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Rural wedding venues growing in appeal
By Lori M. Quiller
Could the days of black-tie weddings be numbered? Probably not, but the number of weddings hosted in more casual, rustic settings are certainly on the rise in Alabama.
According to TheKnot.com, an online wedding resource, ranch or farm-style weddings have been on the rise since 2012. Nuptials in the country can provide a rustic and memorable event for the bridal party and their family and friends, and Alabama has plenty of spaces to host your special day with a country flair.
Lisa Woodham, owner of Woodham Farms in Dothan, Ala., agreed that rural weddings have become much more popular in recent years and is a trend that’s here to stay.
“Oh, absolutely! It’s more than just country chic, I think. These types of wedding have a certain type of unmistakable charm and sweetness about them. We want people who come here to feel special.”
Newlywed Christina Clark Okarmus said she and her husband chose a Lee County farm for their outdoor wedding in September 2017 for several reasons, but it was the laid back atmosphere that sealed the deal.
“It was a perfect fit for us,” Okarmus says. “We visited a couple of other places in the city, but they just didn’t seem to be the right fit. The farm was far more laid back, and that’s more our style. The farm had housing for our family to stay all week and have plenty of space, and there was a playground for the kids, too. All these things fit into our budget nicely, and it just felt like the right spot for us.”
All kinds of venues
Alabama has a variety of locations for couples looking for the perfect rural wedding spot.
The Hitching Post Farms is 30 acres of land in Eclectic, Ala., owned by Diane and Robert Crosby. While it may not have started off as the couple’s dream to host weddings on the property, now it’s truly a labor of love.
“A lot of our clients want that outside, rustic look for their wedding,” Diane Crosby says. “They want their wedding to be different and special. We work very hard to make that happen for them. Every wedding is always something special, not just for the couple, but for us, too. I feel like it’s my responsibility to fulfill these dreams of these brides who come here and have been planning their weddings their entire lives. It’s an honor to help fulfill those dreams for them.”
However, The Hitching Post Farms was almost lost before it began. The Crosbys had rented the property for a time before eventually purchasing it for themselves. Their dream was to build their perfect home, but they decided to build a barn instead to use for family camping events. Then tragedy struck.
“When the tornadoes came through in 2011, it took out our home. So we started building on to the property to what we have now. It took 18 months to rebuild. Out of that destruction we were able to make something very special and beautiful that we can share with others,” she says.
For couples looking for an all-inclusive, but still farm-style location, Stone Bridge Farms in Cullman, Ala., has been hosting weddings since 2010 and does more than 80 each year. It’s an old family tradition that owner Ron Foust has been working to bring back to life.
As a young boy, Foust remembers his grandfather, a minister for more than 50 years in Cullman County, performing marriages, baptisms and other ceremonies on the family property. Slowly over the years, parcels of the family land were sold. Foust began buying it back until he could restore the family’s 75-acre estate so he could carry on his family’s tradition of hosting weddings on the property.
According to event coordinator Janet Fortner, Stone Bridge Farms handles catering and flowers, as well as photography, for their clients. There’s even a baker on staff, although it’s not mandatory to use the staff baker.
“Sometimes it’s just easier to do everything at one place. We would like the event to be a one-stop-shop so it’s less stressful for our clients,” Fortner says. “We have a design team meeting with our brides on day one, [so they can] get to know them from three to four months out from the wedding. Then we’re there with them to help get them down the aisle as stress-free as possible. Our goal is to make each event as stress-less as possible.”
Stone Bridge Farms, a customer of Cullman EC, offers lodging with five cabins and three homes on property for rent to out-of-town guests. The location doesn’t host only weddings, but also corporate retreats, meetings, birthday parties, showers and other events.
Beyond the farm
If the rustic charm of a barn or farmland isn’t quite what you’re looking for, did you know there’s a vineyard in North Alabama at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains?
Wills Creek Vineyards and Winery in Attalla, Ala., is a working vineyard — and not what you might expect from an outdoor wedding venue.
“When I think of Napa Valley and I see pictures of weddings in Napa, I’m reminded of our wedding space next to our vineyards where it’s lush and green — it’s just such a different setting than a rural barn setting,” says owner Janie Coppey. “Our location is special because you can see the Appalachian foothills that run on the other side of the road, and depending on the focal point of the photographer, some of those mountains will be in your photos. In the spring, summer and fall, everything is so colorful and makes a beautiful setting for a wedding.”
Wills Creek Vineyards and Winery and the event space is two miles away from the six-acre vineyard. The vineyard is a popular destination for bridal showers, brunches, proms, class reunions and other events, thanks to the location’s covered event space. With an on-site coordinator to help pull details together, Coppey says the goal is always to take as much stress off the client as possible.
“Brides, grooms and their families have enough stress, so we want to take as much of that off them to help make their day as special and memorable as possible. We want them to enjoy their day, have beautiful memories, and enjoy the vineyard while they’re here,” Coppey says.
Tips for finding a rural wedding space
Ask questions. If you’re on a budget and using an outdoor space, you should know up front if there are set-up and cleaning fees, what decorations are provided, and whether it’s mandatory to use the venue’s caterer and florist. Have an idea of how many guests plan to attend. Your quote will be based on this number. Do your research. It’s fine if you haven’t settled on your wedding style when you meet with your venue representative, but your meeting will go much better if you have some ideas. The venue will most likely have an event planner on staff to help you along in the process.
By Emmett Burnett
Songs of Alabama have enriched lives since the state was a state of mind. But our songs in the heart, notes in the head, and lyrics in memory are more than meets the ear. How many tunes about the Heart of Dixie can you name? (And by the way, “Heart of Dixie” is the title of the 2013 debut single of country singer Danielle Bradbery – though it isn’t actually about Alabama.)
Nashville recording artist Allison Moorer explains the popularity of Alabama namesake songs: “The word sings well. It flows,” she instructs and offers proof. “Try it. Say ‘Alaaaa Bamaaaa.’ See? It flows. You can’t do that with Rhode Island.”
Raised in Washington County, the younger sister of country star Shelby Lynne is well qualified to speak of flowing words. Allison has written over 200 songs, released 7 albums and 11 singles, including “Alabama Song.”
From her debut album of the same name, the lyrics speak of home “where the trees grow tall and green…where the skies shine bright and blue…if you’re going, I’m going with you.”
“I wrote it 20 years ago, a time when I was away from home,” she recalls. “I felt a little marooned and was thinking how special it is returning to the Deep South.”
It came from outer space
We all love “Stars Fell on Alabama,” but beware. It has a dark side. The tale of starry-eyed sweethearts was inspired by a night of terror.
On Nov. 12, 1833, the greatest meteor sighting in recorded history ignited southern skies like a nuclear bomb. There were estimates of 200,000 shooting stars per hour. And on a clear moonless night, Alabama was Ground Zero.
“In 1833 there was no news and no warnings,” notes Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “Terrified, many thought it was the End Times.”
Frightened masses shivered under wagons and in shelters – impromptu shields from heaven’s wrath. A horrified cotton planter noted, “My God, the world is on fire.”
In 1934, Carl Carmer wrote a book of essays titled “Stars Fell on Alabama,” acknowledging 1833’s spectacle. Inspired by the book, music composer Frank Perkins and lyricist Mitchell Parish realized the potential for a song of the same name.
But how does one create music based on a stellar holocaust? Easy: Love conquers all, even flying space rocks. Hence the lyrics:
“We lived our little drama
We kissed in a field of white
And Stars Fell On
Alabama Last night…”
“Little drama,” perhaps the biggest understatement in music history, alludes to the fear-frozen night, when stars fell on Alabama.
Turn it up
The words “Sweet Home Alabama” have been embossed on automobile tags, served as an unofficial motto, and been licensed by the State Department of Tourism. And the Lynyrd Skynyrd song that made it popular? Wow.
“It has been used in various facets, from political campaigns to countless movies,” says Rachel Morris, archivist and coordinator at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University. “It is perhaps the most recognized song about Alabama.”
Ironically, “Sweet Home Alabama” was written by two Floridians and a Californian, and recorded in Georgia. It is basically a protest song of a protest song.
“Lynyrd Skynyrd responded to Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama,’ which dealt with racism and slavery in the American South,” notes Alabama Tourism Department publications director Rick Harmon. But there was never a feud between the band and the artist.
The lyrics cover a broad range of mid-1970s issues, including Watergate, Gov. George Wallace, and prevailing music trends.
Many ponder the song’s famous first words, “turn it up.” Hidden message? Secret code? Buried treasure map? After years of research, the true meaning of “turn it up” is revealed: Turn it up means turn it up.
During recording, lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant asked someone to increase the volume in his headphones. Unaware the microphone was live, Van Zant’s request was immortalized.
That old college try
You don’t know Ethelred Lundy Sykes. But if you’ve ever watched an Alabama football game, you know his work.
In the early 1920s, the Birmingham native competed for a University of Alabama scholarship and lost. But Ethelred enrolled anyway, becoming active in student life and continuing his unwavering passion for contests.
In 1926 he submitted an entry in the school’s Rammer-Jammer humor magazine’s quest for best new battle march. Sykes’ musical offering was a little ditty he called, “Yea Alabama!”
Perhaps you’ve heard it: “Yea Alabama! Drown ‘em Tide! Every Bama Man’s Behind You, Hit your stride.” Yep, Ethelred wrote that, and won $50.
“Yea Alabama!” became the University of Alabama fight song, typically sung by a choir of 150,000 at the top of their collective lungs at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The late Ethelred Lundy Sykes never wrote another song, opting instead to join the military, where he served in the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, and retired as a brigadier general.
The ghost who sang “Your Cheating Heart”
Music is often described as hauntingly beautiful, but “Midnight in Montgomery” is beautifully haunted.
With close to 3 million YouTube hits, the video rivals the song in popularity. Lyrics unfold a story at Hank Williams’ Oakwood Annex Cemetery gravesite. Singer Alan Jackson, en route to a gig, steps off a Montgomery bus to pay respects to country music’s king.
But the late Hank Williams is no longer late. Jackson sees a ghost.
“I don’t know if the video and song increased visits to Williams’ burial site,” says Oakwood’s spokesman, Phillip Taunton. “People have visited the grave almost daily since Williams died (Jan. 1, 1953).” They often leave mementos like flowers, guitar picks, and bottles of beer. Which perhaps Hank Williams appreciates, because as Alan Jackson croons, “Oh Hank’s always singing there.”
Alabama, our official song
In the mid-1860s, Tuscaloosa’s Julia S. Tutwiler, educator, humanitarian, and women’s rights advocate, completed her European studies and returned to Alabama. The state of the state left her heartbroken.
Tutwiler felt we could do better. Documents provided by Courtney Pinkard, reference archivist at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, noted Tutwiler’s thoughts: “Never for a moment doubt the outcome of struggle if maintained with courage and devotion to principle.”
Around 1868, she wrote a poem, which later became “Alabama,” a rallying cry set to music by Birmingham composer and organist Edna Cockel-Gussen in 1917. It became our official song by a vote of the Legislature on March 9, 1931.
Several attempts have been made to replace it. “It has an elementary school auditorium assembly feel to it, but you aren’t going to please everyone,” says Kevin Nutt, folk life archivist at the Archives. “’Sweet Home Alabama’ was floated as a replacement. Who can sing that?”
For now, Tutwiler’s classic rules. Each stanza ends with “Alabama, Alabama, We will aye be true to thee!” May it be said by us all, in music, lyrics, and song.
By Marilyn Jones
Alabama may not be synonymous with fine art, but our museums are home to some truly world-class collections and pieces. You can appreciate their beauty or perhaps their emotional power; some offer glimpses into our history, telling us about our culture and where we came from. Whatever the purpose, you can make new discoveries with a short drive to one of Alabama’s fine art museums.
Birmingham Museum of Art
The museum has an impressive collection of more than 27,000 objects representing cultures from around the world including Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian and Native American art. The museum also houses the largest collection of Wedgwood ceramics in North America, and its holdings of Asian art are the most extensive in the Southeast.
Katelyn Crawford, The William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art, says one of her favorite exhibits in the American galleries is Magic City Realism: Richard Coe’s Birmingham, an exhibition featuring detailed etchings of Birmingham during The Great Depression.
“In celebrating industrial Birmingham, Coe joined fellow Alabama artists in creating a body of American scene images of the South,” says Crawford.
Admission is free; artsbma.org, (205) 254-2565.
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University
“We value all artwork in our collection, not because of their individual monetary value, but the value in what the piece can teach us about the time and culture in which it was made,” says Museum Director Marilyn Laufer.
“Our Advancing American Art collection … (was) acquired by the university in 1948. Looking at those pieces, we get a real sense of the issues and ideas that concerned Americans during that World War II period,” says Laufer. “It is amazing to see how many of those concerns are still prevalent today.”
The university often hosts special exhibitions. Audubon’s Last Wilderness Journey: The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America is currently on view with a comparison exhibition on the seldom reproduced four-footed mammals.
“We’ve exhibited Rubens and Rembrandt, prints by Edvard Munch and sculptures by August Rodin. In our own collection, we have works by such renowned artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Rufino Tamayo and Jacob Lawrence,” says Laufer, reminding everyone that each “visit to the museum will provide a new discovery.”
Admission is free; jcsm.auburn.edu.
Mobile Museum of Fine Art
“Like most art museums, we view our collection less in terms of monetary value and more in terms of its place in the history of
art,” says Museum Director Deborah Velders. “We are most proud of our community’s support … the vast majority of our collection of nearly 11,000 objects were gifts from this community, as is the financial support for the majority of our exhibitions and programs.
“We own artworks and crafts by many of the ‘canonical’ names in the history of art, such as Pierre-August Renoir, Thomas Moran, Louis Comfort Tiffany glass, Frederick Remington, Salvator Rosa, Robert Rauschenberg and many others,” Velders says.
“While our collection is not comprehensive nor represents fully ‘the history of art,’ it includes significant works that help students and adults alike learn more of our world’s cultures through its art,” says Velders.
Admission is charged; mobilemuseumofart.com
Huntsville Museum of Art
According to Samantha Nielsen, director of communications, the museum is extremely proud of its exhibit Buccellati: A Silver Menagerie.
The silver creations were designed and fabricated in Milan, Italy, by the luxury jewelry firm of Buccellati. Betty Grisham of Huntsville donated the works of art to the museum.
“We have the world’s largest (Buccellati) public collection,” Nielsen says. The artists combined Renaissance period techniques, luxury materials and the extensive use of texture engraving to create objects of great beauty.
Buccellati clientele included the Vatican as well as the Royal Houses of Italy, Spain, Belgium, England and Egypt. Highlights of the museum’s collection include a four-foot tall flamingo, a reclining giraffe and a marine centerpiece consisting of Mediterranean Sea creatures arranged around a natural amethyst geode. “The latest addition is a family of deer commissioned by the museum to honor Betty Grisham.”
One of the museum’s most famous pieces is Luigi Lucioni’s Ethel Waters. “The official unveiling of the painting was held at the museum on Feb. 1 during the opening celebration of African American History Month,” Nielsen says. “This historical painting was thought to be lost and hadn’t been seen by the public since 1942.”
Admission is charged; hsvmuseum.org.
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
The museum collections “feature primarily American art, and particularly that of the Southeast and Alabama,” says Senior
Curator Margaret Lynne Ausfeld. It has grown to represent 200 years of our country’s history.
“One of the earliest works … in the American paintings collection was made by an anonymous artist around the 1870s right here in Alabama and most likely in Montgomery,” she says. It depicts Montgomery in “an earlier frontier era, most likely during the very early 19th century when Alabama was a territory or during early statehood.”
The museum also features William Merritt Chase and Frank Duveneck. “Chase’s Woman in a Chinese Robe is an excellent example of this artist’s skill as a portraitist and still-life painter,” Ausfeld says. Other outstanding works include Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hills Before Taos and John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Louis Raphael.
Other notable pieces include Mary Cassatt’s Francois in Green, Sewing and an example of 19th century marble sculpture by Edmonia Lewis, Hiawatha’s Marriage.
“The museum’s best-known painting is by the American 20th century painter Edward Hopper, New York Office,” but Ausfeld stresses there are many collections in the museum as well as programs designed to educate the public about art and this museum’s collection.
Admission is free; mmfa.org.
William Harris was deadheading when he saw the hog chains.
That was what he told me back in 1991 when I interviewed him in his store at ‘Possum Bend, west of Camden and not far from the Alabama River.
“Deadheads” were sunken logs that had lain long in the water and had taken on the tea-color that was highly prized by furniture makers. “Hog chains” were the rods used to stabilize steamboats that once plied the waters. Moving closer, Harris could see the outline of the hull.
It was 1954.
Harris was a riverman. All his life he had heard stories of steamboat wrecks. Now he had found one.
Getting some friends to help him, they began free diving and soon their efforts brought results. Out of the mud and silt came twisted metal, nails, buttons, bits of copper and scraps of leather and cloth. Then one of them recovered a piece of broken dinnerware, with something written on it. As they washed away the muck, the bright blue words came clear: “Orline St. John Tim Meaher.”
The names recalled one of the era’s great steamboat captains, Tim Meaher, and one of the era’s great tragedies. In March of 1850, the steamboat Orline St. John caught fire and burned. Nearly 40 passengers and crew perished, including all the women and children on board.
With the wreck identified, Harris wanted to know more. So he began digging into old courthouse records and there he found mention of a strongbox and its treasure. The news could not be contained and soon the local press reported that “Wilcox Gold Hunters” were at work on the river. Fearing for the future of their find, Harris and his friends obtained salvage rights. Then they brought in a “centrifugal pump” to blow away the silt.
Up came an impressive array of artifacts – dishes, razors, knives, forks, needles, thimbles, buttons, shoes, blots of cloth, barrels, kegs, and thousands of nails. Once they found a box intact. On its way to the surface it broke apart and what they thought were coins spilled out – but they were only brass-collar buttons.
Also brought up were items that personalized the tragedy: “a miniature locket” with a “blue and pink enameled design” that was likely worn by one of the women, and a “dainty baby dress” that had survived the fire and almost a century under water, but fell to pieces when it dried.
They did not find any gold. There were lumps of coins which have been melted together by the intense heat, but there was no treasure.
Harris took what he found home and displayed it at his store. Meanwhile, in 1969, the U.S. Corps of Engineers built a dam at Miller’s Ferry, about 20 miles below the wreck. Soon the Orline St. John was under 40 feet of water.
But river rumors die hard and even today it is told around of how after the lake was full, divers went down, found the gold – bars about the size of “cakes of Octagon Soap” according to one report — and spirited it away.
Maybe they did.
Or maybe there was never any treasure.
Or maybe it is still there.
William Harris died in 2008 at the age of 98.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living. He can be reached at email@example.com.