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Pope's Tavern Museum

Carolyn M. Barske, University of North Alabama
Pope's Tavern Museum, located in downtown Florence, Lauderdale County, preserves and interprets the site of a historic inn and stagecoach stop. Several structures have sat at the location, with the present structure having been built sometime in first half of the nineteenth century. It has served as an inn, a private residence, and since the 1960s, a museum owned by the city of Florence. The museum's collections focus on the history of Florence, especially its founding and the role Florence played in the Civil War.
Pope's Tavern Museum
The museum's site on Hermitage Drive has been a stopping point for travelers stretching back to Alabama's territorial period. Tradition holds that Scottish immigrant Christopher Cheatham built the first structure there as an inn and stagecoach stop sometime in the 1810s at the request of political leaders LeRoy Pope, founder of Huntsville, and Thomas Bibb, who would become the state's second governor. At that time, the region was sparsely settled and still under the control of the Cherokees and the Chickasaws. By 1817, however, these tribes had been pressured by the federal government into ceding most of their lands to the United States. The following year, the Cypress Land Company conducted its first land sale in what would become Florence. The stagecoach stop likely saw steady traffic during this time, as newcomers poured into the area thanks in part to the construction of Andrew Jackson's Military Road (1816-1820), which ran past the inn on its route from Nashville to New Orleans. Cheatham went on to have a successful career in northwest Alabama, including overseeing the construction of the Foster Home (now Rogers Hall on the campus of the University of North Alabama) and running a ferry across the river from the Lauderdale County community of Smithsonia.
Archeological evidence suggests that the first building burned at some point, and while no exact date of construction is known for the current building, construction of the one-and-a-half-story, eight-room, Federal-style structure began sometime in the 1830s or 1840s. Builders used bricks made on site to construct the double-thickness outside walls, which helped keep the home cool during the hot Alabama summers. The roof stretching over the veranda, which runs along the full length of the front, is supported by Doric columns made of solid blue poplar.
Tavern Room, Pope's Tavern Museum
The building passed through a number of owners in the years leading up to the Civil War, including physician William C. Cross, merchant J. C. Gookin, and Robert Patton, who served as governor of Alabama from 1865 to 1857. After the war broke out, Florence changed hands between Union and Confederate forces more than 40 times but did not experience a major battle within its borders. There were, however, several small skirmishes in Florence and larger conflicts took place nearby, resulting in significant numbers of wounded soldiers. Both the Union and the Confederacy used local buildings, including the building that would become Pope's Tavern, as hospitals. The exact number of men treated in the building is unknown, but tradition holds that men wounded during skirmishes in town and during conflicts at the Elk River and on the north bank of Tennessee River received treatment at the site.
Forks of Cypress Desk
After the war ended in 1865, Josiah Patterson, a prominent local attorney, purchased the home. In 1872, the house became the property of Edward M. Irvine, and in 1874, Felix Grundy Lambeth purchased it. He served as a clerk in both the Lauderdale County probate judge's office and the post office and eventually became postmaster general. The house remained in the Lambeth family until the Florence Chamber of Commerce purchased the building in 1965, after the death of Daniel Lambeth. The Chamber of Commerce then donated it to the city. After restoration work finished in 1968, the city then turned the home into a museum. The site underwent additional rehabilitation work in 1988 and 2014-2015. The city named the refurbished facility Pope's Tavern (after LeRoy Pope), though no evidence suggests that the original inn and stagecoach stop went by this name.
Today, Pope's Tavern is part of the Florence' municipal museum system, which also includes the W. C. Handy Home and Museum, the Indian Mound and Museum, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Rosenbaum House Museum, and the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts. The museum sees between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors a year. The site is staffed by one curator and two part-time tour guides.
James Jackson Portrait
Pope's Tavern's exhibits teach visitors about a range of subjects, including the founding of the city, domestic life in Florence, and the city's role in the Civil War. The collection includes furnishings from the now defunct Susan K. Vaughn Museum, which was located on the ground floor of Rogers Hall on the campus of the University of North Alabama until 1968. Other objects and images tell the history of Forks of Cypress, the home of one of Florence's founders, James Jackson. Struck by lightning in 1966, the mansion burned almost completely. Today, only its brick Ionic columns, from a colonnade that wrapped around the entire home, remain. Museum exhibits tell the story of Jackson's involvement in the founding of Florence and highlight his important role in shaping the bloodlines of the modern American racehorse. The museum also possesses a Kennedy Longrifle, manufactured in Green Hill, Lauderdale County, sometime before 1838. The rifle represents an important shift in gun manufacturing toward greater accuracy over a longer range. The museum also has a collection of Civil War-era weapons, uniforms, flags, and ammunition, including the flag carried by Charles Daniel Stewart with the Fourth Alabama Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Bull Run. The museum hosts its annual Frontier Days in June.
Additional Resources
McDonald, William Lindsey. A Walk through the Past. Florence, Ala.: Bluewater Publications, 1997.
Published:  April 9, 2015   |   Last updated:  May 26, 2017