Pleased event still celebrates Selma

Published 7:34pm Saturday, March 5, 2011

Selma’s first Pilgrimage was in 1976, a highlight in the celebration of our bicentennial year. Even then it seemed strange that this town, rich in architectural styles and historic buildings, steeped in tradition and enthusiastically aware of its Deep South heritage, should be a Johnny-come-lately to the world of Pilgrimage.

Upon reflection, however, one understands that here in the Black Belt, we did not recognize the aesthetic and material value of our old houses and structures until long after World War II, in keeping with numerous other communities in the South. As we were growing up in old houses, most of us never gave a thought to the high ceilings, decorative woodwork, Christian doors of solid wood, beaded paneling and plastered walls common to them.

The chairs we sat on, the beds on which we slept, the chests in which we kept our clothing, the tables we set at mealtime were just old furniture mostly handed down from our grandmothers. We grew up in the post-World War I and Great Depression days when there was no money for new furniture and long, low ranch-style dwellings.

I, along with others of my generation were fond of saying that poverty saved Selma’s historic riverfront, its downtown buildings and most of its old houses. There is truth in that statement. We had no choice in the matter then, but we have now. And that is the reason our local Pilgrimage began: to create an awareness of the beauty of our historic homes and to use that awareness to garner those nice, clean and green tourism dollars.

The first Pilgrimage fewer than 10 houses were considered appropriate for the tour. Today, there are many more, although persuading homeowners to open them is not always possible. However, the numbers of Selmians who volunteer to assist with the production present a persuasive and convincing argument. They also are one of Pilgrimage’s great attractions as, dressed in Victorian and antebellum costume, they smilingly greet visitors.

The nine Pilgrimage houses in 2010, represented possibly the greatest number of structures open for this anticipated event. Owners of these homes prepared for months, touching up paint, waxing floors, polishing silver and washing windows in preparation for company coming. Although not so great in number this year, each home is rich in personal and architectural history, and that includes uniqueness.

Pilgrimage committees meet almost year-round under the sponsorship of Dallas County Historic Preservation Society and the supervision of Nancy Breeding Smith, who is devoting countless volunteer hours to her native city.

Pilgrimage this year also offers interesting “sidebars” to the visitors, including painting the town, a special shop offering locally made souvenirs and even a paranormal tour. The Old Depot Museum will be open each of the two days and is adding a “clothesline” of photographs from the Rosenberg III recent showing.

In fact, despite the miserable weather in what is usually early spring, a plethora of interesting events have been offered to the visitors seeking to avoid the extreme cold of Northeast and Midwest this year.

New brochures, increasing publicity and much information are available about this, one of the city’s premier events, scheduled March 18-19. It is especially gratifying that at least two houses under restoration are open this year. Make plans to participate, welcome the visitors and be proud of your city.

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