Sunday, July 31, 2016

BUCKET LIST UPDATE No. 289: Walk Montgomery’s Civil Heritage Trail

Civil Heritage Trail bike rack marker.
There are few things that I enjoy doing more than taking a good walking tour, especially a good historical walking tour. I’ve taken these types of tours in many places and when I heard that the City of Montgomery, Alabama had established a walking tour called the “Civil Heritage Trail,” I put it on my “bucket list” right then and there. Last Saturday (July 23), I finally found time to take this tour (accompanied by my young son), and we had a good time checking out the many historical sites in downtown Montgomery.

Somewhere or other, months ago, we’d picked up a “Civil Heritage Trail” pamphlet, so we knew that most of the 12 sites on the tour involved Montgomery’s rich Civil War and Civil Rights Movement history. We also knew, thanks to the pamphlet, that the tour started at the old Union Station, located on the banks of the Alabama River in downtown Montgomery. We parked nearby, went inside and looked around for a few minutes before officially staring the tour.

Following the tour was easy because each stop was marked with a distinctive, blue Civil Heritage Trail bike rack for individuals who opt to take the tour on bikes rather than on foot. Beginning at Union Station, we took steps and then a long, dark tunnel to Riverfront Park, where we checked out all of the historical markers and the Harriott II riverboat, which was docked there. Despite the heat, more than a few people were milling around the park, exercising, talking with friends and otherwise enjoying the scenic beauty of the old river.

From there, we strolled up Commerce Street to the Court Square Fountain and then veered over to the Rosa L. Parks Library & Museum and the Freedom Rides Museum off South Court Street. We then headed up South Perry Street and onto Dexter Avenue, the wide thoroughfare that leads right up to the front of the State Capitol Building. On the way there, we passed the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and a wide variety of historical markers.

We then took in the grounds at the capitol building before going into the Alabama Department of Archives & History and the Museum of Alabama to soak up some of their air conditioning. My son and I were literally soaked in sweat from our walk, but 30 minutes in the state archives building did wonders for us. My son seemed to have an especially good time in the Hands-On Gallery & Grandma’s Attic area upstairs.

For me, the highlight of the trail was next door at the First White House of the Confederacy. I’d been there once before, when I was in the fifth grade, that is, 29 years ago, and I mistakenly thought you had to pay to get in. To my pleasant surprise, admission is free, and we roamed all over Jefferson Davis’ old house for nearly 45 minutes.

From there, the tour took us past the Civil Rights Memorial & Center and then all the way down South McDonough Street. Before reaching the next stop on the tour, we found a gas station, went inside, bought some refreshments and enjoyed them at a shaded picnic table outside. The weather was hot, and this point in the tour was a good one to take a short break.

A few more blocks up South McDonough Street took us past the Old Lucas Tavern and then past Old Alabama Town, a collection of over 40 authentically restored 19th and early 20th century buildings located near the downtown area. The last leg of the trail took us back toward our starting point and led us past St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Montgomery Biscuits Stadium. A short walk past that took us back to Union Station, the trail’s starting point, and the area where we initially parked. In all, the trail covers about 2-1/2 miles, but it seems a lot farther.

My son and I both enjoyed this walking tour, and I found it a good way to learn a lot about Montgomery’s history in a short amount of time. I once lived in Montgomery for about a year, and this tour showed me some things that I didn’t realize about Montgomery. With that said, if I had to do it all over again, I’d wait to do it in cooler weather, so I could enjoy the trail without having to worry about sweating down in the oppressive heat.

In the end, how many of you have walked the entire length of Montgomery’s Civil Heritage Trail? What did you think about it? What other historical walking trails of this type would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

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