By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
A hidden Gadsden treasure is located at the Elliot Community Center at 2829 West Meighan Boulevard. Elliot Community Center is the home of the Etowah Heritage Museum.The museum features Northeast Alabama Heritage and Native American exhibits, including Alabama’s First Trail of Tears Memorial. The museum’s newest exhibit is the National Heritage Tree Park.
The museum was started by the Etowah Historical Society in fall of 2014. Historical Society President Danny Crownover said that projects to continue to update the museum are underway.
The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.. Admission is $1 for children and $2 for adults.
The Northeast Alabama Heritage exhibit showcases the early settlers of this area, especially the families that founded what is now Etowah County. The historical artifacts on display include furniture, clothing, pictures and even old eyeglasses. The exhibit moves through the various industries that shaped Etowah’s economy and wars and other events that shaped the local history.
The Native American Exhibit provides information about Native Americans from the Paleo era to the Trail of Tears, when natives were forced to move. Artifacts on display include Chickasaw, Cherokee and Creek arrowheads, earthenware and the Southeast’s largest pipe collection.
“My favorite part is probably the Native American collection because I have Native American heritage in me from my mom and my dad’s side,” said Crownover.
Alabama’s First Trail of Tears Memorial, located outdoors, features about 30 metal plaques detailing the history of the Trail, including the legislature that approved the forced removals, the Native American’s attempts to protest, the roundup, the poor conditions on the trail and the attempts to rebuild after arriving in the west.
The memorial is full of local history, including the paths taken by Creek and Cherokee natives through Etowah County.
“The Cherokees were not the only ones that were on the Trail of Tears,” said Crownover. “About all Native Americans in the Southeast had to go on the Trail of Tears. The Creek Indians went through Etowah County about five times.”
The newest exhibit at the Etowah Heritage Museum is the National Heritage Tree Park.
“There are a few heritage tree parks in the United States,” said Crownover. “And we intend, someday, to be the largest in the United States. We are probably the second largest in the United States right now.”
For the most part, these trees were taken from seeds or cuttings from trees located on the property of historical figures. Some of these trees were planted by the historical figures themselves. For example, George Washington landscaped his Mount Vernon estate. A Yellow Buckeye that Washington himself planted is on display at the tree park. Other historical figures represented in the tree park include Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Alex Haley, Henry David Thoreau, William Faulkner, Robert E. Lee and astronaut Charlie Walker. Walker took Sweetgum seeds with him to space, returning with tree sprouts that grew into the tree on display at the National Heritage Tree Park. Two other trees in the park traveled to the moon as seeds aboard Apollo 14 in 1971.
Located next to the trees are plaques detailing some history on the tree’s owner and where each tree came from.
According to Crownover, Alabama is an ideal area for a tree park because it can support a wide variety of plants.
“Just about every tree can be grown in this state,” said Crownover. “ With all the rain we’ve had, they’ve really been growing this year.”
The trees were obtained from a nonprofit nursery near Nashville that grows heritage trees. The money for the trees came from an Alabama Power Company Foundation grant. The tree park recently received a $1,000 grant.
To volunteer, donate or for more information, contact the museum at 256-886-6911.