Old Depot Museum The Old Depot Museum in Selma, Dallas County, is an interpretive museum that focuses on the history of Selma, of Dallas County, and of the Black Belt region of Alabama. Founded in 1981 in the former Louisville & Nashville Railroad Depot, the museum houses artifacts and memorabilia from Native American prehistory, dating back some 9,000 years, through the American Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The building in which the museum is housed is a contributing property to the “Water Avenue Historic District,” which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The property on which the Old Depot Museum stands originally housed the Selma Ordnance and Naval Foundry that was established during the American Civil War to supply armaments and other war materiel to the Confederate States Army and Navy. In April 1865 it was destroyed by Union troops during the Battle of Selma. In 1891, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) constructed a passenger rail depot on the site. The two-story red brick building has one-story wings on each side and is constructed in the Romanesque Revival style with a hipped roof and a stone foundation. The building was used as a railroad depot until the early 1970s after the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad purchased the L&N Railroad in 1971 and passenger service was discontinued. In April 1981, the Selma/Dallas County Museum of History and Archives was officially incorporated and the title “Old Depot Museum” was adopted by the new museum’s board of directors to identify its location in the old train depot. The first president of the museum was local resident Richard S. Bean, and Suzanne Cansler served as its first curator. The first major exhibit of the Old Depot Museum was a series of displays of the history of Dallas County’s African American community.
The Old Depot Museum’s artifact collection spans thousands of years of area history. Notable artifacts include the original land grant from Pres. James Monroe that was issued to the Selma Town and Land Company, a dish used to serve the Marquis de Lafayette in Cahaba, a desk belonging to Alabama’s 39th governor, Benjamin Meek Miller, and a sweater worn by Martin Luther King Jr. Also displayed are silver and china used by politician William Rufus King while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to France. The museum also features items commemorating the life of freedman Benjamin Sterling Turner, who was the first congressman to represent Selma during Reconstruction. Outside of the Old Depot Museum are several exhibits such as antique railcars, a Victorian Firehouse where visitors can view Selma’s first fire bell, a horse-drawn steam-powered fire pump, and an American LaFrance fire truck. The grounds also house a lathe similar to the one that sits outside Auburn University‘s Samford Hall and is said to have been manufactured in Selma. They were used in Selma to manufacture cannons used by the Confederacy.
In the 2010s, the museum and its collections were reorganized to more thoroughly reflect Selma’s connection to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This brought the museum into alignment with other local attractions connected to the movement, including the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, the National Park Service’s Selma Interpretative Center, the establishment of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, and the inclusion of Selma on the United States Civil Rights Trail. The locus for this new orientation of the museum is the Civil Rights Room, which was the “colored waiting room” of the former L&N Railroad Depot. The most trafficked part of the museum, the Civil Rights Room includes notable artifacts such as handwritten bills of sale for enslaved children, murals from the Works Progress Administration project known as the “Dallas County Colored Community Center,” and possessions of Martin Luther King Jr. It also displays the hospital log recording the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose murder sparked the Selma to Montgomery marches, arrest receipts for African American protestors in the city, and many other artifacts related to the city’s role in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. An archive reference room is available for researchers.
The museum is located at 4 Martin Luther King Street. It is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. until to 4:00 p.m. and Saturday by appointment. The Old Depot Museum is one of only 12 railroad depots in the Southeast designated by the magazine Southern Living to be of architectural and historical importance and is one of the stops on the annual Historic Selma Pilgrimage tour. Nearby are the First Baptist Church of Selma, the Ancient Africa, Enslavement, and Civil War Museum, Brown Chapel AME Church, the Vaughan-Smitherman Museum, and Sturdivant Hall Museum.