Ave Maria Grotto, Crooked Creek Civil War Museum, Clarkson Covered Bridge

3/30/14 Sunday Arley, AL (Hidden Cove-TT/MA)

We slept in (cold morning again) and checked emails and all on our lap tops, then took a walk around the now sunny campground.  The local big boys toy:

walk 1

Must be their tornado shelter:

walk 2 walk 3

He was singing the prettiest tune:

walk 4 walk 5 walk 6

By 11 am John noted that we should pack our lunches and get going if we wanted to see anything today. Last night I’d checked into some places because it was predicted to be a pretty day eventually.

Thus we left with our picnic lunch and directions to the Ave Maria Grotto ($5/senior). Our GPS took us in a pretty circular route (Lewis Smith Lake is really large with fingers all over and not so many bridges), so it took a good hour to get to St. Bernard Abbey, Cullman, AL, where this Grotto is. It was created by a Benedictine Monk, Brother Joseph Zoetl, who worked on his creations until 3 years before he died at 80. He constructed miniature buildings using recycled materials: stone, concrete, tile, beads, seashells etc. For most he used photographs or printed descriptions. I’ll share a few here. Just click on the image to enlarge it.

grotto 1 grotto 2 grotto 3 grotto 4

The Alamo

grotto 5

St. Therese of Lisieux, France (The Little Flower).  Make with Alabama marble, statue from Italy.

grotto 6

St. Peter’s Church in Rome

grotto 7

Ave Maria Grotto

grotto 8

Noah’s Ark (since the movie just came out I thought I’d feature this one).

grotto 9

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

grotto 10 grotto 11 grotto 12

Benedictine Cross

grotto 13

Chipmunk Crossing

grotto 14

I also wanted to go to the Crooked Creek Civil War Museum because I’d just read an email from friends that suggested we see it. We saw a brochure for Cullman County Museum (Civil War Exhibit). We thought it might not be “our” museum, but maybe they’d know where “ours” was.

Museum This Museum is probably very good but we didn’t have time to explore it now.  Sure enough the greeter there introduced us to a gentleman who’d just spent the weekend at Crooked Creek. He gave us directions. We would never have found it on our own. A word to the wise, put the address in your GPS as 516 County Road 1127, (zip) 35179. On the Internet I saw the address as Vinemont and as Cullman. The city name will only confuse your GPS. From the Cullman museum we took US 31 N to AL 157 N for about 7-8 miles. Turn Left at the traffic light (CR 1242), Right when the road T’s, (there are brown signs for Civil War Museum) for about 4 miles, Left at CR 1127 until you see the last sign. Sweet gentleman (Fred) in his seventies owns the place ($5/person). He’s collected authentic artifacts and proudly explains any you are interested in. This property is where one of the battles was fought with the “Lightning Mule” Raid of 1863.  Our proprietor got the log home below for free but it cost $30,000 to number the logs and put it back together on his property.  He operates it as a Bed and Breakfast now, even giving us a quick tour.

civil war 1

Here is Fred showing us his original Civil War old smooth bore rifle.  Note he has a fire going in the fireplace.

civil war 2

He has several original buckles that are 8 in a scale of 1-10 in rarity. 10 is so rare only 1 may exist.

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This is a photo of Custer in his Confederate uniform.  He was not blond.

civil war 4 civil war 5

Hard tack.  The paper says DO NOT attempt to bite into it without softening first.  Even those with healthy teeth would be damaged and few in those times had healthy teeth.

civil war 6

A variety of Confederate bullets.  Hard to keep the soldiers supplied when there were so many different kinds.

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Yours truly with real guns and hats from the Civil War.

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The top left flag is NOT the Confederate flag-it was just a battle flag.  The Bonnie Blue flag (one star) was South Carolina’s flag, according to Fred, not the official Confederate flag.  Bottom left was the 1st official Confederate flag, but they found that after it was tattered and full of bullet holes it was easily confused with the Union (US) flag.  They changed it to the flag on its right.  Now, when the wind might wrap the flag around a pole it looked like they were surrendering, so finally they made the flag with the red stripe at the end.

civil war 9

The 2 saddles on the left are from the Civil War.  All have built in “restrooms” so the men could stay in the saddle for 12 hours at a time, as in the chase of the “Lightning Mule Raid”.

civil war 10

A newspaper printed the day after Lincoln was shot.

civil war 11

A public toilet.

civil war 12

A diorama of the battle scene here at Crooked Creek.  The Union Colonel Abel Streight let a small band of men on mules (on left, low, to left of creek) in an ill fated attempt to destroy the railroad in Rome, GA.  He was doggedly pursued by Confederate General Nathaniel B Forrest (on right heading down toward the creek and Streight’s men.  According to Fred Streight had 3 times the men and materiel that Forrest had but since Streight’s band was on mules they couldn’t travel really.  Fast.  Plus his men were new to these mules and the mules new to being used.  So Forrest would rest half his men (cavalry) while the others dashed to catch up with Streight.  Then the left behind guys would ride pell mell to Streight while the front runners rested.  A lot of skirmishing happened right here, on Fred’s land.  His museum is on top of all this hilly area.  We walked down to the Creek you see pictured.  At the bottom we saw the “Married Trees.”

civil war 13

View of the Creek from the Museum

civil war 14

View of the Museum from the Creek

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Married Trees

civil war 15a

Lane leaving the Museum.  Isn’t it lovely?

civil war 16

When we were there, Fred mentioned the covered bridge nearby. We couldn’t miss that opportunity, so he gave us directions-only a mile or so away and on our way home. The Clarkson Covered Bridge was constructed in 1904 by master bridge builders John Goodwin and Horace King (an Alabama born ex-slave). They used a unique design from Connecticut: the Town Lattice Truss. This design allowed the bridge to be virtually self supporting and carry very heavy loads without sagging. King worked for about 50 years, responsible for constructing over 125 bridges in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. In 1921 a huge storm snapped the bridge in half, one part remaining in place while the remaining part floated downstream. It was found and salvaged. The locals worked hard to find the missing pieces. The county hired a contractor and was able to rebuild the bridge with most of the original material. It was restored in 1975 soon after it had been declared a National Historic Site.

bridge 1 bridge 2

bridge 3

Mill near Bridge

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Looking back at the Visitor Center from the Mill

bridge 4a

We made our hour long trek home, had barbecued chicken on our grill mat then enjoyed lots of TV.


About Patricia Elser

I've always loved the loose, flowing, transparent look of watercolors, of Chinese paintings and their calligraphy, but alas, no watercolor classes were available when I was in school, so that interest remained buried until my children were grown. Even then, I was afraid that I couldn't really paint, so upon my sister's advice, I actually started to take classes. I signed up for every class available, determined to learn no matter how afraid I was. I came upon a teacher, Stan Miller, who inspired me, who opened the door to success in watercolor. I love to look at beautiful images. I want to capture them forever. All my life, photography was how I gathered images of the beauty I saw. Thanks to all that photography, I enjoy composing pictures, especially up close. Watercolors allow me to add more of me in their translation of that beauty. My paintings reflect my love for music and dance, with their rhythm and flow. I am fascinated by the play of light, so it appears in my pictures as drama for they are filled with darks and lights. Maybe it's the challenge, maybe it's the beauty, but now, when a work comes together, it fills my soul.
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