Old Alabama Town Tour The Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery (LFM) is a nonprofit preservation organization based in Montgomery, Montgomery County; it is the administrative arm of Old Alabama Town historical park. Chartered in 1968, it was established to foster and implement the preservation of the region’s architecture, history, and culture. Throughout its history, Landmarks Foundation has identified significant at-risk historic properties, raised public awareness of their significance, and worked to preserve them. The organization has been instrumental in preserving approximately 60 historic properties, with many, including those at Old Alabama Town, being turned into house museums for interpreting the history and culture of a community and generating revenue from tourism. Many of these restored structures are also used as commercial, office, and meeting spaces. The foundation is governed by a five-member board of directors, an advisory board, an executive board, and functions through the work of approximately 15 staff members, restoration carpenters, preservationists, researchers, and architectural historians.
The impetus for the creation of the LFM was the passage of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, the federal legislation intended to preserve historic and archaeological sites in the United States. The act created the National Register of Historic Places and the State Historic Preservation Office to coordinate preservation efforts and nominate properties in U.S. states and territories and established the National Historic Landmarks nomination system for appropriate sites. In Montgomery, Landmarks Foundation was then instrumental in advocating for a city ordinance that created a process to officially recognize architecturally and historically significant structures. In addition, the ordinance established an architectural review board that works to protect a structure’s architectural integrity and oversees a process to designate large areas of historic structures, residential and commercial, as historic districts.
Landmarks Foundation has worked in partnership with the city of Montgomery to create and manage Old Alabama Town, a six-block area located in downtown Montgomery that now includes more than 50 historic structures. The first preservation effort of this collaboration was in 1968 with the acquisition and restoration of the Ordeman-Shaw House, an 1850s Italianate townhouse, outbuildings, and grounds that formed the cornerstone property for Old Alabama Town. With the guidance of experts, including local businessman James Loeb, Alabama Department of Archives and History director Milo Howard, and historian Mills Thornton, the house and grounds were restored and opened to the public in 1971. Notably, Marvin Schwartz, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, advised on the furnishings for the Ordeman-Shaw House to allow for an authentic recreation of its 1850s interior.
Union Station, Montgomery Landmarks Foundation has also been actively engaged in historic preservation around Montgomery by acquiring and overseeing the restoration of many significant historic structures. One of the most significant preservation efforts it has spearheaded was the restoration of Montgomery’s Union Railway Station, which was built in 1898 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The train shed is significant as a good example of the complex engineering and construction of its time. The adjacent Union Station was designed for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and was renovated in 1984 by a private developer with a $100,000 loan from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that was then repaid through fundraising. The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce operates its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau in the restored train station lobby. The foundation also assisted with the restoration of several large antebellum properties such as Knox Hall, which was renovated by a private developer, and the Murphy House, now home to the Montgomery Water Works and Sewer Board. Other buildings restored through Landmarks’s efforts include the Greil Mansion, Cody House, and Confederate Post Office, which now serve as commercial office spaces, and the Teague House, which houses the Alabama Historical Commission, an agency that promotes historic preservation statewide.
The organization promotes and supports educational activities at Old Alabama Town that include assorted themed tours with trained interpreters and role players as well as other advanced learning experiences scheduled through the Old Alabama Town Educational Department. It also hosts other educational opportunities such as lectures, house tours, and exhibit openings. An ongoing annual house tour series focuses on Montgomery’s rich and diverse architectural heritage, and several of the historic structures are available for special event rentals such as weddings, receptions, and conference meetings. The Old Alabama Town Reception Center serves as a welcome center with a museum store. The Exhibit Hall at the center has changing exhibitions about Montgomery, its history, and other cultural interests.
Mary Ann Neeley Throughout the year, Landmarks Foundation also organizes a variety of events in Montgomery, like the Cultural Crossroads symposium early in the year that focuses on the development of Alabama and the Alabama Decorative Arts Symposium that showcases lectures on various aspects of the decorative arts in the state. It also sponsors tours of Montgomery’s Oakwood Cemetery and historic Lower Commerce Street, which were typically led by Montgomery historian Mary Ann Neeley in the spring and fall until her death in 2018. In addition, Old Alabama Town hosts a scholarly lecture series focusing on many facets of Alabama’s history and development as well as the Alabama Book Festival in April. The Historic Neighborhoods Coalition coordinates Montgomery’s historic residential neighborhoods and hosts informational sessions to people in local historic districts who live in older houses. Landmarks also operates Rescued Relics, a salvage warehouse that sells used architectural elements and materials from a variety of building styles and time periods to people who are renovating historic homes and businesses. Proceeds generated from the sales of these recycled salvage items support the ongoing renovation and maintenance of Old Alabama Town’s historic structures.
For almost five decades, Landmarks Foundation has championed the historic preservation movement in Montgomery as a way to preserve cultural resources and as an economic driver. The organization firmly believes that local restoration efforts produce jobs and new businesses, encourage heritage tourism, increase property values, and enhance the quality of life in the community.
Neeley, Mary Ann. Montgomery in the 20th Century: Tradition & Change, 1880-2000. Montgomery, Ala.: Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery, 2012.
———. Old Alabama Town, An Illustrated Guide. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.