A Hard Nut to Crack

Decatur is the site of Northern Alabama's only Civil War battle, where confederate General Hood declared the city to be "a hard nut to crack."


A Hard Nut to Crack

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by NiteOwlTX on March 19, 2006

Historically, Decatur served a small part in the Civil War. Captured early in the war and easily maintained through the loyal sentiments of the residents, Decatur became significant to the Union army toward the closing of the war. The Union army used Decatur as one of the stops of its supply line through the south.

On October 26, 1864, Confederate General Hood and his army attempted to cross the Tennessee River near Decatur. However, under the leadership of General Granger, the Union forces were able to prevent Hood’s army from crossing the river. The Union army under Granger maintained control of the town throughout the remainder of the war. Jones was continually thwarted as he tried to disturb the Union supply line as far north as Nashville.

Today, Decatur is a good central point for northern Alabama. Huntsville is only about 20 minutes east. Florence is about 30 minutes west. Cullman is about 15 minutes south. Fort Payne and Gadsden are little more then 30 minutes west.

I had the opportunity to spend a week in northern Alabama, including a day in Decatur. I saw all the open major attractions and was able to move to my next destination before going to sleep. I missed Pond Spring, the home of Fighting General Joe Wheeler, as this site was under major reconstruction. Plan your visit on any day except Sunday or Monday, as most of these attractions are closed on those days.${QuickSuggestions} If you spend just a few hours in Alabama, you should see the best attraction, the Jesse Owens Museum. Within 30 minutes from Huntsville, Cullman, and Florence, this site should not be missed. If you have time, a day in Decatur will show you the major attractions; 2 days will see everything with spare time.

I recommend a trip to Decatur for anyone interested in history, especially Civil War or local history. Traditional theme-park and thrill-ride junkies will not find much to do here, but the slower pace will suit many others.

One final note: before examining the individual attractions of this area, remember that if you are traveling to Cullman on your free time, you should spend it doing things that you enjoy. Whether you are on vacation or traveling through your retirement, you should do things that you like, not necessarily what I or any reviewer says is fun. If you enjoy golfing, you should spend a day of your trip golfing on one of the courses; Decatur is right on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and has several renowned courses. Spend some time doing the things that you enjoy the most and you will get more out of your experience to this (or any) area.
${BestWay} There is 60 miles between the point you start and the point you end your day. There is a full day's entertainment here, but it will require driving between the attractions.

Carnegie Visual Arts Center

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by NiteOwlTX on March 24, 2006

The Carnegie Visual Arts Center is located in the historic part of Decatur. It occupies one of the cities most historic buildings.

The center is essentially a museum of fine art for a group that funds local contributors. When I visited the area, the museum was hosting two exhibits. The first was an art contest for children under 12; as you can imagine, this was a waste of my time.

The other exhibit was the story boards of the Anne Frank Diary. For those of you who are unaware, Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl, who lived in hiding in pre-WWII Amsterdam, Holland. She spent over two years in the secret rooms to her father's office before she and her family were found by the Nazi's and sent to concentration camps. Her diaries were discovered in this hiding place long after her death, but they remain the best insight into the Jewish side of Nazi control that we have today.

This is actually the second time I saw this same exhibit, as it toured through Houston over five years ago. I did enjoy the exhibit, as a chance to re-familiarize myself on the story.

Except for the Anne Frank story, which I had seen five years before in another museum, I was not impressed with this attraction. Comparing a small town art museum to one in a large metropolitan area is like comparing community theatre to a Broadway preformance; it might be entertaining, but it does stack up to the real thing.

I recommend a trip to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center for anyone interested in art or for students learning the visual arts. Also, if you call ahead, you might find some significant exhibits here (with a little luck).
Carnegie Visual Arts Center
207 Church North East
Decatur, Alabama, 35601
(256) 341-0562

Cook's Natural Science Museum

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by NiteOwlTX on March 24, 2006

I think it would be appropriate for a museum funded by the local pest control company to lead off with an exhibit on insects and other home intruders. The first exhibit is on rats, rat traps, and other things that you wish you didn't know. Next, you will find a couple of glass cases full of area insects, including roaches and termites, with remedies to prevent them from invading your home.

