Limestone County Historical Society

Helping preserve history in Limestone County Alabama


The Limestone County Historical Society Museum

The Limestone County Historical Society established a museum on the second floor of the Houston Memorial Library in 1970 and has maintained it as a free admittance museum with the help of our club as volunteers for some 37 years. After the death of long-time curator, Chester Nichols, a few years ago, The Society appointed Jackie Leonard as curator in the spring of 2006. A committee was quickly established to clean, review and re-arrange exhibits. Ann Crutcher, Billie Sue Bates. Rex Lewis and Mr. Leonard have worked each week since August in arranging displays, indexing and printing new ID cards. Mr. Price Boyd made a generous donation of three excellent display cases which have been put to good use. Other members and interested citizens who have assisted include Don Frost, Mike Dowell, Patricia Hatchett, Robert Sturdivant, Henry White and Robert Lauderdale. We now have sixteen display cases plus several tables and bookcases containing items in four rooms and two hallways. Many objects donated and loaned as far back as 1970 by very generous residents such as Chester Nichols and Dr. William Carlos Wood are still exhibited.

The following is a list of some of our museum pieces:

  • A display featuring a profile of six Limestone County historians which includes:  Dr. Thomas Stith Malone 1812 - 1876; John Robert Tanner 1820 - 1899; Captain R. A. McClellan 1843 -1898; Robert Henry Walker 1916 -1985; Faye Acton Axford 1925-1994; and Robert V. Dunnavant, Jr. 1947 - 1995.
  • Items honoring the life and career of Judge James E. Horton of "The Scottsboro Boys Trial" fame.
  • Three excellent volumes of poster prints done by Athens native Charles Sykes, a renowned WWI era political cartoonist.
  • Opera glasses purchased in Paris on world tour by Athens soprano Patty Malone while a member of Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Patty, daughter of Limestone County slaves, also performed before Queen Victoria.
  • A folding fan used by Elizabeth Wood who was an Athens native and a member of the Metropolitan Opera of New York City.
  • A hunting horn made from a goat horn by beloved slave cobbler Otho Frazier of Athens. He made Confederate uniforms during the war and became a cobbler afterwards.
  • The medical saddle bag used by Steven F. Cotton, M.D. of Lexington, AL.
  • The 20 lb. tailor's iron used by Joseph Sloss in his Mooresville shop which was also reportedly used by apprentice Andrew Johnson before he became a U.S. President.
  • Brass cuspidor from Limestone County Bank, ca. 1900.
  • Southern cross of honor of F.S. Wood, AL. 22nd by UDC and other war medals.
  • Two miniature ox yokes of red cedar made by Geo. H. Wood after the wood was removed from the third Limestone County Courthouse as it was being demolished in 1916.
  • Gramophone and Edison cylinder owned by Geo. W. Johnson, Sr. (1873 - 1934) of Wooley Springs.
  • China chocolate cup and saucer hand-painted in Germany by the mother of Athenian Chris Edwards.
  • Pre-Civil War ladies jacket, dresses, etc.
  • 1862 wedding dress, lace cape, blouse, mantilla lace shawl, dress collar, and Battenberg opera shawl of Julia Capshaw who married Ben Sowell.
  • Brief book and order book of Ben Sowell, Athens attorney.
  • Mary Fielding's Civil War diary.
  • Photo album and dress pin of Mrs. Mildred Bowers Whitworth, born 1850.
  • Fred Black WWI army uniform.
  • Large picture of Hendricks Sawmill in 1900.
  • 1894 hand-carved walking stick of J.A. Malone, Athens attorney.
  • Bill of Sale of a man's wife.
  • Ramrod made by Otho Frazier.
  • The 1835 map of AL and MS. The only Limestone towns are Athens, Mooresville and Cambridge.
  • 1909 oil portrait of Benjamin Lee Allen by Menzel.
  • 1945 oil portrait of Malvina Allen Moore by Jean Monichan.
  •  1815 oil portrait of Eliza Massie.
  • Three elegant silver goblets engraved with "Sarah Massie".
  • Two wooden boxes of glass slides used by teachers at Trinity High School provided by the American Missionary Society of New York.
  • The framed original plat of the City of Athens of 1818.
  • The framed charter of the Limestone County Historical Society with member's signatures.
  • A land grant by John Quincy Adams.
  • An 1882 Estey Reed Organ.
  • Miscellaneous stamps, coins, postcards, and sports cards.
  • An early 1770 cash box made by Guilemous Wood.
  • Stone tools from Guam.
  • Dental tools from D.J. Wilson and Manion Coffman, D.D.S.
  • 1850 candle trimmers and snuffers.
  • Exhibit of Homer Dunnavant's barbershop and radio stations.
  • Clay pipe bowls from Pamplin City, Va. of Revolutionary War times.
  • Leather mail pouch for horseback.
  • Hand-embroidered bedspread.
  • The 1976 quilt-top done by 4 third-grade classes commemorating the bi-centennial of Athens.
  • Rare collectible record sleeves and sheet music.
  • Musical Instruments exhibit featuring: A. Eichler zither, melodica, African kalimbo, bamboo flute, hand-made dulcimer, Japanese drum, Philippine castanets, Czech violin, snakeskin Philippine string instrument, cigar box ukulele, German accordion, Spanish guitar, American Indian mouthbox, Jew's harp, 5-string banjo, auto harp, hammered dulcimer and a fox horn.
  • Empire walnut table and East Lake Victorian chairs.
  • Numerous civil war items: mess cups, pony shoes, spoons, knives, certificate for exemption, Confederate currency, muster roll, canteen, cork screw, medals, ca. 1850 watches, spectacles, and Ienses.
  • Gunsmith tools, flask, forge tongs, glue pot, primer spark plus. Shotgun shell crimper, Guiliemous Wood's auger.
  • Bayonets, swords, cap and ball pistol, Russian Army Rifle, Japanese Ariska rifle.
  • Poster, ESPN magazine cover, and sports card of Philip Rivers, Athens NFL player.
  • Original post office rack from Thach.
  • Ca. 1850 grain cradle.
  • Pea or corn planter.
  • Froes, sickles, foot warmer, ca. 1850 Armstrong washer.
  • Ca. 1840 cabinet maker's trip-squire made by Guiliemous Wood.
  • Large display of miniatures and case by Don Osborne.
  • Large assortment of 1949 TVA photos including elected officials, city and county school buildings, and photos of 1949 parade and celebration of the 15th anniversary of electricity.
    NOTE: Athens was one of the first North Alabama towns to receive electricity throughout its town. The U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn, attended this Athens event.
  • Medals, brooches, pins, etc. from Melvina Moore.
  • 1880 Blueback Speller; 1897 Baldwin's Speller, and 1874 McGuffey's First Reader.
  •  Silver butter dish, ca. 1840.
  • Brass auto lamps from a 1912 Model T Ford.
  • Raffia covered brandy bottle and a Raffia covered cordial bottle.
  • Indian artifacts and arrowheads.
  • Tin can sealer and an 1886 bear trap.
  • The steel legal sealer used by Gov. Geo. G. Houston in his Athens law office.
  • Numerous tintypes, ambrotypes, and daguerreotypes have all been moved to the Archives for safekeeping and preservation from sunlight.
  • Saber-tooth tiger head replica, Eastern fox squirrel, starfish, sawfish beak, southern box cat, hawk, rattlesnakes with egg and detached rattle.
  • The dresses worn by Merle Osborne and granddaughter, Jill Osborne (Adams) age 2 in 1968 for the 150th anniversary of Athens. Photo displayed.
  • Confederate read shot or bolt fired from a "3" rifle. Probably fired from Ft. Henderson in Athens and found on farm of Mrs. C.L. Isnogle.


