|DOTHAN’S DOZEN: A Delightful Surprise
By Chris McBeath
Let’s face it. Most folks drive right through Dothan, Alabama without giving in a second look. They’re the holiday-makers intent on reaching Panama City of the Florida Coast. But for those who choose to stop, Dothan can turn an overnight respite into something far more.
1. Mama-mia, what murals!
Inspired by the murals in Chemainus, a tiny hamlet on Vancouver Island, these vast wallscapes are an eco-museum of Dothan’s history and culture. Pictorials include a celebration of the humble peanut, a mainstay of the region’s economy, a salute to local icons such as Johnny Mack Brown, a charming rendition of the steamboat era, and many more.
2. A nutty trail
They’re everywhere four foot peanuts in whimsical attire from Cheerleader Peanut, and Crooner Peanut to an Elvis look-alike. George Washington Carver may have invented more than 300 ways to use a peanut but these certainly weren’t in his imagination!
3. E. R. Porter Hardware
You don’t need to buy a widget to browse through this turn-of-the century hardware store, operating virtually as it did when it opened in 1892 and still run by the same family. The store has a lovely ornamental tin roof, a functioning 1902 rope elevator as well as all manner of sundry items from pioneer cooking cauldrons, and a wooden butter churn to a collection of depression-era Coca Cola bottles.
4. Wiregrass Museum of Art
The museum hosts a range of quality exhibits and by far the most fun are the children’s exhibits. ArtVenture is a hands-on, interactive gallery that explores elements of line, shape, colour, texture, form and space. One exhibit mirrors your body as colourful lights and exotic shadows so that you virtually paint yourself into an abstract painting with every move. It’s one of only a handful in the United States. Very cool.
5. Opera House
This charming theatre is Dothan’s second oldest building and was built by a renegade, Buck Baker for $53,000 back in 1915. This beautiful and ornate building was best known for hosting Vaudeville on the Chitlen (black) circuit, and despite its perfect acoustics, it has yet to host an opera!
6. Dothan Area Botanical Gardens
Spreading over 50 acres, this one time millet farm has been transformed into several themed and indigenous gardens. A three-quarter mile paved trail weaves from one area to the next; there’s even a 50 foot antique greenhouse where plant specimens are lovingly seeded and grown. The entire project and it’s impressive - is supported by donations and an army of volunteers.
7. Maria’s Vineyard
A little piece of Tuscany lies nestled in a secluded grove of oaks and pecan trees. Run as a legacy to the vineyard’s founder, Maria Cherry, the lush, scented gardens and vineyards are free for all to enjoy. There are over 350 trellised vines including American wild grapes, muscadines, which are available on a self-pick basis during the harvest season.
8. Hot Spring Mineral Pool
Fed from a depth of over 3,000 feet, with a water temperature of 104 degrees, these mineral waters work wonders in the treatment of arthritis, poor circulation and skin conditions. Although located in the back corridors of the rather tired-looking Dothan National Golf Club & Hotel, the pool is open to the public and an absolute miracle-worker to sooth sore muscles.
9. Southern Charm
Eufaula Historic District exemplifies southern charm, and boasts more than 700 homes and edifices on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the Italianate, Greek Revival and Victorian styled homes are privately owned, which is why Fendall Hall, one of Alabama’s top architectural attractions, is such a treat to explore. Open to the public year round, it’s a rare opportunity to see some of the finest Victorian-era, hand-stenciled murals, period furnishings and touches such as Waterford chandeliers and puddle curtains. Only the wealthiest families could afford excess fabric so that drapes ‘puddled’ all over the floor!
10. Robert Trent Jones Circuit
Golf Digest cited the RTJ circuit as North America’s No. 1 value in golf, though the story behind the circuit is the real newsmaker. It was developed by Dr. David Bronner, whose wizardry grew the State’s retirement system from $26 million 25 years ago to $260 million today. In addition to the RTJ circuit, holdings include US Airways, 41 broadcast stations from Syracuese, New York to Hawaii, and more than 100 newspapers. In 2003 alone, it gave up $11 million worth of TV advertising to promote the Robert Trent Jones Trail. These retirement folks seem to have all tees covered, with plans to get into hotels and other ventures.
Featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Clayton’s Whiskey Bottle Tombstone is a tribute to the poor soul who literally drank himself to death. Within a few minutes walk, is Alabama’s only octagon-shaped antebellum home. That’s right, there’s not a corner in to catch a dust bunny!
12. Natures Notables
Looking for an offbeat memento? Then Bonnie Holland is worth searching out. Her artistry with flowers creates one-of-a-kind keepsakes - pressed botanical compositions which she compiles one petal and one leaf at a time using egg white on a two-hair brush. Every framed opus d’art is a registered and numbered original. A real “on-tray-pre-nure” as they say down south!
If You Go:
Dothan Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
PO Box 8765, Dothan
Web site: www.dothanalcvb.com
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