Pope's Tavern Museum

Pope's Tavern Museum, located in downtown Florence, Lauderdale County, preserves and interprets the site of a historic inn and stagecoach stop. Several structures have sat at the location, with the present structure having been built sometime in first half of the nineteenth century. It has served as an inn, a private residence, and since the 1960s, a museum owned by the city of Florence. The museum's collections focus on the history of Florence, especially its founding and the role Florence played in the Civil War. The museum hosts its annual Frontier Days in June.

Pope's Tavern Museum The museum's site on Hermitage Drive has been a stopping point for travelers stretching back to Alabama's territorial period. Tradition holds that Scottish immigrant Christopher Cheatham built the first structure there as an inn and stagecoach stop sometime in the 1810s at the request of political leaders LeRoy Pope, a founder of Huntsville, and Thomas Bibb, who would become the state's second governor. At that time, the region was sparsely settled and still under the control of the Cherokees and the Chickasaws. By 1817, however, these tribes had been pressured by the federal government into ceding most of their lands to the United States. The following year, the Cypress Land Company conducted its first land sale in what would become Florence. The stagecoach stop likely saw steady traffic during this time, as newcomers poured into the area thanks in part to the construction of Andrew Jackson's Military Road (1816-1820), which ran past the inn on its route from Nashville to New Orleans. Cheatham went on to have a successful career in northwest Alabama, including overseeing the construction of the Foster Home (now Rogers Hall on the campus of the University of North Alabama) and running a ferry across the river from the Lauderdale County community of Smithsonia.

Archeological evidence suggests that the first building burned at some point, and while no exact date of construction is known for the current building, construction of the one-and-a-half-story, eight-room, Federal-style structure began sometime in the 1830s or 1840s. Builders used bricks made on site to construct the double-thickness outside walls, which helped keep the home cool during the hot Alabama summers. The roof stretching over the veranda, which runs along the full length of the front, is supported by Doric columns made of solid blue poplar.

Tavern Room, Pope's Tavern Museum The building passed through a number of owners in the years leading up to the Civil War, including physician William C. Cross, merchant J. C. Gookin, and Robert Patton, who served as governor of Alabama from 1865 to 1857. After the war broke out, Florence changed hands between Union and Confederate forces more than 40 times but did not experience a major battle within its borders. There were, however, several small skirmishes in Florence and larger conflicts took place nearby, resulting in significant numbers of wounded soldiers. Both the Union and the Confederacy used local buildings, including the building that would become Pope's Tavern, as hospitals. The exact number of men treated in the building is unknown, but tradition holds that men wounded during skirmishes in town and during conflicts at the Elk River and on the north bank of Tennessee River received treatment at the site.

Forks of Cypress Desk After the war ended in 1865, Josiah Patterson, a prominent local attorney, purchased the home. In 1872, the house became the property of Edward M. Irvine, and in 1874, Felix Grundy Lambeth purchased it. He served as a clerk in both the Lauderdale County probate judge's office and the post office and eventually became postmaster general. The house remained in the Lambeth family until the Florence Chamber of Commerce purchased the building in 1965, after the death of Daniel Lambeth. The Chamber of Commerce then donated it to the city. After restoration work finished in 1968, the city then turned the home into a museum. The site underwent additional rehabilitation work in 1988 and 2014-2015. The city named the refurbished facility Pope's Tavern (after LeRoy Pope), though no evidence suggests that the original inn and stagecoach stop went by this name.

James Jackson Portrait Today, Pope's Tavern is part of the Florence' municipal museum system, which also includes the W. C. Handy Home and Museum, the Indian Mound and Museum, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Rosenbaum House Museum, and the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts. The museum sees between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors a year. The site is staffed by one curator and two part-time tour guides. Pope's Tavern's exhibits teach visitors about a range of subjects, including the founding of the city, domestic life in Florence, and the city's role in the Civil War. The collection includes furnishings from the now defunct Susan K. Vaughn Museum, which was located on the ground floor of Rogers Hall on the campus of the University of North Alabama until 1968. Other objects and images tell the history of Forks of Cypress, the home of one of Florence's founders, James Jackson. Struck by lightning in 1966, the mansion burned almost completely. Today, only its brick Ionic columns, from a colonnade that wrapped around the entire home, remain. Museum exhibits tell the story of Jackson's involvement in the founding of Florence and highlight his important role in shaping the bloodlines of the modern American racehorse. The museum also possesses a Kennedy Longrifle, manufactured in Green Hill, Lauderdale County, sometime before 1838. The rifle represents an important shift in gun manufacturing toward greater accuracy over a longer range. The museum also has a collection of Civil War-era weapons, uniforms, flags, and ammunition, including the flag carried by Charles Daniel Stewart with the Fourth Alabama Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Bull Run.

Slavery in the Shoals Exhibit In 2021, a team of archaeologists led by the Office of Archaeological Research at the University of Alabama and funded by the Alabama Historical Commission uncovered an additional trove of artifacts that will allow researchers to further interpret daily life at the tavern. That October, the museum opened its "Slavery in the Shoals" exhibit, which focuses on first-hand accounts of slavery in the region. The first such exhibit in north Alabama, it was created with community input to build support and used first-person accounts of life during slavery collected by the federal Works Progress Administration, Census information, newspaper accounts, and narratives written by enslaved people to create the exhibit. Located in an adjacent building, the exhibit's centerpiece is a textile art map commissioned from artist and architect Valerie S. Goodwin, whose ancestors had been enslaved in nearby Tuscumbia. The exhibit received the American Association of State and Local History's Award of Excellence in 2022. The building was constructed in 1938 and had been used as a radio and television repair shop for nearly 50 years prior to being rehabilitated by the city of Florence.

Further Reading

  • McDonald, William Lindsey. A Walk through the Past. Florence, Ala.: Bluewater Publications, 1997.

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