Freetown in Hale County, AL

After we left the Sucarnochee Folk Life Festival last weekend in Livingston, we headed over to Faunsdale, where they were having their annual crawfish festival. On the way, we saw this pretty church with a historic marker in front – it’s the Bethlehem Baptist Church:
Bethlehem Baptist Church, Freetown in Hale County, AL

The historic marker reads:
In 1867 a group of African American men and women laid the foundations for Freetown. William, John, Albert, George, Richard, and Peter Collins; Susan and Lawrence Moore; Thomas Jeffries; the children of John Jeffries; and Louisa Conway and her children received over six hundred acres of land in the will of John Collins, a local planter who had migrated from Virginia to Alabama in 1837. The early residents included former slaves and free people of color. Many of the men were skilled masons and carpenters, including Peter Lee and John Glascow who directed the construction of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Gallion. Freetown residents helped organize Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1867.

The other side continues:
Freetown became a vibrant community and residents achieved local prominence. The settlement reached its peak in the 1920s as part of Allenville. Brown’s general store established around 1910 became the major commercial center and social hub. Women from the community were among the first teachers in the area’s African American schools. Some Freetown children received primary and secondary education as boarding students at Selma University. The community’s population declined after World War II as African Americans migrated to northern and southern cities. Residents and their descendants over time became skilled workers, professionals, and active members of communities elsewhere, while maintaining strong ties to Freetown.

The J.H. Gary House / Merrehope in Meridian MS

My WPA Mississippi book lists the house known as ‘Merrehope‘ in Meridian as the J.H. Gary House. It’s at 905 31st Avenue.

The historical marker says:
A 20-room Neoclassical Revival mansion completed in 1904, the house began as a small cottage which served as headquarters for Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in 1863. Merrehope is now a museum of local history.

My WPA book says that “the single-story ell, which extends to the rear, was the headquarters of Gen. Leonidas Polk, Commander of the Confederate troops stationed in Meridian.”
Merrehope, Meridian MS

The Burris / Baby Doll House, Benoit MS

The J.C. Burrus / Baby Doll House, Benoit MS//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This is a pic of the old J.C. Burrus House, called Hollywood Plantation. It’s the only antebellum structure in Bolivar County and is constructed of heart cypress. Today it’s better known as the Baby Doll House because it was the setting for the 1956 movie Baby Doll, which is based on Tennessee Williams’ 1946 play, Twenty-seven Loads of Cotton.

I’ve read that the reason it survived the war is because Judge Burrus knew the invading Federal officer while he attended UVA. It was also used as a Confederate hospital and headquarters for Confederate officers including General Jubal Early.

John Wilkes Booth is also said to have lived here for about ten days after shooting President Lincoln.

When the filmmakers for Baby Doll came out to Benoit, they promised the home’s then-owners that in lieu of a fee for shooting, they would make some renovations to the home. Years later, people would come out to the house and actually take pieces of the house as souvenirs from the movie. Not nice.

Now the home looks really terrible. There are people that live in the side yard of the house, but I didn’t get out to chat with them or anything. I read that the home was given to the Bolivar County Historical Society in 1974 by the Burrus family but it doesn’t look as though much is being done.

The home was placed on the 2001 list of endangered places by the Mississippi Heritage Trust. Hopefully someone will take more of an interest in it and preserve the house as it has so much history attached to it.

Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, LA

Av and I left the city for a few hours and wanted to do something relaxing, so we drove out to the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. The home, with a row of 300 year old oaks leading to it, is famous – it’s been featured in lots of books and movies.

Sugar Kettle, Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Admission was $10 per person, and tours of the house are given every thirty minutes. Usually Av and I like to just explore things on our own, but since the house is only open with guided tours, that was just fine – and our tour guide, Jane – was really great.

The pic above is from the back of the house. In the center is a sugar kettle that they use now as a water garden (lots of people make them into koi ponds, too). Also behind the house is the Oak Alley restaurant and gift shop. Among all the things the gift shop was selling were saplings from oak trees on the plantation – they were $15.

Also behind the home are their B and B cottages which are between $115-$165/night.

Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
The oaks at Oak Alley are thought to be about 300 years old, planted by an early settler.

Sitting Room, Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Usually, pictures aren’t allowed to be taken inside the house, but our tour guide explained that business has been very slow after the hurricanes and that they were allowing, for a time, for guests to come and take pictures. This is the sitting room.

The pictures above and below are of the dining room. This room has a shoo-fly installed over the table. It’s run by pulley, and as it swings back and forth, it keeps the flies away, and creates a bit of a breeze.

Dining Room, Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

On this bed is a wooden rolling pin. The rolling pin is used to smooth out the mattress (in winter, people would stuff their mattresses with cotton or feathers, and in summer with Spanish moss). They also slept with mosquito nets around the bed.

This daybed is in the same bedroom. People used daybeds for afternoon naps so that they wouldn’t have to smooth out the bed mattress again.

300-year-old oaks at Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
This is the view from the front of the house – so pretty!