bluff city 2

In the South, many people want to demolish a structure if it looks a little ragged around the edges. Eufaula, AL is a prime example. It is not with pleasure that I mention Eufaula as an example of this, but with genuine disappointment and a good degree of despair. The Ballou house on North Randolph Avenue is one of Eufaula’s architectural jewels, only one of two Second Empire houses remaining in the entire State of Alabama. Yet, many people have expressed their view that the house is an “eyesore” and should be demolished. The same is true for the Bluff City Inn, one of the very few nineteenth century hotels remaining in Alabama, an historic structure which is a foremost symbol of Eufaula. The Bluff City Inn conveys the image of the beloved nickname of Eufaula, the “Bluff City of the Chattahoochee.” It has the “classic” Southern verandah (or piazza) of hotels of the nineteenth century, it was the home of Eufaula’s highly regarded historian, Anne Kendrick Walker, as well as the home of Gorman Houston, a Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, when Gorman was young. It survived the very destructive tornado of 1919 and a fire which occurred I believe in the 1940s. Yet many present day Eufaulians care not a whit for its preservation, and have expressed their opinion that it should be demolished!

Southerners who love the South and who so desire that our own dear Southland, our very own land, pass on to future generations our heritage and our distinctive culture, “cannot believe” that many of our fellow Southerners are so callous of their heritage. At the rate of the destruction of the old landmarks, the future South will be a wasteland with regard to historic structures. So much of our physical heritage is already demolished, destroyed, bulldozed, and paved over, with much of it as well so altered that it bears little resemblance to the original and the historic.

It should be a great embarrassment to all Southerners and a source of great shame that the modern South, the South of post World War II America, in a time of great prosperity, certainly in comparison to the South left humiliated and utterly defeated by the North’s onslaughts in its total war against the South, should neglect, abandon, and demolish so much of its vital heritage.

One visits places such as Philadelphia and New England and finds historic structures preserved in such great numbers that in some towns and districts they appear to form a large percentage of all structures, even today.

One would think that Southerners, so many of whom claim to be so proud of their heritage, would be ashamed of their poor record in the prosperous post World War II era in preserving the South’s historic architectural heritage.

I personally have long been “ashamed,” “embarrassed,” whatever word one wants to use, for the continuing paucity of respect for the old structures and the old life in its myriad rich characteristics which modern Southerners so often display.

Why should people from the North and from foreign lands admire the historic South when all they see when travelling the major highways and byways of the South are vast stretches devoid of any historic structure or other evidence of historic love of the land and, on the other hand, commonly see what they can see anywhere in the U. S., a modern strip development of chain restaurants and chain stores, tracts of houses, though sometimes of pleasing design under a canopy of trees, which are much the same in other areas of the U. S., and other modern developments which show little of the special character of the South but rather reflect designs and plans which have been promoted all over the U. S.

In other words, the modern South increasingly is losing its Southern character, in the quality of all things which make our own land special and unique in all the earth.

William Cawthon

Bill Cawthon (1946-2016) was an independent historian in Eufaula, Alabama.

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