Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hidden Gems: Alabama Tales That Grow On Trees Pt 2

Blogger's Note: We continue our adventure through Alabama's history and stories surrounding a few unusual trees. 

The Blakeley Oak (or the Jury Oak) was site of the Baldwin Courtroom
 where the local judge would hold court from a branch on the oak.
The Blakeley Oak

No buildings remain in what was once the booming riverfront town of Blakeley, the first seat of Baldwin County. Population diminished during the Civil War and, after what is thought to be the war’s last battle was fought at Blakeley, people slowly moved away until, by 1865, it was empty.

But a remaining tree and a nearby plaque amid the otherwise unspoiled landscape tell a piece of the frontier town’s history. The plaque marks the location of a tree known as the Blakeley, or Jury Oak, the tree where one of Alabama’s most famous judges, Harry Toulmin, would hold court in the 1820s. Before the courthouse was built, Toulmin was known to hold court while sitting in the fork of the huge oak.

According to Llewellyn Toulmin, a Harry Toulmin descendent, the judge presided over court proceedings for most of southern Alabama, an area of more than 15,000 square miles. “His ‘courtroom’ was usually a large tree. At Blakeley, in what is now north Baldwin County, he would sit 8 feet above the ground on the branch of a huge live oak, and literally hand down justice from on high,” Lew Toulmin wrote.

HI Tree

The “HI” and the Married Trees

Three quite friendly trees greet visitors to Hays Nature Preserve in Madison County. Along a hiking trail at the park, a limb grew between two trees – reportedly a natural formation – to form an “H.” A third tree stands beside them, forming an “I.” They are known locally as the “HI” trees.

On the banks of Cullman County’s Crooked Creek, where a Civil War battle was fought in 1863, grow two red maples joined by a limb that forms a bridge between them. They are known as the “Married Trees.”

But were they joined by nature or by human hands?

Fred Wise, who has owned the land for 32 years and runs Crooked Creek Civil War Museum on the property, said a friend who is a Native American said it’s possible the trees were grafted by Indians as many as 200 years ago.

“They may have used them to mark the site where they buried something or as a trail marker,” Wise said. However, the truth behind the trees’ union remains a mystery.

Married Trees

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Sound of Salvaging

Blogger's Note: As a Southern family and business, we have a passion for both reclaimed wood and music. Our CEO has been playing guitar even before he started Albany Woodworks and for the past eight years, he has played with a band called Southern Mystic. A recent article from CBS married these two passions together perfectly in a story about a company that is making guitars from old growth, reclaimed lumber of old homes being demolished in Detroit.

From the article "Made in Detroit: Guitars crafted from city ruins" by Chip Reid:

Detroit has more than 70,000 abandoned buildings. Among them is an old Cadillac plant that houses piles of wood. Where others see trash, Mark Wallace sees buried treasure.Wallace started making guitars out of Detroit's reclaimed wood a year and a half ago. He not only enjoys making the instruments but also playing them.

"It feels great, as an instrument. It's also great to know that it's something I built and something that came out of the city of Detroit," Wallace told me.

Decades ago the wood for the city's buildings   came from old growth forests where trees grew slowly. Wallace says the lumber has tight grain patterns and provides great resonance and sound.
Each guitar is meticulously hand-crafted and is as unique as a fingerprint. Wallace has made 24 so far and hopes eventually -- with a team of craftsmen -- to produce a couple hundred a year. They're priced at about $2,000 apiece.

Wallace says he gets an amazing feeling out of taking wood that's been tossed as garbage and turning it into something as beautiful as his guitars.

He says the guitars are a tribute to Detroit's rich music history from Motown to classic rock to rap. "I love this city, and I understand that there are a lot of places in the city that look like they're beat up, they look like they're run down, they look like they can never come back," said Wallace. "This guitar tells you that there's a different story."
With his work Wallace is transforming remnants of the city's past into a symbol of hope for the future.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Historical Hammond Hotel and Its Unexpected Role in the Birth of a Business

The classically built Citizen's National Bank Building in Hammond, LA.
The grand facade of the Citizen's National Bank Building (currently Regions Bank) in Hammond, LA plays a prominent role in downtown Hammond, Louisiana. But before the red brick, classically inspired building with white ionic columns was built, the site was home to another renowned structure in the heart of Hammond, The Oaks Hotel.

