This year marks a year-long centennial celebration of the Rosenwald rural school building program. This program has been described as “one of the most ambitious school building programs ever witnessed in the United States.” And it all began in Alabama as a collaboration between a nationally renowned educator and a prominent businessman.
My wife had news when I called her from the Best Western in Monroeville, Alabama. I was attending a literary conference, where writers pondered, among other things, how being Southern had shaped who they were and what they wrote. Such ruminative gatherings are a minor industry for our region, and the local community college was eager to capitalize on Monroeville's claim to Harper Lee and other notable local writers.
Not so long ago, scores of country stores were scattered across rural Alabama—at dusty crossroads or along a lonely stretch of blacktop knifing through fields and tangled woodlands, or huddled beside an isolated railway crossing. Mostly they were humble, expedient buildings, devoid of pretension, built to serve a plain agrarian society while enriching the coffers of some enterprising local merchant.
The First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery, Alabama, is fortunate to have a number of important textiles, among them the famed Gunboat Quilt and its companion, the Baby Quilt. “Gunboat Quilts” were made by Alabama women as a fund-raising campaign for the purchase of a gunboat for the defense of Mobile Harbor. “This quilt…was sold twice in Tuscaloosa, for $15.00 and $500.00 respectively, once in Summerfield for $250.00 and once in Selma, price unknown,” as noted by one scholar. The Baby Quilt was not made to raise money but is made of trapunto work and of the same techniques and by the same person as the Gunboat Quilt. The quilts are also important because they leave behind a trace of the person who made them and the times in which that person lived.
One would think that quilts, like paintings, hang on walls forever, immune to the passage of time. Unfortunately, like any other item exposed to the elements, quilts begin to deteriorate. Conserving textiles can be complicated, and the preservation story of these two at the First White House of the Confederacy is an amazing one.
From the Vault
Read complete classic articles and departments featured in Alabama Heritage magazine in the past 30 years of publishing. You'll find in-depth features along with quirky and fun departments that cover the people, places, and events that make our state great!