AL Constitution Hall vs Philly’s Independence Hall #amwriting #histfic #historical #fiction #history #Alabama200 #research

Before I get to my topic for today, I’m thrilled to share that The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn is now available for preorder with a release date of October 1! Check out the book description at the end of my post for more info and links to reserve your copy! Now on to the business at hand…

In researching for my historical stories, I am always happy to have the chance to visit historical sites. I grew up in Maryland, so school field trips often took us to Annapolis, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other local historically significant places. As an adult historical fiction author, I soak up the atmosphere in such places, seeking out the details to make my stories and the characters in them come to life for the reader. A recent visit to the Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park gave me the opportunity to see and experience the actual Constitution Hall for myself. (Here is a good article on the structures comprising Constitution Village, if you’re interested in learning more about the historic nature of the site. It’s worth a visit, in my opinion.) I came away impressed with much of its history and construction but also found myself comparing the same to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Let’s start with Independence Hall, only because it’s the older of the two buildings and thus has a longer history.

The brick steeple of Independence Hall with its bell at the top. Quite an elegant and imposing structure in the City of Brotherly Love.

Originally known as the Pennsylvania State House, construction was begun in 1732 and completed in 1753 (21 years is a long time to build one building, don’t you think? I know other buildings have taken longer, but it’s still quite an endeavor.) and proved to be a beautiful building that became “a symbol of the nation to come.” Keep in mind, of course, that it was begun under British rule and thus was not to represent American ideals entirely—though the colonists had already begun to act differently than those living in the Mother Country—at its beginning. Although it has apparently “undergone many restorations” the current appearance is that of 1776 after a restoration by the National Park Service in 1950. So this building has been around for 287 years, or nearly three centuries, as of this writing.

When I visited it in 2014 with a fellow author and dear friend, and then again with my husband in 2017, I literally felt the presence of the esteemed men who have conducted business within the walls of this majestic building. Partly because of the staging of miscellany left on the desks and tables, but also from my own sensitivity to the atmosphere of places which I can’t entirely explain. I had goosebumps as the park ranger talked about the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Without those historic events, I wouldn’t be here writing about American history…or at least not the same history. How would our lives be different if we, or rather our brave Founding Fathers who risked their lives and livelihoods, hadn’t declared our right to self-rule? An unanswerable question, perhaps.

Inside Independence Hall where the Declaration was signed. Note the opulence and craftsmanship of the woodwork and decorations.

I thought about the many common and elite men and women who entered the doors of this building to conduct whatever legal business they had to transact. Buying or selling land, probate a will, adopt a child, complain about a negligent or thieving neighbor, start a new venture which may have needed government sanction? Whatever it might have been, how imposing the façade must have looked to them. Perhaps even daunting as they approached and entered. When the State House first opened its doors, of course, the Pennsylvania Colony was under English law so the expectations of the citizens had a different basis than after the Declaration and the formation of a new nation. I’m not a lawyer nor have I studied the evolution of laws from those days to immediately after the American Revolution ended. All I do know about the years between independence and nationhood is that it was rather chaotic as different groups had different opinions of what laws were enforceable and what new laws were needed.

In contrast to this esteemed and now revered building, my visit to the Alabama Constitution Hall was a much different experience. Not better or worse, mind you! I was in a different place and time, on what was the frontier or edge of the “wilderness” in 1819 when the state constitution was debated and ultimately signed within the walls of what is now known as the Constitution Hall in downtown Huntsville. The situation was also entirely different.

Constitution Hall, or the cabinet maker’s shop, in downtown Huntsville, Alabama. The upstairs is known for being the first theater in town, too.

Consider that Huntsville didn’t even exist as an idea until 1805 when John Hunt built a cabin at the Big Spring in what is now downtown. At that time, the land was part of the vast Mississippi Territory. Twelve years later, in 1817, Congress created the Alabama Territory, established courts and a sheriff, and began land sales which attracted white settlers from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas to its fertile soil to raise the highly lucrative cash crop of cotton. Then only 2 years later the leaders of the town felt the population growth warranted petitioning the U.S. Congress to make the Alabama Territory a state. So only 14 years had transpired from the beginning of a town as a cabin by a spring to a thriving, bustling city witnessing the proclamation of statehood.

Huntsville was chosen as the place to draft, debate, and sign the new constitution because it was the largest town in the territory. In 1819 there were many kinds of businesses, including beer brewing, 5+ cotton gins, boot/shoe manufacturing, leather tanning, hat manufacturing, copper still makers, candle manufacturers, and water pump manufacturers. The 44 delegates traveled from across the territory to attend. But where would they meet?

The largest building in town at that time was the cabinet maker’s building so it was chosen as their assembly room. This building was not specially designed or built for the purpose. But adapted to suit. Yet the men gathered within its walls in the hot summer months, windows closed to keep prying ears from hearing the sometimes heated debates. I stood in the large room where they met, imagining them waving a piece of paper as a fan or with their coats hung over chairs due to the heat. But intent on hammering out a workable and acceptable framework for the new state government.

Sometime after the signing of the constitution, the cabinet maker’s building was either (sadly) burned or demolished to build something new. It was only as the state’s 150th anniversary approached that interest was sparked in 1968 to begin the hunt for the location of the original Constitution Convention. The ultimate result of that effort is the present Constitution Hall Park. The current building is a wonderful reconstruction of the building as it stood in 1819, including the cabinet maker’s workshop inside.

Both of these buildings represent the beginnings of a new government, one of a nation and one of a state. Looking back to where we began, and how far we’ve come, gives us guidance as to how much further we may have to go to achieve the ever evolving vision of our government. Without knowing where we came from, though, it’s difficult indeed to measure progress toward our future.

Have you visited either site? Do you try to put yourself in the place of the men who came together to work out a compromise acceptable to all? Can you imagine the daunting challenge they faced with so many disparate views and goals?

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

Innkeeper’s daughter Cassie Fairhope longs for only one thing: to escape her mother’s tyranny. But in northern Alabama in 1821 marriage is her only escape. Even so, she has a plan: Seduce the young man acting as innkeeper while her father is away and marry him. He’s handsome and available. Even though he has no feelings for her, it is still a better option than enduring her mother.

But Flint Hamilton has his own plans and they don’t include marriage, even to the pretty temptress. Securing his reputation in the hostelry business and earning his father’s respect are far more important. He did not count on having to deal with horse thieves and rogues in addition to his guests.

When tragedy strikes, Cassie and Flint must do whatever it takes to rid the inn of its newly arrived specter—who has no intention of leaving…

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