THE HANK WILLIAMS MUSEUM
127 ROSE STREET
Contributors and Historians of this article:
Mayor Lynn Watson
The spirit of Hank Williams is alive and well.
"A true tribute to a true legend" and "One hundred times better than Graceland" are just two of thousands of entries left in the visitor's register at the Hank Williams Home and Museum in Georgiana, AL.
The home, which now houses the museum was built about 1903 by Thaddeus Rose mostly for rental purposes. His home was across the railroad tracks and it burned many years ago. Rose was the depot agent for the L & N Railroad and served a couple of terms as Mayor of Georgiana.
According to Betty Gregory, former hostess of the Hank Williams Home and Museum, Rose got the idea for the house after making a trip to New Orleans.
"Some say Rose was the mayor of Georgiana at the time he built the house," she said, "But the story goes that he visited New Orleans frequently and got the idea for the house from the type Creole architecture he saw there. It's height off the ground and the high ceilings were pretty typical of Creole houses of that period."
Originally, the house was a shotgun style. It was so-called, because you could aim a shotgun at the front door and the pellets would go all the way through the center hallway without hitting anything.
It is unclear how long Rose (who was a bachelor) lived in it, but the Williams family moved into it in October, 1930. Hank had just turned eight-years-old. Another couple lived in it at the same time Lily, Irene & Hank lived there, by the name Mr. & Mrs. Ernest Manning and their two-year-old son, Donald Manning.
Hank's dad, Elonzo Huble Williams, bought a home in Chapman, AL during the time he was employed by W. T. Smith Lumber Company as a locomotive engineer on the WTSLC log trains. About the time Hank started first grade Mr. Williams, a veteran of WWI, was admitted to the veterans hospital (first in Pensacola, Florida and later in Alexandria, Louisiana).
This wasn't Hank's first home. He was born in an unpainted sharecropper's cabin about 10 miles from Georgiana in a little community called, Mt. Olive, on Sept. 17, 1923. In comparison to his previous lifestyle this was an impressive home.
Lily worked for Dr. Tippins, a local doctor who practiced medicine and had a small four or five bed hospital attached to his home. In a conversation with Mrs. H. T. Hugghins before she died she said one of her children was born at Tippins Hospital while Lily worked there. She (Mrs. Hugghins.) recalled how strong, efficient and capable Lily was.
Hank's bedroom would have been shared with Irene and Lily. In those days it was not uncommon for more than one bed to be in a bedroom. Likely scenario is that, Irene & Lily shared a bed, while Hank slept in a single bed. The bedroom was on the side nearest the L & N (now the CSX) railroad tracks, and some folks think hearing the sounds of the train whistles as they struggled to pull their loads through Georgiana is what inspired Hank to write the lonesome type songs later in life.
Since the floor of the house stood nearly eight feet from the ground, it meant the young Williams could sit under it, playing and singing. Reportedly, his mother, would stomp on the floor whenever his singing got on her nerves or she wanted him to quit playing his guitar. Hank found an old car-seat, drug it under the house & practiced guitar.
It was in Georgiana that Rufus "T-Tot" Payne, a black blues singer taught Hank to play the guitar and some of the 'soulful' black spiritual music of the Depression years.
Another musical influence came from the church. Hank & Irene attended the shape-note singing schools held at Oak Grove AME Church. The classes were taught by a Baptist minister, Mr. Countryman. There is a picture of the class of 1933 on display at the museum. Several prominent men in the area encouraged this method of teaching gospel music. Dr. Bob Watson is in the picture, as well as Mr. Countryman, his wife and an unidentified gentleman.
Hank attended Georgiana School, and after school was dismissed, he would run the two blocks home, get his guitar and be sitting on the steps, singing for his classmates as they passed in front.
Mr. Rose died in 1934. The home sold to Mr. Rufus Young, an L & N Railroad employee. Mr. Young died, leaving his widow to raise a family of five or six (two sons, daughters) at 127 Rose St. Mrs. Young continued to live there until about 1987 and resided in the Georgiana Rehab/Nursing Home until her death a few years later.
The home sold to Howard Lofton a Hank & country music fan. Lofton did the paper work necessary to get the home established on the Alabama Landmarks & Heritage List in 1991.
The City purchased the property in 1992 and the Museum opened in June 1993.
There are 12 steps leading up to a wide porch. On the porch are several wooden rocking chairs. Standing tall next to the front door is "Kawliga", a wooden Indian from Hank's song of the same name. It was donated by Hugh Hight of Freeman, AL.
Inside the home, Hank's presence is visible everywhere.
There is a life-size portrait in the living room as well as several other paintings by well-known southern artist, Jimmy Stewart. Behind glass cases are two of Hank's earliest Sterling records; "Calling You" and "Never Again Will I Knock". Hanging on the wall for everyone to see is an original poster announcing Hank's show in Canton, OH, on January 1, 1953. Ironically, Hank gave it to his cousin, Taft Skipper before he left on his last ride.
The entire house is filled with memorabilia from Hank's life. Some of it was used by he and wife, Audrey, and some has been donated by fans since his death.
One of Hank's hats sit in a case. On another side of the room there is a church bench that Hank would sit on while his mother played piano (the pump organ) at the Mt. Olive (West) Baptist Church. There are end tables, lamps, curtains and a section of fence from Hank's Nashville home. Several dark colored Hadacol bottles line shelves. These are leftovers from the days when Hank was part of Sen. LeBlanc's Hadacol tonic train tour.
Hanging on a bedroom wall is a full-size handmade quilt made and donated to the museum from a fan in Delaware, OK. It's forty four squares chronicles the story of Hank's life.
Hank's family moved to Greenville in the fall of 1934. Hank graduated from the sixth grade at W. O. Parmer Elementary School in 1935. He finished seventh grade and had started eighth grade when they moved to Montgomery, where his mother opened a boarding house. Hank attended and graduated from Baldwin Jr. H.S. and enrolled at Sidney Lanier HS in 1939 at the age of 16. It was shortly after he enrolled at SL, that he quit school to devote more time to music.
In 1994, the City bought what was left of the Thigpen Log Cabin roadhouse and dance hall building and relocated it to the Hank Williams Music Park, which is adjacent to the museum. The back part of the roadhouse was turned into a stage that entertainers continue to use.
"Hank was one of those rare individuals who comes along once in a person's lifetime," said Mrs. Gregory. "What I think is remarkable about the home is not so much the physical things we have left, but the spiritual value. Hank touched almost everyone he met. He's more popular now than when he was alive. As long as his music lives, so will he. That's what's so remarkable."