From there, the place known as the Jemison-Turner House near Eastaboga, the tour took in Talladega’s shining example of restored art deco theatres, The Ritz, and then the other historic buildings on the downtown square.
The courthouse and Kenwin-Waldrep building were part of the tour, then it was off to Idlewild Plantation just north of town, the home of Mrs. William McGehee, built around 1828 and originally a Federal-style four over four floor plan, renovated into a Greek Revival style. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places.
These places and more were all part of Talladega’s opportunity to share its vast resource of historic buildings to visitors with the Preservation Lyceum Weekend July 15 through July 17, hosted by the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, Antique Talladega and the Talladega Historic Commission.
The Lyceum Weekends are intended as field trips during which preservationists-both lay people and professionals-explore and discuss the preservation of historic sites in Alabama, said Peggy Hair, a board member for the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation.
Each Lyceum Weekend has a focus, and for the Talladega visit, it was the architecture of private homes, along with the architecture and historical significance of public spaces.
Those attending the Talladega event included local people, members of the Trust, the Black Heritage Council of Alabama and the Black Belt Heritage.
The tours of Talladega began after the Trust held its board meeting July 15 at another historic building in Talladega, Heritage Hall Museum, one of the few remaining Carnegie Libraries in the state.
Saturday’s tour included lunch at a National Historic Landmark, the J.L.M. Curry House on Alabama 21.
The Greek Revival style home was completed in 1850 and now houses Bellvue Antiques and Catering.
Antique Talladega board president Bill McGehee said the tour from visitors from throughout the state was important for the area on many levels.
“This gave us exposure state-wide,” he said.
“We have these outstanding historic houses and buildings all over town, we’re a treasure trove of historic homes.”
Having more people aware of the city’s resource of historic homes could mean having more homes bought and restored, he said.
“The prices here are good, too, and investing in restoring a home adds to its value,” McGehee said. “And these homes have what you call good bones.”
McGehee and his wife, Evelyn, own a circa 1901 home in Talladega’s Silk Stocking District, originally designed as a Neo-Classical style which was later renovated with Greek Revival elements.
The weekend was packed with points of interest.
“We wanted to show off as much as we could,” McGehee said.
Most of the homes were built between 1880 and about 1930, McGehee said, and there is a variety of styles, from Greek Revival and Neo-Classical to Victorian and bungalow style homes.
The city was a center for trade and had foundries, railroads came to the area and the building boom continued until the Depression years.
The city was also a cultural center, McGehee said.
The group of about 35 on the tour also viewed The Silk Stocking District, First Presbyterian Church (1854-1870), parts of the Talladega College campus, buildings on the campus of Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind and the circa 1908 home of Ed King on East Street South.
There was an optional outing July 17 to Cheaha State Park, where members of the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the park’s original buildings, including the large lodge and cabins of native stone and timber.
Part of the visit to Cheaha included taking in Talladega National Forest, with its close to 400,000 acres of mountains, forests and waterfalls.
“I had been to Talladega before, but I had not been there in more than 15 years,” said Tina Naremore- Jones, board president for the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Learning about Talladega through its built resources was a great way to learn about the history of the city,” she said.
“We enjoyed touring Talladega College, AIBD, the Ritz, Idlewild Plantation, the Silk Stocking District and meeting the people who are working so hard to make sure that the stories of these buildings and the people who created, lived, worked and learned in them are preserved for today and tomorrow,” she said. “Working with Antique Talladega and the Talladega Historic Preservation Commission was a lot of fun.”
“I had not visited the Talladega College campus in more than 30 years and was fascinated and encouraged to learn about the College’s plans for preserving its historic structures,” Hair said. “President Hawkins’ vision for the campus was impressive. The City of Talladega has so much potential for economic and residential growth if it capitalizes on its historic courthouse square, campuses and neighborhoods.”
“We are Alabama’s only statewide historic preservation organization available for membership,” Jones said.
Those interested in joining the organization may call 205-652-3497 or email email@example.com.
During the visit, City Manager Brian Muenger and Nancy Lutchendorf, chairperson for the Talladega Historic Commission, spoke to the group about the city’s involvement with Antique Talladega and The Ritz Theatre and the city’s economic development plan for the historic courthouse district.
McGehee shared the story of how Antique Talladega formed from a grassroots group to a non-profit organization and along with the city restored The Ritz.
Talladega resident Joe Power, a member of the Trust, gave an account of how the city formed, from its days as a Creek Indian area to its becoming a U.S. government territory after the Creeks were ousted.
Talladega County was founded in 1834, and through about 1844, there was a “real boom” of growth, he said.
The Civil War devastated the economy in the area, Power said, turning a once bustling community into something of a ghost town.
“The town was a mess until about 1885,” Power said. “But one person came along and made a difference.”
A 23-year-old mayor named William Skaggs became dedicated to the cause of turning the city around, Power said.
He cut out some of the rowdiness and saloons, he created jails and fines for breaking the law, put in sidewalks and basically cleaned up the city, he said.
Good times returned to Talladega, until World War I.
There was cotton and iron ore in the area and the town became a trading center.
Three railroads came through just after the Civil War, adding to the area’s appeal.
David Schneider, executive director for the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, said the group had an excellent outing to Talladega.
“It’s hard to pick a place that was the most interesting, but I really enjoyed seeing The Ritz and Idlewild,” he said.
“We had a pretty diverse day.”
Schneider said he wanted to extend his thanks to everyone who shared their homes for the visit.
“Other than driving by, I had not seen any of the interiors of the homes,” he said.
During the visit, Schneider said he heard lots of “enthusiastic praise for Talladega and its fine historic resources. Talladega really shines as one of the great historic places in Alabama.”