Heritage celebration sets Tuscaloosa in 1800s

Cokie Thompson

The intersection of University Boulevard and Campus Drive West illustrates what most people think of when they envision Tuscaloosa: restaurants and bars packed with students, with Bryant-Denny Stadium in the corner of your eye. But the city of Tuscaloosa was not always so developed.

The Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society is hosting its annual Heritage Celebration this weekend with the theme “A Capitol Idea.” The three-day event focuses on the period during which Tuscaloosa was the capital of Alabama. All events are open to the public, but some have a fee.

Ian Crawford, director of the Jemison Mansion and co-chair of the Heritage Celebration, said Tuscaloosa then was vastly different from the city we live in today.

“You have millionaires living in log cabins because there’s no one to build them their house yet,” he said. “You have people trapped in the city because the river is so low, and there’s no way for steamboats to get there to pick them up. It’s an amazing time in Tuscaloosa history. We’re telling the story of that time.”

(See also “A musical road: Muscle Shoals’ rich heritage in music makes its way to Tuscaloosa“)

At some of the events, volunteers will be dressed up as historical figures from the period. Crawford, who will be in character as then-Governor John Gayle, has worked extensively with costume designers to create accurate representations of period clothes. Some details they discovered bore similarities to 20th century trends.

“It was extremely popular during the 1830s to have an expensive silk necktie that you wore really loosely like you didn’t care,” Crawford said.

The Planter’s Breakfast will offer a representation of a Southern meal from the period. Many Southern recipes have remained family secrets, but the menu for the meal didn’t come from a grandmother’s cookbook.

“We’ve found the best descriptions were from people who visited the South from far away,” Crawford said. “An English naturalist described mounds of biscuits and people of all classes gathered around a table for a delicious meal. Crawford said he sees this as something not out of touch with present-day Tuscaloosa.

“You might have a millionaire and a bus driver sitting down next to each other at the Waysider today,” Crawford said.

(See also “Historic Waysider serves up ‘Breakfast of Champions’“)

Events like the 19th Century Children’s Fun & Games are opportunities for people of all ages to get involved in learning about Tuscaloosa’s past.

Lucy Murphy is the event coordinator for the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society.

“Believe it or not, your chess, your checkers, your dominoes, your cards, tiddlywinks, tic-tac-toe – all of these games were being played by children who lived in those times,” Murphy said.

Every aspect of the Heritage Celebration is designed to educate visitors about Tuscaloosa history, including a visit from those whose ancestors contributed to Tuscaloosa’s architecture.

“Our garden show is an annual event, but this year to put it in perspective of the capital period, Alfred and Millicent Battle [of the Battle-Friedman House] are going to be there,” Murphy said. “We encourage everybody to come out and participate, and we’re excited about having a fun weekend. We’re excited to help people learn about what Tuscaloosa was like when our state capital was here.”

For a full list of events for the week and prices, visit facebook.com/TuscaloosaPreservationSociety.

(See also “Experience Tuscaloosa’s charm before it is lost“)