History lives here

Published 12:05 am Sunday, March 22, 2009

All across town Saturday, people toured houses built in the 1800s, created cast-iron art and viewed antique cars as part of the 34th Annual Historic Selma Pilgrimage. The events highlighted Selma’s past as a cultural center of the South.

“The weather’s spectacular,” George Needham said as he stood next to a 1909 Hupmobile. “This is a lovely spot right here.”

The antique car show, at the corner of McLeod Avenue and Mabry Street, featured a collection of candy-colored automobiles parked on bright green grass. Around 2 p.m., Needham said about 20-30 people had strolled the grounds looking at a 1931 Chevrolet Sedan, a 1962 Austin Healey and a 1955 Rolls Royce Limousine, among others. Needham, who owns the Rolls Royce, said the 100-year-old Hupmobile was the star of the show. Richard Gibian restored the vehicle from a rusted scrap heap into a sleek machine.

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“It’s lived its whole life in Selma,” Needham said. “And it’s only had two owners.”

One block over, people stood outside waiting to tour The Mabry-Jones Home. The Greek Revival house, which Dr. A.G. Mabry built in 1850, was a popular stop for Pilgrimage tourists. Cars lined the streets in front of the house. From the dining room to the library, visitors packed into every nook and cranny. They viewed flowing, Italian silk drapes, marble fireplaces, elaborate light fixtures and delicate china.

“It’s just mind boggling,” Cloyd Nutt said after walking out the back door. “It’s so pretty.”

Cloyd and his wife, Mary Francis, toured the home Saturday afternoon. The couple said visiting perfectly preserved homes during such beautiful weather was the perfect way to spend a weekend.

“The flowers are blooming out at just the right time,” Cloyd said. “We just rode around today.”

Catesby ap C. Jones, who greeted tour groups when they walked inside the door, said five different Catesby Joneses have lived in the white-columned, brick house at 629 Tremont St.

“That’s a lot of children over the years,” he said.

Just off Water Avenue, the chain-link gate at The Foundry swung wide open. The Alabama Art Casting group brought a mobile foundry, and visitors worked on cast iron art. Nine-year-old Sara Mitchell Wagoner and her friend, 8-year-old Maggie Palmer, sat on a red brick path etching out a cross and a face of a dog in a black square of chemically bonded sand. Later, the design will be used as a mold for a piece of cast iron art.

“It’s pretty tough, but it’s fun,” Palmer said.

“Yeah, it’s fun,” Wagoner added as she etched a cross with a nail.

Sarah Wagoner, Sara Mitchell’s mother, sat to the side in the shade of a pine tree while the girls worked. Every few minutes, she walked over to where the girls sat and offered encouragement.

“We thought it’d be a cool thing for the elementary age to do,” Sarah said. “This’ll be a little craft they can keep.”

Alabama Art Casting is a non-profit arts education group based at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. Saturday was the group’s first visit to Selma. Director and co-founder Johnny P. Williams said he would like to see The Foundry cleaned up and restored. He said the site begs for development.

“It’s a great site,” Williams said. “This place has huge potential.”