original walls are still intact. It became a cathedral in 1874. Pope John Paul II visited San Fernando Cathedral in 1987.
To learn more about this beautiful old San Antonio landmark, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanfernando.
Monday, June 1, 2009
This week we'll be looking closer at the magnificent and historic city of San Antonio, Texas.
Founded on the site of earlier Indian villages during the early 1700s, San Antonio holds a special place in both Southern and American history. Established by the Spanish as a mission center and presidio (fort), the city was already over 100 years old by the time of the Texas Revolution in 1835-1836. The remains of five beautiful old Spanish missions can still be seen in San Antonio, as can the historic "Spanish Governor's Palace" which appears to have been completed in 1749.
San Antonio, of course, was the scene of a monumental battle during the Texas Revolution when a small band of heroes defended the Alamo, a fortified old mission, against an also brave but overwhelming Mexican army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The Alamo fell on March 6, 1836 and the bodies of such noted American frontiersmen as Jim Bowie, David Crockett and William B. Travis were found in the rubble. They chose to go down fighting rather than surrender (Note: Please click here to read more about the true facts of Crockett's death).
The chapel and long barrack of the Alamo still stand in the heart of downtown San Antonio and the remains of the Alamo heroes are enshrined at the nearby San Fernando Cathedral.
There are many other points of historic interest in San Antonio, among them the Alamo Cenotaph and the city's famed River Walk. To learn more about this wonderful city, please check back over the coming days. Until then you can read more by visiting our new San Antonio pages at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanantonio.