Life in Old South Central Alabama

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South of Birmingham, Alabama, United States
I am an antique trader in central Alabama....I love old houses... My log home was built in 1817 by my ancestors Benjamin and Hannah Harless Wilson .............. Outside the house are herb gardens and lots of pass-along plants................ No one in Alabama is in a hurry about anything......... Visitors think that the garden needs weeding and the furniture needs polishing....I am a direct descendant of Joseph Towne, whose two sisters Rebecca Towne Nurse and Mary Towne Easty were hanged in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 as witches. I am also a direct descendant of Pocahontas and husband John Rolfe.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Today's Purchase: Schoolmaster's Desk

Having taught school for so long, I am hard pressed to express my happiness in finding this one and bringing it home. 

It's heavy, and is larger than it looks in the picture. 

Here's how I came to get it.

Nita and I rode to a storage room in McCalla where a guy was selling furniture he and his wife had collected for fifty years.

 The desk was right by the door, and it was the first thing I saw that I knew was good. Turned legs, original hinges, that pumpkin-orange color, no major repairs or replacement parts, and a brown interior that only age could create.

When I saw the prices, my heart sank a bit, but I remained calm as usual and showed no emotion. The man had everything priced sky high, and I knew we could buy little to nothing. I did a quick walk through while he and Nita talked about his terms and prices.

He had told her the night before that she could take anything she wanted on consignment, but now he had changed his mind and wanted only to sell for cash,telling her to buy what she wanted and make all the profit she could.

That would have suited me fine, but, as I said, his sticker prices were too high from a dealer's viewpoint.

Nita then told him who I was and that I was a schoolteacher. I began to tell stories about my students, about the health care situation, about my life as an antique dealer, and about my old log cabin and my love of all things Old South.

After we talked a while he said that the price he had on the furniture wasn't the real price, that I should divide the number by two. 

That was a relief to know; otherwise, it would have been a no sale day.

I told him that I wanted the desk for sure. He also had a dovetailed bible stand, ca. 1840, which Nita wanted for the shop.

 She also got a bucket bench, a sled, a walnut table, a bronze quilt rack, a bureau with mirror( 1920s), and an ogee clock.

We loaded up everything but the dresser. He had a primitive lift-top desk that I want to look at again when we go back to pick up the dresser.

There was also a child's wicker baby doll buggy which was not repro that might be good. 

There was a work bench, but it looked like the 1950s Colonial Revival stuff that was used for the house when Lucy and Ricky moved to Connecticut.

 ( Note: You must be at least 50 years old to understand and remember when Lucy and Ricky moved from New York City to Connecticut and bought a two story colonial house and filled it with 1950's awful maple revival colonial revival furniture. I don't think we ever saw what Ethyl and Fred did in their hired-man's farm house.)

There was also a large oak bed, but oak doesn't sell anymore ( not until Martha puts it back in her magazine). 

So Nita ended up with about $900 worth and I just got the desk.

 We got in the van and headed back to Montevallo before the afternoon storm arrived.

Nita's husband told her that we stole it all ( his favorite expression for a good deal) and I don't think we did so bad myself.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Curves and Color

I have a tendency to line up furniture like some sort of store, and I'm trying to do better, but old habits are hard to break. 

I get the "Your house looks like an antique shop " comment a lot ( which I secretly like to hear), so I'm already prepared to point out sarcastically that there are no price tags on anything, but they are "free to make an offer on anything you see."

I spent the day working outside and inside the place, as this is the first official day of my summer vacation from school.

 I already miss my ninth graders. Several are in summer school, but not because of me ( Thankfully, everybody passed in my room).

This corner of the old house shows, starting from the left, a federal chest under the window which I found at a mall on Hwy. 280.

By the chair is a Colonial New England 2 drawer blanket chest in original red paint with thumb moulding and flint glass pulls on turned Federal feet, a chest from Virginia in the corner which I paid too much for but it took three years to talk the guy out of it, my plantation desk ( my new baby pride and joy) flanked by two English chairs with little rectangular tags under each one that read "English, ca. 1820".

In the far right one can see the edge of an Alabama black walnut chest I bought out of a hoarder's collection for fifty dollars. The walls are home to Victorian oils which I bought either because I liked the painting or I liked the frame. 

 I rarely fall in love with both painting and frame at the same time! One can finally see more of the mustard rug I bought from the boys in Marion, Alabama. It came out of an old house in Uniontown.

I guess a stained glass window would be the last thing one would expect to see in a log cabin, but I can't help it. 

 People who decorate in primitive style will fill their house with nothing but brown and gray and faded fabrics; being in houses like that gives me a headache after about thirty minutes. 

 I need color; I thrive on color; I gotta have my light and my sunshine and my color.

The McRaven House in Vicksburg impressed me so much when I saw it in the late 80s that I decided to follow the same idea here. The back of the McRaven house is the log structure built first, the central part of the house is Empire, and the front of the house is Greek Revival. The house sort of developed over time, each addition reflecting the styles of its own time.

I have done the same thing here, on a smaller scale. The front of my house is primitive, built in 1817 by my ancestors, the back room is Empire Old South. Right now the kitchen is sort of in a 1950s advertising mode, but I'm thinking of moving all of that to another room and going primitive/buttery.

Upstairs, my bedroom looks like a museum storage room: books, pictures stacked four deep on the floor between the bookcases, some dead animal heads, and family 16x20s of great grandfathers and great aunts.

 In the middle of the room is my sleigh bed that I bought at a country auction after sitting there four hours waiting on it to come up. I have three gallons of yellow paint to apply to the walls. If only I could find the walls.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mobile Alabama 1860s Portrait

I am all excited about an Alabama portrait that has finally come home. This painting is of Felix Taylor Taliaferro, a cotton merchant who lived in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1860s and 1870s.

I bought this portrait from a family member who lives in Pennsylvania. They were unsure if he was a grandfather on up their line or an uncle. 

In either case, they wanted to sell it, having no interest in family history. I was glad to buy it so that his portrait could come back South again.

The subject of the painting was a citizen of Orange County, Virginia.

 According to family, he moved to Mobile to make his fortune in the cotton trade. Some years later, before 1880,  he returned to Virginia.

Although the name is spelled "Taliaferro" it is apparently pronounced more like " Tolliver." Mr. Taliaferro's middle name Taylor is the maiden name of his grandmother, who was a second or third cousin to President Zachary Taylor.

Felix Taylor Taliaferro's parents were Edmund Pendleton Taliaferro and Octavia Hortense Robertson.  Edmund's mother was Mildred Taylor Taliaferro.  Felix married Annie E. Penny in Mobile, Alabama, on 14 January 1867.  Felix is age 4 in 1850 living with his parents in Orange County, VA.  In 1880 he is back in Orange County, VA.  On the 1900 census he and Annie are in Bayonne Ward 1, Hudson County, New Jersey. He is listed as age 54. 

His grand daughter called me and said his portrait looked just like family members she remembered. She was so excited to see the portrait. She was going to call again but I never heard from her and wonder what happened. 

 All of this makes for a wonderful original Alabama portrait and I'm glad to have it back where it belongs. If any descendants see this and find errors about his family, please let me know.  The information I found about him was on genforum from 15  years ago and the address of the posters there are no longer any good.  I would love to hear from descendants of his. 

November 2014:  This portrait is for sale to any descendant of his. Just leave me a message or email me ( see my profile for current email address.)  $2,800.00