A History Mystery

By on 19 July, 2017 in Historic Midtown, Karren Pell with 5 Comments

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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There Are 5 Brilliant Comments

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  1. GEORGE Howell says:

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

  2. Marianne Muse Leader says:

    Dear Karren and Carole and friends: I am Marianne Muse Leader, born in Montgomery where I attended Capitol Heights Elementary (“Mr Knight”principal) in 1950-55 era, and then Capitol Heights Junior High and so on, graduating from Robert E. Lee High in 1960. My mother Madalyn Chambless Muse was a music student of Mr. Van Pelt whose house or perhaps only location of his old house, I think, was on Madison Avenue. Is this this house you have in the picture along with the Pinckney residence? Mother (Madalyn Chambless) used to sometimes see, and sing with, another young student named Barney Muse (parents from NC) who many years later met her again at Huntingdon College. They married in 1938, and I grew up, after World War II, in Montgomery.
    I have always wanted to talk with someone from the Van Pelt family. Is there anyone still in Montgomery who might be a descendant or cousin, or? I feel as though I ought to be acquainted with Mr. Van Pelt; my mother spoke of him often as an important influence in her early life. She became a music teacher, too. Did the Van Pelt home burn too?
    I am a teacher of singing today in little town of Grass Valley,California

    • A Lu says:

      Marianne, I am one of your mom’s former piano students. For approximately eight years (from late 1970s to mid 1980s), she taught me piano lessons at her house on Wares Ferry Rd. I was very fond of your mom and loved reading this little bit of history about her.

  3. Carole King says:

    George, thanks for replying… the VanPelt house is still there at 1901 Madison Avenue, if you want to Google it. It was supposedly build about 1905 by the Pinckards but local lore says it wasn’t flashy enough for Mrs. Pinckard. Mr. Pinckard then secured Frank Lockwood, a local noted architect, to built that bigger fancier house also shown on that postcard. I’m not aware of any Van Pelts still in the area but Karren may have more information and will reply to you soon….
    Small World…we visit family who lived adjacent in Nevada City, beautiful country….

  4. Robin Whitman says:

    Hello I am a descendant of some Pinckard/Pinkards! I’m not sure if I am a direct descendant of James, but I did see on his Find-A-Grave site someone had posted pictures of a house and one of a bedroom. Great work and fascinating story! It’s a shame the house is no longer standing.

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