Rich in its history and dating back to 1893, the hotel was at one time the "place to go" in Hammond. Originally called The Oaks, the wood hotel was damaged during a fire, rebuilt and called The Second Oaks, only to be damaged once more by fire and resurface as Casa de Fresa. Built entirely from Southern Long Leaf Pine, Casa de Fresa (the Strawberry House) became the place to be seen for the elite of the area. Hammond as known as the Strawberry Capital and the Casa de Fresa acted as the auction house for the annual strawberry auctions. Casa de Fresa was a buzz of activity during the spring strawberry season and attracted a slew of traveling salesmen and military officers for their officers club in the off season. The hotel boasted "60 rooms, 40 baths and 5 completely furnished efficiency apartments, in the strawberry capital of the world." The Casa de Fresa was not only popular among travelers but among local residents as well. Hammond citizens would dine in the dining room and coffee shop regularly, which sold "Northern Coffee" and "Louisiana Coffee".

Casa de Fresa in its glory days. The Citizens National Bank building was styled
 after the hotel with the red and white facade pictured here. 
Cases de Fresa Hotel stayed open until 1966 when economic hardship forced it to close. For the next 10 years, the building lay in disuse for years with several key Hammond citizens lobbying for it to be salvaged and brought back to its former glory. However, a final fire in 1979 laid the hotel to rest but gave a new business a chance! 

Richard Woods, owner and operator of a local leather business, Rainbow Lotus, was in the middle of growing his new venture. He had the idea of using reclaimed wood as a building material. He knew that the virgin growth wood that could be salvaged from dilapidated building would make a strong, stable, beautifully aged building resource that is environmentally friendly. Woods bought doors and beams from what was salvageable from the burned Casa de Fresa, allowing the glory of this celebrated hotel to live on. The purchase helped Albany Woodworks begin building its inventory to allow it to continue to grow. Now with its 40th anniversary on the horizon, Albany Woodworks recognizes how the historical hotel that played such a prominent role in the community allowed it to grow into a mainstay of the Hammond area.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Hidden Gems: Alabama Tales That Grow On Trees

Our Hidden Gems series continues and the next stop is Alabama. Unbeknownst to many, Alabama has several famous and unusual trees that carry stories that most Alabama natives know nearly and dearly. From a tree that owns itself to trees with naturally formed letters, we take a look at these unusual trees and their back stories. 

From the blog post "From ancient underwater forests to oak that 'owns itself:' Strange Alabama tales that grow on trees" written by Kelly Kazek.
The Tree that Owns Itself

 A post oak in the picturesque town of Eufaula was, by some accounts, more than 200 years old when it achieved its liberation and subsequent fame in 1936. It had survived mishaps – the fire that destroyed the home of Confederate Capt. John A. Walker, in whose yard the oak stood, and a terrible tornado in 1919.

Mrs. Leonard Y. Dean, president of the Eufaula Garden Club in 1936, wanted to ensure the 65-foot-tall, 85-foot-wide tree survived for another 200 years. So she petitioned Mayor Hamp Graves Sr. and the city council, who asked Lt. Gov. Charles S. McDowell to draw up a “deed of sentiment.” In essence, the tree was deeded to itself.

But misfortune struck on April 9, 1961, when a storm toppled the mighty Walker Oak. A local business, International Paper Co., came to the rescue and donated a new oak. On April 19, 1961, the replacement tree was planted in the same spot.

Another “Tree that Owns Itself” is located in Athens, Ga.

The Boyington Oak

In 1834, a murder and subsequent hanging led to one of Mobile’s most enduring legends, the tale of the Boyington Oak.On May 11 of that year, local printer Charles R.S. Boyington, a known gambler, was seen walking with Nathaniel Frost, a man he reportedly owed money. When Frost was found stabbed to death near Church Street Graveyard, Boyington was the obvious suspect. He was convicted but, until the moment he was hanged on Feb. 20, 1835, Boyington declared his innocence.

He reportedly said that, after he was buried, a mighty oak would spring from his heart to prove his innocence. And an oak did grow atop his grave in Church Street Graveyard, where it can be seen today.

Orr Park’s Tinglewood

A walk through Orr Park in Montevallo is like a stroll through a storybook land. Cedar trees carved with likenesses of gnome-like faces and dragons line a winding trail near Shoal Creek. Visitors will see as many as 30 trees carved by local artist Tim Tingle, who carves only trees that are dead or dying and leaves the living ones to add to the park’s natural beauty. The project was begun in 1993 after several trees killed in a storm were slated to be cut down. Tingle asked the city for permission to carve the trees into artworks.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of Hidden Gems: Alabama Tales That Grow on Trees!