  News from the Tennessee Valley



But the Houston legacy, much like the Republican foothold after Reconstruction, is in peril.

Curator Jackie Leonard said membership in the Limestone County Historical Society has dwindled from 100 in 1970 to 14. The library and archives survive financially on membership dues, donations and city funding.

“Our older members have died, and the younger generation is too busy with other hobbies to get involved,” Leonard said.

Society members like Leonard, Ann Crutcher, Billie Sue Bates and Rex Lewis have spent nearly a year cleaning the archives and rearranging exhibits to make it more attractive to the public.

“I enjoy seeing the artifacts and being reminded of other eras in time,” said Crutcher, whose family donated display cases from its jewelry store to house items.

“Each item has a story to tell, and it’s a fun way to learn about our history,” Bates said.

If interest in the society and archives doesn’t thrive, the county could lose this portal to the past.

To pique interest in local history, the society offers trips to historical sites, publishes a quarterly magazine and hosts speakers who discuss historic topics, such as its upcoming program on the state’s most legendary tombstones. The society also works to get the state to mark sites with historical markers, and restores cemeteries.

“We want this work to continue beyond our lifetimes,” Leonard said.

Perhaps Leonard’s wish will come true. Perhaps the next generation will grasp this task, and the archives can continue as steadfastly as Mary Ella Houston’s etchings in the windowpanes.

Wanted: members

The Limestone Historical Society, which oversees the archives at the Houston Memorial Library, is accepting new members.

Dues are $15 for an individual, $10 for seniors and students, $20 for a family, $300 for life and $500 for a patron.

Membership to the library is $2 a year.

Schools can set up tours, and parents can bring children this summer for an outing. It also is open to the public. There is no admission, but the society accepts donations.

The library is open 10-5 Monday through Friday and 9-12 on Saturday.

It is on Houston Street in downtown Athens.

To learn more about the society, go online at:

Discover the past

The second story at this Athens library houses an archives with an eclectic collection that includes these items:

  The opera glasses that former slave and Athens soprano Patty Malone bought in Paris while on tour with the Fisk University Jubilee Singers.

  The wedding slippers, shawl and gloves that Ann Davis Richardson wore at her November 1880 wedding to Thomas Maclin Hobbs, the son of Confederate Capt. Thomas Hubbard Hobbs.

  Mary Fielding’s Civil War diary. Fielding recorded events such as the Union’s sack of Athens.

  A 1976 quilt that the third-grade classes at Julian Newman Elementary made to commemorate the Bicentennial.

  Original post office rack from the Thach community.

  An 1886 bear trap.

  A hunting horn that slave cobbler Otho Frazier made from a goat horn.

  Items honoring the career of Judge James E. Horton, best known for his role in the famous Scottsboro Boys trial.

  An original plat of Athens in 1818.

  Rare sheet music and instruments from around the world, including a German accordion and African kalimba.

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Copyright © 2007 Limestone County Historical Society, Athens, Alabama, All Rights Reserved.

Updated 9-4-2014