For those people who find themselves traveling U. S. Highway 84 in Alabama (part of the Five State El Camino Corridor), a great mid-point stop is the town of Monroeville, county seat of Monroe County. The town is also a mere 25 miles off Interstate 65, midway between Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama’s capital city. It is also situated midway between two international southern cities, New Orleans and Atlanta— about a four-hour drive time from each. Monroeville is a great family destination, offering visitors the opportunity to visit a site of “The Southern Literary Trail” (along with Oxford, Mississippi and Montgomery, Alabama) as well as experience Southern history and culture.
Home of To Kill A Mockingbird
As Nelle Harper Lee writes of the fictional Maycomb (modeled after 1930s era Monroeville) in To Kill A Mockingbird, Maycomb was “an old town.” Monroeville was incorporated in 1899 and serves as the county seat of Monroe County, the ninth-largest in land mass of Alabama’s counties.
The county is rich in history. It was once about a third of the size of the present state of Alabama, and is often referred to as the “Mother County.” It was created in 1815 by proclamation of the governor of the Mississippi Territory and embraced all lands ceded by the Creek Indians at the Treaty of Fort Jackson. It was named for James Monroe, then secretary of state, who later became President of the United States.
The original county seat, Claiborne, was the largest inland cotton port in Alabama at the time of the Civil War. It is now often referred to as a “lost town of Alabama.” Claiborne is gone, but it and its environs had a population of some 5,000 in the early 1900s. The site of the town of Claiborne is also on U.S. Highway 84, just west of Monroeville on the Alabama River.
Also notable on Highway 84 is the charming town of Perdue Hill, within a couple of miles of the Claiborne-Murphy Bridge, which spans the Alabama River. In Perdue Hill, at the juncture of U. S. 84 and Alabama Highway 1, sits the Masonic Hall (circa 1823-1825). This historic structure was originally a part of the town of Claiborne, but was moved to Perdue Hill in the late 1800s. While in Claiborne, it was visited by the Marquis De Lafayette. It is currently owned by the Claiborne-Perdue Hill Foundation, as is the adjoining property, the William Barrett Travis House. Travis practiced law in Claiborne, prior to leaving the area under mysterious circumstances to go to the Alamo.
Rich In History
Other famous historic sites in Monroe County include Burnt Corn, which is east of Monroeville on the old Federal Road. Burnt Corn is the site of the outbreak of the Creek Indian War of 1814. It is today an almost intact turn-of-the-century town housing several early 1900’s commercial buildings and the Lowery Trust Store, a country store that is no longer operational, but which once sold everything from hoop cheese to hardware.
In north Monroe County, Beatrice and Vredenburgh give one the flavor of old logging communities. Visiting Main Street in Beatrice, one can enjoy stepping back in time at the O.B. Finklea Store, which offers a marvelous mix of the old and the new. One may purchase modern day gifts and accessories as well as view an old Alabama “Heart of Dixie” license plate collection and an antique cigar cutter, as well as the store’s two rolling stock ladders. Visitors to Beatrice will also enjoy stopping by Miss Minnie & Me Antiques and Gifts on Beatrice’s Main Street, and perhaps checking into the charming Mary Elizabeth Stallworth Bed & Breakfast.
Another small Monroe County community off U. S. 84, Excel is the birthplace of Lee Roy Jordan, University of Alabama Football Great.
Monroeville’s 1903 courthouse, which once served as the county seat, is now home to the Monroe County Heritage Museum. It was restored through a grassroots effort beginning in 1989 and concluding in 2002. The old courthouse museum features a permanent collection dedicated to writers Lee and Capote.
Every spring, the Monroe County Heritage Museum produces the play To Kill A Mockingbird, based on the script by the late Christopher Sergel, published by Dramatic Publishing. The play is a prominent feature in the life of present-day Monroeville. It is enacted by an all-volunteer cast of local residents, some of whom have been in the play since its debut in Monroeville some 22 years earlier. Tickets for the annual performance go on sale to the general public the first Monday in March, and are often sold out the same day. Group tickets of 10 or more are available for sale beginning in January 2011. The local cast is known affectionately as The Mockingbird Players. The play, and the corresponding Young Audience Series, targeted to schoolchildren, bring thousands of visitors to Monroeville annually. Act 1 of the play takes place on the Old Courthouse Lawn, where permanent sets have been installed. Act II takes place in the Old Courthouse Courtroom.
Other noteworthy literary events featured in Monroeville include the Alabama Writers Symposium, which is in its 14th year. Held annually the first weekend in May, this three-day event celebrates the achievements of Alabama writers and has featured such prominent authors as Fannie Flagg, Mark Childress, Howell Raines, Winston Groom and others. Not to be missed by any casual visitors to the area is the Alabama Writers Fountain on the grounds of Alabama Southern College.