Honoring Alabama’s past, present and future in honor of 200 years of statehood
“The Alabama Bicentennial: The Stories of Our People” airs July 4th
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - As we celebrate how far Alabama has come over the past 200 years, we're also looking at the past and the state's rich history.
It’s a unique story, one that shaped the place we call home. It started at Alabama Constitution Hall Park in the heart of Huntsville.
In July of 1819, 44 delegates met there to draft Alabama's first constitution, the defining document that provided the framework for the state's government.
Bart Williams, executive director of the The EarlyWorks Family of Museums and Alabama Constitutions Hall Park, says the newly renovated and restored park offers space for the community to honor Alabama's statehood.
“Those documents that they wrote and they debated in this room were then sent to Washington signed and helped us get signed in as the 22nd state admitted to the Union,” Williams explained. “Without the work that was done here by the gentlemen that arrived here and were here for two weeks in Huntsville, we would not have been a state the way we are now.”
Constitution Hall Park, the birthplace of Alabama, underwent restorations to the buildings and park as one of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission's Legacy Projects.
There are green spaces, wide clean sidewalks, ample lighting and two retail outlets including a gift shop and a new Piper and Leaf- Artisan Tea Company location.
Visitors can tour Constitution Hall, Clement Comer Clay’s law office, John Boardman’s office and print shop, and the residence of Madison County’s first sheriff, Stephen Neal.
"Today, you can go in and tour Sheriff Neal's house, see his parlor, see his loom room, his bedroom. We also have the John Boardman House and John John Boardman was an attorney, but also he was a printer. He actually printed the first constitution of Alabama. It was printed on this block and he also housed Alabama's first public library in his building."
As a living history museum, visitors can see how people dressed, lived and worked in Huntsville in 1819.
Constitution Hall Park has its own history that began during the state’s 150th anniversary in 1969. Local legislators and historians decided to create a monument to statehood. Through thorough research, Huntsville historians conducted archaeological digs of the site and found the original foundations of the buildings that existed in 1819.
During the 1970s, Harvie P. Jones, a local architect, began extensive research and the process of reconstruction. He rebuilt the buildings with historically accurate materials and technique. In 1975, the site was deemed a significant landmark by the Alabama Historical Commission and added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. Finally, in May 1982, the park opened to the public.
Six years ago the Bicentennial restorations began with a vision to open the space for the community. The park is a culmination of restorations to buildings inside and out, and a total overhaul to the park. The restorations to the park were made possible with Nola│VanPeursem Architects and Chorba Contracting Corp. Corporate, private and public funds were raised to pay for the improvements.
“We’re excited we’re going to be welcoming in the world the state and everyone to come here and celebrate 200 years of Alabama’s birthday with all types of special programming,” Williams stated.
Special bicentennial events at the park include speakers, live music and free family fun nights throughout the month of July.
"The important thing here is that you don't just decide you're a state. There's a democratic process that has to happen and it's part of what makes our nation great and this is the part that Alabama played in becoming 50 states," Williams said. "Teaching about all of that is very important. It's a very important story to tell."
Another special landmark that's part of Alabama's Bicentennial commemoration is located just outside Tuscumbia.
The Belle Mont Mansion is one of Alabama's crowning architectural achievements.
Located in Colbert County, the mansion is one of a few Palladian-style houses in the Deep South. The style stems from the neoclassical architectural design of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
"Belmont was built in 1828. So this was still frontier land at that time. The fertile farmlands were being opened up. People were streaming in here from the Virginias and the Carolinas buying the wonderful farming land that was available at that time to establish these grand plantations," explained Ninon Parker, site director.
It was built for Alexander Mitchell who was a native of Virginia. He was a doctor. Dr. Mitchell owned the house for five years and at the end of that time in 1833, he sold it to Isaac and Katherine Winston. The Winston family was associated with the house for about a century.
“The home is considered a very fine example of Jeffersonian-Palladian architecture. It was a style that was favored by our third president Thomas Jefferson,” Parker stated. “And it’s very classic in its style.”
The home’s beauty, special features and history are all properly preserved. Part of the museum is painted in its original bold, bright colors.
"This is one of the most unique features in Belmont. That little eyebrow window and the other matching one on the other double door. These are really sort of considered Thomas Jefferson's signatures," Parker said.
The home suffered vandalism at one point in time and today, the Alabama Historical Commission owns the historic site. It’s one of five house museums owned by the state.
The Colbert County Historical Landmarks Foundation, Inc. is the support group in charge of operating the site.
Parker says the Belle Mont's story is an important part of Alabama's history.
"We must look to the past to see where where we are and from what we have come. Every single person that lived back in time contributed to what we are today and I think I think we have to look back at that before we can move on. Everything that we are today is built upon what happened in the past," she added.
The Belle Mont and Alabama Constitution Hall Park will be featured in an hour-long special on Alabama’s Bicentennial. WAFF has been working with our sister stations across the state to honor our 200 years of statehood.
From the signing of the constitution, to the music history of Muscle Shoals, and much more, you can learn about the story of Alabama on WAFF.
“The Alabama Bicentennial: The Stories of Our People” special, airs July 4th at 9 p.m.
Copyright 2019 WAFF. All rights reserved.