Selma’s twin beautiesPublished 11:18pm Saturday, January 22, 2011
Columnist Note: This article is published today expressly for the purpose of emphasizing the importance of the yearly Historic Pilgrimage to the city of Selma and the Black Belt, for historic reasons as well as the strong contribution made yearly to tourism.
So close in age they might well be called “twins,” Sturdivant Hall and the Vaughan-Smitherman Museum are still serving the needs of the community, as museums as well as hospitality centers. And on the annual Historic Pilgrimage and Antiques Show, each has an important role to fill.
The stately Smitherman Building is Pilgrimage Headquarters, the welcome center where tickets, tour guides, information and a friendly welcome will greet visitors.
Gracious Sturdivant Hall is open the three days of Pilgrimage with costumed hostesses to guide tours of the house, the detached kitchen and the gardens.
A few years older than its across town historic counterpart, the Vaughan-Smitherman Museum was constructed in 1847 by a Masonic Lodge as a university. During the Civil War it served as a Confederate Hospital. When the county seat was moved from Old Cahawba, it became the seat of Dallas County government. In 1904 it housed the Selma Military Institute.
After purchase by trustees of the Henry W. Vaughan Estate, the building again housed a hospital, the Vaughan Memorial, which served the Black Belt area until 1960 when the hospital was moved to a new building. Although the old structure fell victim to vandalism and neglect during a period of vacancy, it was saved through the foresight of the Selma City Council and its mayor, for whom it is named.
The building houses period furniture of the 1800s, collections of historic artifacts, clubs and museum rooms. A favorite exhibit is of Civil War documents and memorabilia, on loan from the collection of the late Art Lewis. Also on display is a collection of Civil War munitions from the Selma Confederate Arsenal and National Ordnance Works.
The public rooms are furnished in Victorian and French antiques saved from the Wilby Theatre, the original Academy of Music. The grounds of the building have been landscaped into a passive park, with seasonal plantings, lighted fountains and a small pavilion.
Sturdivant is known as the finest Greek Revival Neo-Classic Antebellum mansion in the Southeast. Toured by thousands of visitors it is one of the state’s outstanding tourist attractions and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The architect was Thomas Helm Lee, a Selmian and a cousin of Robert E. Lee. The house is handsomely furnished in a collection of period furniture, portraits, silver, dolls and toys. The kitchen, which is in a separate building, retains many of the antebellum utensils and houses an adjacent gift shop. The second floor of the house features a collection of paintings by Clara Weaver Parrish, world-renowned artist.
Sturdivant Hall is also a popular and much-used hospitality center for weddings, receptions, balls and meetings. On its grounds is the White-Force Cottage, home of Clem Billingslea and his wife, Martha Todd, the half sister of Mary Todd Lincoln.
Both these exceptional and beautiful structures are in Selma’s Historic District, which comprises 58 blocks, a National Register cemetery and an interesting variety of architectural designs in its residences as well as Civil Rights points of interest.