Not long ago I had the exhausting experience of being a chaperone on a school field trip to visit the Capitol in Montgomery. Besides the capitol building, our tour included the Rosa Parks Museum (wonderful), Old Town Alabama (fascinating), and the First White House of the Confederacy (curious).
Given the discussion of this year being the 150th anniversary of the Confederacy, it seems timely to mention some of my discoveries.
The “First White House of the Confederacy,” located on the square surrounding the Capitol, is celebrated as a critical landmark but was occupied for by the Davis family for not quite three months. That’s not even a quarter of a year. You can’t sublease an apartment in college for less than three months. But we were the first to have the Confederacy’s white house, and as the people of Mobile have shown us concerning Mardi Gras, you must never let folks forget.
The house was disassembled and moved ten blocks from its original location to a spot near Capitol and convenient to visitors. If you’re up for some mild amusement, I recommend a read of the history of the First White House of the Confederacy, which is full of quintessential southern speak about the time delicately described as the ”Spring of southern independence:”
- The United Daughters of the Confederacy originally attempted to purchase and preserve the house but became “entangled in personal differences.” Don’t you know that was some mess! Note to Kathryn Stockett, U of A graduate and author of The Help: consider looking into these stories for some inspirational fodder for your next novel.
- The grand opening of the restored home took place over several days in June of 1921 and “must have been one of the most thoroughly relished and enjoyable occasions in Alabama history.” Given that high water mark, now we can see why we live for the Iron Bowl.
- Mrs. Jefferson Davis was the Queen Regent of the White House Association, and following her death she remains Queen Regent in perpetuity. We Southerners love keeping things in perpetuity after death! Consider our Elvis, the forever King of Rock n’ Roll.
- The House is maintained by the State of Alabama, although the White House Association owns the relics and serves as the “arbiters of taste in matters concerning the interior and all matters concerning the house.” Is it any surprise that the Association is made up of descendants of its charter members? Just like the silver, we like to keep it in the family.
I have also toured the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, a more elaborate house that served as the executive home of the Confederacy for the remainder of the war. The much romanticized Tara-like features of the time weren’t safe for children. Tragically, five-year-old son Joseph Davis died after a fall from the home’s portico.
Then again, the whole war was tragic, wasn’t it? The nation lost a lot of its sons.