Discovering priceless treasures

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 8, 2005

There has not been a discovery of anything that most of us in Shelby County didn’t already know existed. It is one most of us have known about for years, but have often taken for granted.

Yet it’s right under our noses, and its historic value is priceless. It’s the Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington.

The museum was recently featured in Southern Lady magazine which is a nationally published magazine by a Shelby County entrepreneur (coincidentally), Phyllis Hoffman.

The title of the article is &uot;First Family Treasure.&uot; It’s well worth the read, and the enormously charming, educational and informative magazine is well worth the subscription.

The article tells of many of the artifacts from the first First Family that are housed in the Columbiana museum.

The historic items were brought here by the affluent and altruistic Columbiana banker, Karl Harrison, who acquired them from a local resident.

The local resident was Charlotte Smith-Weaver who was a sixth-generation granddaughter of Martha Washington. President George Washington was her step-grandfather.

Charlotte donated many of her ancestor’s belongings to Mount Vernon, but many were acquired by Harrison. The museum was founded in 1982.

Harrison built upon his collection by adding additional items from other Washington family and extended family members such as General Robert E. Lee.

Today, Shelby County’s Columbiana museum holds an amazing collection of Washington family memorabilia which includes the former First Lady’s Prayer book, antique furniture, glassware, priceless artwork and a presence of nostalgia akin only to that of Mount Vernon itself.

As a matter of fact, the 1,000 Washington family heirlooms that are about 200 years old grace the walls of the Colonial-style museum in such a genuine way that it is the closest thing you can get to visiting Mount Vernon.

The only difference – it’s closer to home and admission is free. What more could you ask for?

This priceless treasure is something we in Shelby County must never hide, but share with others in our state and country.

The museum is located at 50 Lester Street and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

For more information, call 669-8767 or visit

Beth Chapman serves as Alabama’s state auditor. She resides with her husband, James, and sons, Taylor and Thatcher, in north Shelby County