By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
Cullman is steeped in a history so rich that it practically seeps up through the cracks in the sidewalks, rings from the silver steel of the railroad tracks and calls out from the old bricks in many of the downtown buildings.
Now in its third year, the Cullman Walking Tour will commence on April 5, at 10 a.m. and continue each Saturday of the month. Sponsored by the Cullman County Museum in conjunction with the Alabama Tourism Department, the tours are intended to increase awareness of just how Cullman began, grew and prospered.
The Cullman County Museum, a reproduction of the home of founder and namesake of our town, John Cullmann, is the starting point for the walking tour. The original Cullmann home was located on 1st Avenue North at the current location of Berkeley Bob’s Coffee House. That house was destroyed by a fire in 1912. This replica of the Colonel’s house (the museum) was originally designed to house both the museum and Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce. Fundraising began in the centennial year of 1973 and actual construction took place in 1974-75 with a final cost for the project at $274,000. When the Chamber moved to their new location in April of 2004, the museum received a facelift and the upper floor, where the Chamber had formerly been located, was redesigned for offices, a community room and additional display areas.
A vine-covered gazebo stands on the corner beside the museum. In bygone days, a German band would have played in such structures for the pleasure of the whole town. The prominent statue of Colonel Cullmann, designed by internationally renowned sculpturist, Branco Medinica of Birmingham, holds center stage on this busy corner. The base containing the cornerstones was constructed of rocks from the old jail by the Schwaigers, a well-known rock mason family from Cullman. This impressive base also contains a time capsule, which is to be opened during Cullman’s bicentennial in 2073.
Just across from the museum is the Cullman Railroad Depot, which now houses the offices of the Cullman County United Way.
Official tour director, Drew Green, likes to spice up the tour with questions for the crowd, like, “What Cullman institution once located above the Duchess Bakery found a new location with the help of a shovel by Bess Morrow?”
“I try to keep some secrets so tour-goers will have to come on the tour to find the answers,” Green laughed. “This year we will be stopping at both Grace Church and Sacred Heart. There will be speakers to give an overview of each church history.”
Cullman is one of 35 cities in the state to participate. The tours begin on the front porch of the museum and last around an hour.
“Each year we choose a different route in an attempt to cover the downtown area,” Green explained. “Each Saturday's tour is led by one of our local historians. The first Saturday will be Michael Sullins and the last will be Greg Richter.”
Green will lead the other two tours. “Even though the tours cover the same route each Saturday, they are never the same,” he said. “Different guides have different perspectives and interests, and the walkers also bring a lot to the tour by both their experiences and their observations.”
Last year, when the group stopped at the old Cullman Banana Supply Building, a guide started telling the history of this particular edifice. Soon someone in the back made several interesting comments and insights. “We asked him to come to the front and share,” said Green, who was wondering how the guest know so much. “Well, it turned out that his name was James Tidwell and his father once owned Cullman Banana Supply,” laughed Green. “He remembered unloading bananas and that he had to put his arms in the bunches of bananas to grab the stalk, although he hated it because often times there were tarantulas hidden inside!”
On another, when the tour group passed the former Compass Building across from the Catholic Church, the tour guide lamented that the beautiful two-story Stiefelmeyer home had been torn down to build this building. “Well, Betsy Stiefelmeyer-Gibson informed us that the house had not been torn down but dis-assembled and re-assembled into two houses in Bremen and still stood!” Green chuckled.
“The walks happen rain or shine but we have been lucky in years past with the weather and this first Saturday looks perfect for walking,” said Green. “These are leisurely walks and though we try to keep them as close to an hour as possible, we don't rush to the finish.”
The museum will also be admission free on the Saturdays of the walking tours. Many school children are able to get credit for touring the museum in order to make up for missed classes because of the snow.
For more information, contact the Cullman County Museum 256-739-1258; 211 2nd Ave. NE, Cullman, AL 35055.