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Day 201: Learn about black history in Thomas County

3 Aug

Credit: Jack Hadley Black History Museum

If you’re like me and not from the Deep South, then you might find it as strange as I do that museums around here tend to politely sidestep the area’s dark and disturbing history with slavery and mistreatment of African-Americans. Sadly, the best place to learn about this kind of history is in museums dedicated specifically just to black history. In Thomas County, just across the Georgia state line, there is a wonderful, quirky museum called the Jack Hadley Black History Museum. It started as one man’s personal collection and blossomed into a full-blown museum. The creator, Jack Hadley, is a talkative military veteran that will show you around the museum himself. Unlike the sparse, minimalist collections you might find at, say, the Smithsonian, Hadley’s collection still has the look of a crowded attic or garage. His focus is on black history in Thomas County. He has loads of old photos and memorabilia of the accomplishments of local African-Americans. But he doesn’t neglect black history in general, and notes some of the major accomplishments of African-Americans nationwide. One of the more memorable and shocking items in the museum was a pair of old, rusted chains used to contain slaves. I liked that the Jack Hadley Black History Museum confronted that issue head on rather than hiding from it. At $5 per person, it’s a bargain and I guarantee you will walk away having learned something new and hopefully met the delightful Hadley to boot.

Address: 214 Alexander Street (Thomasville, Georgia)

Day 183: Tour the historic grounds of Pebble Hill Plantation

3 Jul

The grounds of Pebble Hill Plantation, with expansive green lawns, rainbow-colored gardens, grazing horses, neatly manicured shrubs and low-slung Spanish moss, are so beautiful you can easily forget it was once a plantation that owned slaves. The curators of Pebble Hill, which is now a large museum, like to gloss over that part of Pebble Hill’s history. It was built sometime in the mid-1800s and, given what we know about Southern farms, surely had slaves. After the Civil War, and a series of different owners, Pebble Hill employed many of the descendants of the former slaves. (I know this not so much from the Pebble Hill museum, but from the Jack Hadley African American History Museum in Thomasville.) One reason the slave bit is not mentioned very often at Pebble Hill is because it is restored closer to the early 20th century version of Pebble Hill, which includes a lovely white-column mansion that you can tour for $15. The owner at that time was Kate Ireland, and then her daughter Pansy, who died in 1978. Both are described as horse and dog lovers, hence the abundant references to those animals throughout the house and lawns. The house is lovely to tour, with loads of interesting details about life of the well-to-do in the early 20th century. A tour of the grounds, which costs $5, is equally enchanting, and includes a peek at some of the vintage vehicles Pansy (or more likely, her driver) drove around town. It is said that a good many successful, famous people were guests at Pebble Hill, including former President Jimmy Carter. Pebble Hill has become a popular spot for weddings, which is completely understandable given the breathtaking views of magnolias and dripping Spanish moss. There is something about Pebble Hill that appeals to all of our fantasies about Southern charm and hospitality. It is definitely worth a visit and you will learn a great deal about not just that plantation, but a good snapshot of the area’s history. I only wish they had a bit more information about what the plantation was like during the slave years.

Address: 1251 U.S. Highway 319

Day 165: Tour the Tallahassee Museum

14 Jun

Longtime locals still call it the “Junior” museum even though it has been known for years as the Tallahassee Museum. For months, readers of this blog have implored me to try the museum, and I was a little skeptical it wouldn’t live up to the high expectations. Thankfully, it did. The museum isn’t very traditional. Most museums offer indoor exhibits but Tallahassee Museum is entirely outdoors. They have a living history museum in the form of an old home, plantation, church, barn and commissary from the 1800s. Each tells a story of what it was like to live during that time, with faded quilts, tiny rooms, and even an old working stove tended by a knowledge guide who gave us homemade biscuits and butter. The other half of the museum functions more like a zoo. A leafy trail takes you through the outdoor homes of owls, eagles, a black bear, panthers, bobcats, wolves and an alligator. (I probably missed a few animals, too). The gift shop is a pretty good place to stock up on treats for kids and they have the best supply of stuffed animals I have ever seen. (Cougars, squirrels, alligators, you name it). I highly recommend Tallahassee Museum as a great stop for all ages. It costs $9 for adults and $6 for kids older than four.

