Dec 13, 2009

160 Years Ago tomorrow - The Capitol Burns!

From the Alabama State Archives site: On December 14, 1849, near the beginning of the General Assembly's second session in Montgomery, the Capitol was destroyed by fire. Moving to temporary quarters to continue deliberations., the legislature in February of 1850 appropriated $60,000 with which the central section of the present building was erected upon the foundations of the burned original. A new architect, Barachias Holt, designed the new structure. ]

     DURING THE afternoon of August 22, 1923, fire completely destroyed the old Alabama capitol in Tuscaloosa, a building that had long been used as the Alabama Central Female College. Smoke rising from the building could be seen as far away as Greensboro.

     Painters, who had been at work renovating the interior of the building at the time of the blaze, blamed the fire on faulty electrical wiring. Within a matter of hours all that was left of this historic structure were sections of tottering, smoke-blackened walls, broken columns, and mountains of ash and debris.
     In the following months, townspeople salvaged material from the ruins. Will Murphy, Tuscaloosa's first black undertaker, used some of the bricks to build his home, which is now a museum. Other citizens hauled away truckloads of carved ashlar and flagstones to build garden walls and terraces. Carl Carmer, author of Stars Fell on Alabama, ornamented his backyard with several large architectural fragments, including a handsome Ionic capital from the building's fa├žade. Even after the site was scavenged by locals, tons of debris and some sections of the lower-story sandstone walls remained above ground.
     During the 1930s, however, a Works Progress Administration project provided funds to clean up the site and landscape it. At that time most of the remaining ruins were leveled and the debris was pushed down the ravine to the west of the site. Only a section of the walls of the north wing, rising three or four feet from the ground, remained. They were infilled with rubble and sodded to create a low rectangular mound. Thousands of bits of broken sandstone ashlar and architectural fragments were used to create a low perimeter wall that surrounded what had become known as Capitol Park.

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