History on the move in Helena
By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist
To accomplish the more arduous tasks required to bring the city of Helena Museum to life, Ken Penhale has received invaluable assistance from members of the city’s wastewater management department.
When available beyond their regular duties, Lane Channell and Andy Bearden transported excess boulders from the railroad beds to the front lawn of the museum, and Channell is building a flowerbed to be planted with the daffodils that were dug at the Eureka No. 4 mine site.
From a well-worn engineers office booklet in the showcase dated January 1890 and titled, “South and North Alabama Railroad, L&N Railroad,” Penhale was able to identify that the carved boulders are from two of the original (now unused) trestle bridges — the No. 70 Buck Creek bridge located further downstream and the Cahaba River South and North Bridge No. 69.
Late excavations from the area turned up half of a gear wheel measuring some two feet in diameter, a crankshaft, a cast iron jack base and three enormous links of the chain that would have been used to couple the mining cars.
Penhale has watched the rapid transformation of the high school property elevation with mixed emotions.
“It is a strange feeling when I look at where I stood atop the mine site just two months ago and see how drastically it has changed. Even a month ago we were still digging up relics as the bulldozers began moving the dirt — now all that has been leveled. For me, it’s sad in a way, but it has to be, so one has to accept it,” he said.
At the museum, restoration will soon begin in the downstairs area. The floors will be refinished, fresh paint applied and the outdated kitchen made functional. The main room was once used a community meeting place. An inside stairwell will be added as the upstairs has always only had the exterior rear entrance for use by the Masons.
The now-recovered original cornerstone of Lodge No. 628, carved with the name of Grandmaster H.S.D. Mallory, and the dedication date, October 1908, will be displayed inside the front entry so that the once hidden Masonic emblem can also be seen. The lower floor will house mining-related relics and memorabilia.
A brick fireplace of old bricks from Joseph Squire’s house is planned to complement a mantle donated by Brian Wallis. Dating from the early the 1800s, it is attributed to belonging to Daniel Boone’s daughter.
A special thank you also goes to Kent Free at Kent’s Gallery, who has provided all the custom framing for the drawings and paintings of historic buildings in the upper entry gallery.
Laura Brookhart can be reached by email at email@example.com.