Discover the Magic

By on 19 June, 2018 in Historic Midtown, Karren Pell with 0 Comments

I am a fan of Montgomery history. One of things I especially appreciate is knowing when pieces of the past remain a part of the present. One example of such a situation is the old bell from Freeny’s Tavern.

Clemet Freeny, a Georgia native, first visited the area that would become Montgomery in 1809. Documentation shows he was a part of the Alabama Company in 1818 which formed the town of East Alabama. East Alabama merged with Alabama Town and New Philadelphia to become Montgomery. Colonel Freeny, as he was known, was a prominent planter at Mt Meigs, near Montgomery, and built Freeny’s Tavern in downtown Montgomery in 1821. The establishment provided sleeping accommodations, plus liquid refreshments. The bell, tradition holds, was rung every day at 5:00 to proclaim the end of the working day and to announce it was time for libations.

The tavern was the new town’s first brick building and the only building large enough for important entertainment events. Therefore it was the site of the grand ball given in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited on April 4, 1825. Tales are still told about the furniture, carpeting, and dinnerware brought from private homes to the tavern to make the interior suitable for such an esteemed guest. Mary Ann Neely, Montgomery’s favorite current historian, writes that the ball was, “one of the first stellar events that took place in Montgomery,” and the ladies of the town dug out their wedding dresses to wear to the event. For years afterward the women of Montgomery told daughters and granddaughters how they danced with Lafayette. In fact, Mary Ann’s great, great grandmother was among those honored by a turn around the dance floor with the hero of the American Revolution.

Freeny’s Tavern remained a staple of Montgomery social life for many years. Clement Freeny died in July of 1838. The building burned in 1926.

But the old bell was preserved as did the memories of the grand ball for the Marquis de Lafayette. These days, the Renaissance Hotel Exchange Bar in downtown Montgomery at 201 Tallapoosa Street stands at the site of Freeny’s Tavern. Freeny’s bell, on loan from the Alabama Department of Archives and History, is preserved and protected in a glass case inside the Renaissance bar, “Freeny’s Bell Tavern at the Exchange,” named in honor of the original establishment. Outside, on the patio, a replica of the bell stands proudly on a high stand. Daily drink specials are called “bell ringers.” And on occasion, the bartender can ring the bell at will.

In the evening the patio at the Exchange Bar is filled with both travelers and residents, drinks and food are served, and the sometimes the bell rings, just like at Freeny’s Tavern in the 1800s. Its not the scene of a grand ball, but on most nights a good time is had by all. Local talent performs; some are talented songwriters and present their own compositions. Anyone knowledgeable about local history is aware that Hank Williams sang his songs in different downtown places in Montgomery. Who knows? Maybe one of those young singers will be a country star one day.

So that’s the way it often is here–the past, the present, and the future intertwine–to create the magic of midtown Montgomery.

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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