The Gorgas House Museum is the oldest structure on the University of Alabama campus. Built in 1829, the building served as a dining hall, hotel, and residence for the University’s Steward. Converted into a faculty residence in the 1840s, it was one of seven buildings to survive the campus Civil War burning in 1865.
Now, named for the Gorgas family that occupied the home from 1879-1953, the Museum houses original Gorgas furnishings, memorabilia, and a collection of 19th century artifacts. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
The Alabama Museum of Natural History, with thousands of invaluable specimens from all lines of scientific research, is a lasting monument to the energy, labor and love exhibited by Dr. Eugene Allen Smith. He was appointed as state geologist in 1873 and Dr. Smith spent nearly 40 years surveying, mapping and collecting scientific specimens throughout the state of Alabama.
According to historic records, the cornerstone for Smith Hall was laid on May 28, 1907. Alumni President Hill Ferguson placed in the cornerstone “documents and souvenirs which would help some yet unborn generation glimpse the glory of the day.” The construction of Smith Hall was completed in the fall of 1909 and it was “formally dedicated with appropriate pomp and ceremony at Commencement, May 5, 1910.”
Smith Hall consists of a three-story central section built to house the Alabama Museum of Natural History, and has a two-story north and south wing. The north wing originally housed the Department of Biology and the matching south wing was for the Department of Geology. Both wings still contain classrooms and labs used by students today. The basement currently houses the Museum’s teaching collections and field research equipment.
The Museum facade, designed in the Classical Revival style, features an engaged colonnade of eight Ionic columns raised above a full basement. The main entrance on the ground level is through a massive pedimented stone doorway, flanked by standing lamps. The Atrium Gallery is a spacious center hall dominated by a sweeping staircase made of Alabama marble and supported by Alabama-manufactured iron. The staircase leads to the Grand Gallery Exhibition Hall above. The newel posts at the base of the staircase contain cartouches with “U of A” inscribed in the center.
The architecture of the Alabama Museum of Natural History reflected, on a more modest scale, the design and layout of the great natural history museums then only recently constructed in Chicago, New York and Washington. The Grand Gallery on the second floor is surrounded by a colonnade of Corinthian columns which support a full entablature with a highly enriched cornice. Museum exhibits are housed in glass and polished wood cases on the second floor and along the third floor mezzanine. Above, spanning the colonnade is a large glass roof that floods the interior with natural light. The grand sunlit room is one of the most beautifully proportioned interiors on campus – perhaps, in Alabama.
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The 157,000 acre Talladega National Forest, Oakmulgee District is located in the Fall Line Hills of the Eastern Gulf Coastal Plain Physiographic Region. Dissected by the Cahaba River, the Oakmulgee, and its bottomlands, generally run east to west, and to the south is the Black Belt Prairie region. The vegetation is similar to Upper Coastal Plains with steep slopes more reminiscent of the Appalachian Plateau.
The longleaf of the Oakmulgee represents Alabama’s largest contiguous longleaf forest. It is also among the most unique ecosystem as it is a remnant ecosystem cut off from any current similar land cover types for sharing flora and fauna species or their genetic and reproductive characteristics. Soil types, vegetation, topography, and historical land use patterns have created a mosaic of habitats often contradictory including hardwood species on slopes and pine species in mesic drainages.
Miles of backwood roads await the hunter, camper, hiker, naturalist and horseback rider. Hosts the Prothonotory Warbler and the state’s largest population of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers. The Forest is considered a destination for both large and small game hunting. Hunting activity is often prevalent during the fall and spring. The Forest is closed to ATV use except for those licensed for highway use or under a Special Use Permit. The Maddox to Mud Cut Equestrian Riding area is the Talladega National Forest-Oakmulgee District’s first designated equestrian riding area.
The Oakmulgee Division of the Talladega National Forest is home to the largest concentration of endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the state of Alabama – in excess of 100 groups, clusters, or clans of the birds live here. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (see the Alabama Birding Trails stop dedicated to these endangered birds) are denizens of mature pine forests – particularly Longleaf pines, and stands of 100 acres or more of pines 75 years of age or older.
The Oakmulgee is criss-crossed with roads. In fact, there are so many roads and so many curvy roads that a map of the Oakmulgee Division of the Talladega National Forest looks like an aerial view of a plate of spaghetti. Some are well-maintained, paved roads, such as County Roads 1, 16, and 49. Others are dirt roads maintained by the Forest Service. These roads vary from well-tended, all-season, all-weather roads, to roads that are seldom-traveled and less well-maintained…as in 4-wheel drive and high-ground-clearance advised. Other FS roads may be gated and closed at various times and seasons for sundry reasons. Be prepared for a variety of road surfaces and be open to taking circuitous routes through the forest to ensure easy travel if you are in a typical passenger vehicle.
Payne Lake could be described as a microcosm of the Oakmulgee National Forest, with its mixed hardwood-pine forest, cattail swamp and rolling hills in close proximity. Primitive and RV camping, swimming, biking and hiking opportunities are tucked conveniently away in the heart of the Talladega National Forest. The campground hugs the picturesque lakeshore, offering a tranquil setting, hookups, boating, swimming and bank fishing, 1.5-mile trail and two sandy beaches along with offering excellent birding along the West Alabama Birding Trail.