The museum then opens up to a much larger scale. Based mostly on local animals, you can see much of the local wildlife stuffed and poised for guests. Everything from porcupines to grizzly bears are represented here.

There are even some interactive exhibits that match the users knowledge of local animals to the pictures of the wildlife. There is also a brief film showing the various wildlife from the area.

I recommend this attraction for anyone traveling through the area, who is interested in local wildlife, entomology, or other natural sciences. Also, families with children will find this museum entertaining.

Website: www.cookspest.com
Cook's Natural Science Museum
412 13th Street South East
Decatur, Alabama, 35601
(256) 350-9347

Jesse Owens Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by NiteOwlTX on March 24, 2006

Twelve years before Jackie Robinson broke into professional baseball and many more years before African American athletes were considered equals in professional sports, Jesse Owens dominated the Olympic games. In 1936, the games were hosted by a pre-World War II Germany with Hitler standing watch. Promising the world Aryan supremacy, Adolf Hitler watched as a black man, born from sharecroppers in northern Alabama, became the games' sensation, capturing four Olympic gold medals. Owens won gold medals in long jump, 100-meter sprint, 200-meter sprint, and the 400-meter team relay. Despite the fact that he congratulated white athletes from other countries, Hitler refused to acknowledge Owens' wins and would not shake his hand at the medal ceremony.

Jesse Owens was born here in northern Alabama. He was one of ten children of a sharecropper. While he moved to Ohio as a child, he maintained ties to this area. During the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, Owens' grandson carried the torch to this park.

The museum begins with a small collection of artifacts from Owens' career, including the jerseys that he wore in college. There is an interactive computer here that plays various scenes where Owens appeared on television prior to the Olympics.

Next in the museum is a small theater. Here they play a film that lasts almost an hour about the 1936 Olympic games. The film, narrated by Owens, chronicles the games from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony. He individually describes the events in which he competed. He also goes on to tell about the friendship that he had with a German competitor, who actually advised him before his record setting long jump.

Finally, the museum goes to show Owens' post Olympic games activities, including a trip that he had back to Germany years after his victories there. He meets the grandson of the German man that he credits for his victory in the long jump.

Outside the museum, there are also some interesting attractions. First, there is a replica of the 1936 Olympic torch standing in front of the museum. Also, there is a memorial statue of Owens and the Olympic symbol; see the pictures below. Finally, in the park there is a replica of Jesse Owens' birthplace, a small cabin that sharecroppers would have had during the period.

Also, in the park, you will find a baseball diamond, a soccer field, a running track, a basketball court, and a nice playground. There are also areas for picnicking.

Since this museum is a little off the beaten path, you should call ahead to ensure it is open before you plan to arrive. The staff will make plans to be there if you call ahead to say you are coming.

I recommend a trip to Jesse Owens Museum for anyone traveling in the area. The story is very inspiring and the Owens museum tells the story very well. Everyone should see this site.

Website: www.jesseowensmuseum.com
Jesse Owens Museum
7019 Country Road
Decatur, Alabama, 35619
(256) 974-3636

Oakville Indian Mounds

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by NiteOwlTX on March 24, 2006

Driving to the museum, you will pass what appears to be a small hill. It is not until you see the "Historical Monument" signs on the side of the hill that you will realize that it in fact is a man-made hill and the source of many Indian artifacts.

A 12-foot statue of Sequoyah (the first Indian to master written language) stands as you enter the museum. With artifacts dating as far back as 10,000 BC, the museum houses the largest collection of Indian artifacts in the area.

The mound in front of the museum is man-made. The dirt can be traced to the river bed that is 50 miles from this site. The mound is about 2,000 years old and is the largest one of that age. There are some campgrounds and day-use parks here for those traveling through the area.

I recommend a trip to the Oakville Indian Mounds for anyone interested in history, specifically the Native American and pre-colonization history of the United States.
Oakville Indian Mounds Museum
1219 Country Road 187
Danville, Alabama, 35619
(256) 905-2499

Old State Bank

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by NiteOwlTX on March 24, 2006

In 1833, the Bank of the State of Alabama was built on this site. The bank became a major establishment when President Andrew Jackson moved the federal money from the Bank of the United States to individual state run banks, such as this one.

