Director takes club on tour of Alabama history

Published 8:13 pm Thursday, July 30, 2009

Did you know many 18th century European men wore breeches made of Alabama deerskin, exchanged by Creek Indians for silver jewelry and beads?

Or that a French-made cannon that began its life in Alabama being barged from Mobile to Fort Toulouse in 1720, was used to celebrate the inauguration of John Quincy Adams more than a century later ( incidentally, nearly killing its operator)?

Those Indian trinkets and the historical cannon are just a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of items at the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

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Dr. Ed Bridges, the director of the ADAH since 1982, shared the fascinating story of Alabama history told through the department – the first of its kind in the entire country – and the building itself, which covers nearly a city block in downtown Montgomery. Bridges spoke to the Greenville Rotary Club, presenting a slideshow of just a few of the many items on display as he took attendees on a trip through Alabama history.

“The department was founded in 1901 . . . at that time, the Alabama Legislature only meet once every four years, so they used the legislative chambers for the display,” Bridges said. the department was later moved to another part of the Capitol.

The current building’s central portion was built in the 1930s as a WPA project, with the east wing added in the 1970s and the west wing in 2005.

The building is an Alabama history lover’s paradise, with bound volumes of newspapers, legal documents, manuscripts and other materials from every county in the state on file and on microfiche for research. Additional resources are available online at the Archives building, Bridges said.

Here are just a few of the finds at the ADHA: Pottery and weapons helping document 14,000 years of Indian occupation. The seal of the state’s first bank. A bill written in a spidery script for a series of parties feting Revolutionary War hero Lafayette on his trip through Alabama. Civil War memorabilia. Biographies of all Alabama soldiers lost in WW I. Suits and a guitar belonging to Butler County’s own gift to country music, Hank Williams Sr. Photos of the infamous 16th Street bombing. Alabama’s official state quilt.

“We are now working on fundraising for a new museum system giving visitors a chronological overview of the state’s history, which will be a great addition to what we offer,” Bridges said.