Address:3945 Museum Drive

Day 144: Visit the black archives museum

25 May

Just steps from the Capitol is the Florida A&M University black archives museum. It is actually an extension of a much larger museum on the Florida A&M University campus. This smaller portion of the archives sits in the old Union Bank building which dates back to the 1830s. The building was originally located on Adams Street and was relocated to Apalachee Parkway to save it from demolition. The building itself is tiny, so the extension of the FAMU archives museum isn’t one you can lose yourself in for hours. It contains some basic information about black history and slavery, with a special emphasis on Florida history. The museum has a few old relics that serve as good reminders for how far this country has come, such as the metal chains and whips used on slaves. I also learned quite a bit about the roles of African-Americans in the Civil War and about the history of the controversial history of the Union Bank building. The museum itself is free, though donations are encouraged.

Address: Near the intersection of Apalachee Parkway and Monroe Street

Day 130: Stroll through the art gallery at Le Moyne

10 May

Visiting the LeMoyne Center for Visual Arts now is a bit different than it was a few years ago. The art museum has been hit very hard by the economic recession. It has forced the museum to downsize, selling off one of the historic homes it used to display art and sell off some of its collection to pay off debt. The new LeMoyne is much trimmer. It’s still located in a downtown historic home and is still free (though donations are encouraged and very much appreciated). When I attended, the exhibit featured art all about cats. There were dozens of paintings that featured cats and since I’m a bona fide Crazy Cat Lady I totally dug it. I wouldn’t say the LeMoyne is child-friendly, though they do offer summer camps and great activities for kids. LeMoyne also offers art classes year-round. Strolling through LeMoyne, though, I mostly felt pity for the museum and a desire to restore it to back to its glory days. Support LeMoyne by visiting on your lunch hour or on a Saturday afternoon and for pete’s sake make a donation!

Address: 125 North Gadsden Street

Day 116: Visit the Riley House Museum

26 Apr

The Riley House is the African-American version of the Knott House. The 1890-built house sits in downtwon Tallahassee across from the Republican Party headquarters. It was the home of John Riley, a prominent Tallahassee resident who was born into slavery and ended up becoming principal of what is now Lincoln High. At the time, his home was in the black middle-class neighborhood of Smokey Hollow. Riley devoted his life to making sure other African-Americans in the city received an education. The home itself is filled with antiques and mementos about Riley’s life, with a temporary exhibit on African-Americans in the Civil War, for instance. I really loved this museum in part because it appealed to my love of underdogs. I get the sense that the Riley House doesn’t get many visitors as the similar Knott House. The museum is free, though of course they welcome donations. Their hours are Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Address: 419 East Jefferson

Day 94: Visit the Tallahassee Automobile Museum

4 Apr

I’m the furthest thing from a car enthusiast, but I was blown away by the goodies inside the Tallahassee Automobile Museum. The museum houses the collection of Florida State University graduate DeVoe Moore, and is home to dozens of beautiful, shiny restored cars from Ford’s Model T all the way up to more modern, sexy sport cars. Walking through the museum’s mirrored showroom is like stepping back in time, with each car reminiscent of the era it came from. One of his most amazing pieces is the 1894 Duryea. It looks like a crumbling wooden carriage with an engine attached. This was the first gas-powered vehicle ever made and according to the museum, the Smithsonian has the only other 1894 Duryea, valued at more than $1 million. I was duly impressed, too, by Moore’s collection of Batmobiles. He has several Batmobiles that were used in filming some of the actual Batman movies. If you are a car enthusiast, you could spend hours in there, drooling over the exposed engines and gleaming hoods of his cars. He also collects and restores pianos, sports memorabilia, pistols, Swiss army knives, Roy Rogers comics, toy cars and more. I was told that even though it is a museum, DeVoe could be persuaded to part with some of his treasures – for a price. The museum is a bit pricey. It is $16 for adults, or $13.50 for two or more, and $7.50 for kids. They also have student discounts.

Address: 6800 Mahan Drive