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Rescuing history

Garlan Gudger, co-owner of Southern Accents Architectural Antiques in Cullman. Photo by Lisa Jones

Garlan Gudger, co-owner of Southern Accents Architectural Antiques in Cullman, has built a national reputation in the architectural salvage business. He’s one of the curators of Southern Makers, an annual Alabama event that celebrates Southern creativity and innovation, which this year moves from Montgomery to Birmingham Aug 5-6. – Lenore Vickrey

How did your interest in salvaging pieces of old homes and buildings start?

My dad, Garlan Gudger, Sr. started this business in 1969, before I was even born, so this business is all I’ve ever known! As a young boy, I would roller skate through the store and dig through buckets of old door knobs. Having been raised around this business, I not only learned to love architectural relics but more importantly, I learned to appreciate them.

What’s the oldest piece of salvage material you’ve found?

Since Southern Accents only carries American architectural antiques, I rarely find anything that I can date earlier than the early 1700s. However, I do have a cast iron fireback that is dated 1678. It is the oldest American piece I have ever rescued. It is on display in our showroom and it is marked “not for sale!”

Why is it important to save these pieces of old structures?

Architectural antiques are part of our American history. Each time we lose a historic building, we lose part of our past. By saving architectural pieces – solid wood doors, mantels, lights, corbels, trim, wrought iron, salvaged wood and more – we can give these incredible pieces a chance at a second life. Not only does this help preserve a piece of our history, but it contributes to the sustainability of some of our natural resources. If not saved, many of these pieces would end up in a landfill. The craftsmanship seen in so many of the rescued pieces is a dying art and needs to be preserved for future generations.

Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?

Southern Accents has seen a tremendous amount of growth the last few years. We have our own wood shop where we produce quality restoration and custom work. Our salvaged wood business has grown and now encompasses two warehouses of 30,000 square feet. We’ve started taking on more commercial design and installation jobs and the past couple of years have expanded our business to include event staging. My goal for the next 10 years is to continue doing what I love: rescue, restore, protect and document architectural elements of historical significance.