“Just stories. . .
needing to be told.”
John Inzer was standing on the spacious porch of his Ashville home shortly after the Civil War when a Yankee reconstruction soldier fired three rounds in his direction, missing Inzer as he took refuge inside his home.
When his family asked why he didn’t repair the leaded window scarred by one of the bullets, Inzer said he simply wanted all who came after him "to remember."
Inzer had been initially against secession, but felt the call to stand by his county and his state more powerful than other feelings and it was through that war, the reconstruction and the rebuilding of the South that John Inzer wanted to make certain no one "forgot."
The members of the Board of Directors of the John W. Inzer Museum Board of Directors (as well as the members of the 308 Sons of Confederate Veterans) want to make certain folks always remember how a gentler era became a time pitting brother against brother, but later led to unification once again.
Bill Watkins, museum board member and Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) Camp 308 Commander, explained that 59 Confederate veterans are buried in the small Ashville Cemetery just about a block from the Inzer Museum and 1,200 Civil War veterans are buried within St. Clair County.
Watkins’ grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather all fought in the Civil War. As a group of rag-tag soldiers were returning to their then-Georgia homes, one of the youngest related he’d be glad to see his home in Columbus. As the group began talking, one of the older men asked the younger man his name. When the teen replied, "Newby Russell," the older man squinted and looked at him carefully before replying, "Son, I’m your daddy."
Those types of stories and the fact families were separated so long they didn’t even recognize close members are just a few of the things needing to be preserved, Watkins explained.
"This is not about hate and it’s not racial," Watkins said. "These are just stories needing to be remembered; needing to be told."
Inzer, at 26, was the youngest member of the Alabama Secession Convention of 1861. He told those at the convention, "I told the people of St. Clair while canvassing the county I was in favor of cooperation, but said, if Alabama should secede, separate and alone, I would go with her and stand by her in every peril, even to the cannon’s mouth. Now I repeat it, I am for Alabama under any and all circumstances."
He kept his promises to his constituents, at first voting to preserve the Union, but eventually signing the Ordinance of Secession.
A January 10, 1961, Birmingham News article, part of a series on the 100th Anniversary of Alabama’s Secession, Inzer is quoted as saying the state’s succession was "the most solemn moment of my life."
Although he enlisted as a private in the 5th Alabama Battalion Infantry, he rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant colonel, keeping writings of his experiences through many battles like Missionary Ridge and even his imprisonment in Ohio from 1863 to the War’s end.
The Inzer House, an example of Greek Revival architecture, was originally constructed by Jefferson Campbell for Ashville merchant Moses Dean in 1852, with an outside of red, hand-pressed brick made in the old Ashville brickyard adjacent to the property. Sometime during its long history it was painted white.
The outside AND exterior brick walls are 16-inches thick.
According to the History of St. Clair County, "the L-shaped structure has a hipped roof with six exterior chimneys and crown molding on the eaves which extends in an unbroken line encasing the chimneys. Beneath the small front portico, four columns, two round ones with fluting and Doric capitals and bases, and two square ones, support a pediment.
"All of the windows of the house have lintels of inset stone and fluted framing set flush with the glass."
Inzer opened a law office in Ashville in 1856.
He brought his bride, Sallie Pope Inzer, to the home in 1866, having bought it after Dean’s death. Inzer later served two terms in the Alabama Legislature, representing St. Clair County, and also served that county as Probate Judge and Circuit Judge.
When Inzer’s granddaughter, Sallie Inzer, died in 1987, Jack Inzer, the only remaining grandson, deeded the home to St. Clair Camp No. 308, SCV.
The Museum Board of Directors, now includes, in addition to Watkins, Chairman Benjamin Hestley, Vice-Chairman Jeannette Taylor, Secretary Sandra Rankin, Treasurer Edward Gunter, David Murphree, Thelma Watkins, Dennis White, Rev. David Bryant, Charlie Brannon, Fitzhugh Burttram, Stanley Horn and Lawrence Doughty.
Much restoration has been done in the past few years, one of the most vital being the installation of a "50 year metal roof," according to Hestley.
Blount contractors, father and son, Tommy and Eugene Ledbetter, spent countless hours removing, reglazing and reinstalling each of the home’s numerous window panes.
Plaster has been repaired in several rooms, but the ceilings in the Lady’s Parlor, in the hall and kitchen remain to be reworked.
"There’s just not a lot of true plasterers left and when you find one who can do this quality work, it is expensive," Thelma Watkins explained.
The ceilings are 14.5 feet tall throughout.
The heart pine and oak floors are preserved in much of their original state, now that old rugs and linoleum have been removed, some showing the remains of hand stenciled designs.
The Men’s Parlor and the adjacent Judge’s bedroom have both been fully restored, and one can almost see Judge Inzer sitting in front of his fireplace studying one of his law books.
One goal now is to have thermostatically-controlled bookcases to enclose those original law books, most copyrighted in the 1820s. Several of the books are inscribed to Judge Inzer from other pioneers of the St. Clair community.
The kitchen still needs much work, but it is amazing to see the staircase which leads to the basement kitchen where the actual food was cooked in the winter time. The summer kitchen outside, the gazebo where food was kept in a shallow "cooling well," the smoke house and the other well house are all still standing and have also been reroofed.
There are too many valuable historical documents and artifacts to list!
The board goes into all St. Clair County schools and some in neighboring Etowah County presenting educational programs every year, and educational groups are welcomed by appointment at the Museum. A large group of homeschoolers visited recently.
Many adults say the stories of resident "ghosts" are the most entertaining!
Some who have visited the next door bank’s ATM machine after dark, reported seeing a woman dressed in white looking out the Judge’s bedroom’s window!
During one reenactment before the home’s restoration was begun, several folks reportedly saw a Confederate soldier standing in a window.
Other sounds and sights have occurred when restorers have been working late inside at night, like vacuum cleaners turning on by themselves, and desks opening and closing for no apparent reason.
Fund raisers are often held, including a Bike Run, a Confederate Tea scheduled for this spring; grant applications are in the works and many more projects are in the planning stages for the home, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Hestley simply stated as he recently looked at the front window’s still-visible bullet hole, "I think we’re doing our very best for Judge Inzer and the community that we ‘won’t forget.’"
The Museum is currently open by appointment by calling the St. Clair Tourism Office at (205) 594-2116 or Hestley at (205) 338-2412. More information may be obtained at http://stclaircamp308.org or by typing in John Inzer-Museum on Facebook.
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.