Though autumn still holds sway over the season, with late foliage still on oak trees, the rustic cabins and buildings atop LaGrange Mountain are dressed for Christmas this weekend.
Christmas in the Country has become an annual event to call attention to the site of Alabama’s first public college, which was chartered by the Legislature in 1830. The LaGrange Living Historical Association, which oversees the park, hosts the event each year to help raise money for the park’s upkeep.
“This started as a Christmas open house with refreshments,” said Louise Linville-Lenz, one of the founders of the association. “We then decided to begin having a bake sale and crafts to help raise money.”
There is no charge to attend the Christmas event, which continues until 4 p.m. today. LaGrange is south of Alabama 157 in Colbert County.
The view of the Tennessee Valley floor from atop the mountain is spectacular. Farmland south of Leighton gradually gives way to water towers and the towns of Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia. When the air is especially clear, the Tennessee River and Florence can be seen to the north.
Farther up the mountain along a winding gravel road is the historic LaGrange Cemetery, where wealthy plantation owner Abraham Ricks and his family are buried in a walled area. Nearby are graves of people who settled the area in the 19th century, including several members of the 16th Alabama Infantry. The association works to preserve the cemetery, as well.
A collection of vintage log houses, cabins and barns have been assembled at the site of the college, which was burned in 1863 by Union cavalry. This weekend, they are covered with evergreens and red ribbons for Christmas, and crafts and food vendors are selling their goods.
Many of the volunteers who help keep the park in good condition have been involved with its upkeep for years. Marjorie Grissom runs the country store, and enjoys talking to the visitors.
“I love talking to people because thy have so many stories to tell,” she said. “You learn so much.”
That is one of the things Lenz enjoys, as well.
“There were two men from Japan here a few years ago, and neither one of them could speak English,” she said. “They would point to buildings in the brochure and I try to talk to them using my hands. We didn’t understand a word each other said, but they seemed to enjoy being here.”
Over in the little chapel, Donna Holland plays a vintage pump organ that she said needs some work on one of the keys. Her father was the caretaker of the property years ago, so she is familiar with the isolated mountain top.
“At the time he was alive and working here, I never imagined there would be a park like this here,” she said.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.