A History Mystery

By on 19 July, 2017 in Historic Midtown, Karren Pell with 1 Comment

On July 9, Carole King and I gave a presentation for the Landmark’s Foundation’s “Discovery Sundays” program at the Loeb Center in Old Alabama Town. Our subject that day was Capitol Heights and two fires that were defining moments for that community. These fun and informative talks are sponsored by Ross Clayton, Inc., and their graciousness and generosity is much appreciated.

While working on our slides, Carole and I realized we had some holes in our research. So I thought I would use the opportunity of this blog to see if the good folks of Midtown Montgomery could help us solve our mysteries. I do confess I have not been to the archives. But sometimes your neighbors come up with some really good stuff! So here is a chance to help solve a history mystery.

Here is some background information. Colonel James Steptoe Pinckard formed the Capitol Heights Development Company in 1904. In addition to being one of Capitol Heights’ developers, he was elected Capitol Heights’ first mayor in 1908 and served until 1912. He was an attorney and president of the State Abstract Company. He donated land for the elementary school.

He built his home, Rockhaven, designed by Frank Lockwood, in 1909. The photo above features Rockhaven, the Van Pelt Home, and the trolley tracks. Local legend holds that Pinckard built the Van Pelt Home for his family, but upon completion, his wife felt it was too small, so he then built Rockhaven. Now we come to the first mystery. We have not yet found any photos of the interior of Rockhaven. At one of our book signings, a couple said they were wed in front of one of the fireplaces and promised to send us photos. But they did not. Alas! If anyone knows this mysterious couple, or anyone else with information or photos on Rockhaven, please help us solve this mystery!

We are not functioning completely without information: A Montgomery Advertiser series by historian Peter Brannon featured a written description of the home. Brannon describes Rockhaven: “The tower story is built of grey granite marked with wide white joints; the upper half is of California redwood shingles trimmed with Flemish brown.” All the rooms on the ground floor had heavy beams overhead. The front room’s woodwork was Flemish Oak and the walls were covered in leather wallpaper. There was a library whose walls were covered in green tapestry. Green tiles on the fireplace depicted a forest scene. In the den was another tiled mantle showing a peacock which, according to Brannon, “is invariably to be found in every truly English house.” The dining room had “old ivory woodwork” and more leather wallpaper. The white marble mantle featured “a bass relief of the famous “Spring Song” scene by Della Robbia, of the (Renaissance) Medici reign.” We would also like to see that relief. We Googled the title and creator, but the images provided did not look like what one would expect on a fireplace. Any art experts out there have any info? If so, please help us solve this mystery.

Rockhaven burned to the ground in the late 1960s – we think. Well, we know it burned to the ground – it’s the date that is in question. Current research does not provide an exact date or any details. We called and asked the fire department if they kept records, but the secretary maintained that their “annuals” did not start until the 1980s. Without a year, going through Montgomery Advertiser microfiche is daunting. Can anyone help solve the mystery of the date?

Some things we know. The steps, the carriage house, and the servant quarters remain to this day. The two buildings are residences. The steps lead to the Louis Armstrong Park. After the fire, the community petitioned the city for the land to become a park. After much determined debate, Louis Armstrong Park, named after a local doctor, became a reality. The park is much enjoyed and appreciated.

So, if anyone in Midtown Montgomery land can help solve these history mysteries, please get in touch.

Karren Pell is a writer, teacher, and performer who lives with her husband, Tim Henderson, and an assortment of cats and dogs in Capitol Heights. She is the author of three books. Her musical compositions range from commercial songs to theatrical works, with five musical adaptations to her credit.

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  1. GEORGE Howell says:

    From Times Gone By on Facebook, where they quote the Montgomery Advertiser on December 16, 1966.

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