During the Civil War, the bank served as a Union hospital. Today, it stands as one of only four remaining pre-Civil War buildings in the city.

Today, the Old State Bank has been restored to pre-Civil War condition. Downstairs is set to show the bank as patrons would have seen it. Upstairs is set to show the bankers living quarters, as he would have lived here as he served as the banker to this city.

I recommend a visit to the Old State Bank for anyone interested in history, specifically Civil War history or regional northern Alabama history. I also recommend this attraction for anyone traveling through this area with a small amount of free time to see the local attractions.

Website: www.digitaldecatur.com
Old State Bank Building
925 Bank Street
Decatur, Alabama, 35602
(256) 350-5060

A Day in Decatur

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by NiteOwlTX on March 24, 2006

One day is plenty of time to see all the attractions in Decatur. The best days to visit are Tuesday through Friday; as the Jesse Owens Museum and the Carnegie Visual Arts Center are closed on Sunday and Monday, and the Old State Bank and Oakville Indian Mounds are closed weekends seasonally.

You should begin your tour in Mooresville (free). This town dates back well before the state of Alabama was admitted to the United States. President Andrew Johnson worked here as an apprentice in the tailor trade. With historic buildings throughout the city, this makes a nice place to start your day as you can see buildings dating back to the early 1800s.

Next, drive south to Decatur. You can visit the Old State Bank first (free). This site will give you a brief overview of the pre-Civil War area as well as the use of the town during the war. This attraction opens at 9:30am, so leave Mooresville by 9am to be here for the first tour. The guided tour will take you to all the rooms in about one hour.

Within walking distance is the Civil War walking tour of the city (free). This walking tour will take most people about one hour and you'll see the biggest Civil War battle in northern Alabama, excluding the combined skermishes between Forrest and Streight that crossed the entire state.

Next, walk to the Carnegie Center of the Visual Arts (free). Depending on the exhibits that the center is showing, seeing this attraction will take you an average of one hour. It is pretty small, so you can take your time and see all the exhibits thoroughly.

The Cook's Natural Science Museum (free) is just a short drive from the Carnegie Center. Start your visit with a film that shows how insects act in the wild. Then, you can walk through the exhibits of rocks, insects, and mammals from the area. The entire attraction should take about an hour.

Next drive south to Danville. Here you can see the Indian mounds. Depending on your interest and how long you spend walking on them, you can see the mounds and the museum in about an hour (free). You need to finish at the mounds by 2pm to get to the Jesse Owens Museum with enough time to see it before it closes at 4pm.

Next, move to the Jesse Owens Museum and Memorial Park ($5). You should spend a couple of minutes outside the museum seeing the recreation of the home that Jesse Owens grew up in, the statue to the Olympian, and the Olympic torch that burns in front of the building. Inside the museum, you can see the Olympic jerseys. There is also a wonderful film in which Owens chronicles the events of the 1936 Olympic Games, which lasts about 50 minutes. The museum is only open from 11am to 4pm from Tuesday to Saturday and 1pm to 4pm on Sunday, so plan your time to see this attraction while it is open. If you go off season, you should call a couple days in advance to schedule your visit as the museum is run by volunteers and is often closed during slower periods regardless of the posted hours.

Finally, drive back north through Decatur to Athens. Here you can see the Houston Memorial Library, Athens College, the Donnell House and the Limestone County Courthouse. At the courthouse, you should note the memorial to Confederate soldiers, the memorial to General Forrest's victory here in Athens and the plaque that represents this court houses modern historic significance (a case that spurred the Civil Rights movement). All of these are outside only exhibits, so you can see them as long as lighting permits.

You should be complete with all these attractions by sundown and can head back to Decatur or your next destination for a nice dinner before ending your day.

Total cost of the trip is $5, plus food, gas, and lodging.

I recommend a day trip to Decatur for anyone interested in history and for families with children. Also, this trip is nice for frugal travellers as all the attractions except the Jesse Owens Museum are free; hotels are cheaper as this is not a major tourist destination.

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