Homespun finds home

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 25, 2000

at Pike Pioneer Museum


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Jan. 24, 2000 10 PM

Just how a homespun baby dress survived almost 160 years without being turned into a dust cloth, no one is sure. But, fortunately it happened and now the dress is on permanent display at Pike Pioneer Museum.

The dress was donated to the museum almost immediately after it was given the seal of authenticity by museum volunteer and master weaver/spinner Alice Thornton.

Thornton only took a moment to verify what Museum Director Charlotte Gibson suspected.

Running her fingers across the aged material, Thornton nodded, "Yes, it’s homespun and a fine example of workmanship."

"From the way Seale Williamson had described the dress to me, I had a good idea that the dress was made of homespun," Gibson said. "When Seale said he was bringing the dress to the museum to have it authenticated. I had hopes that, if it was indeed homespun, the family might donate it to the museum. We are so appreciative of the donation. It’s a wonderful addition to the museum and a wonderful example of the craftsmanship of our ancestors."

The homespun dress belonged to Williamson’s great-great grandmother Hannah Elizabeth Waytt Douglas and had been in his possession for more than 30 years.

"I’m surprised that it had not been cut up for quilting or for dust cloths somewhere along the line, he said. "My great-great grandmother was born in 1841 and she probably wore this dress around 1843. That’s a long time for something like this to survive time and man."

Williamson said his great-great grandmother married Benjamin Franklin Douglas after he returned from the Civil War in 1866 and they lived the life of a typical family of that period in Butler County.

From stories of those who remembered Mrs. Douglas, she was a kind, caring woman whose simple lifestyle was exactly what one would expect from one who was clothed in homespun as a child.

That homespun lifestyle is typified at Pike Pioneer Museum and that is the reason the extended family of Hannah Douglas decided to donate the baby dress to the Pike County museum.

"She was from Butler County and her family lives in Baldwin County but this museum typifies my ancestors’ way of life," Williamson said. "We thought it would be more fitting to have it here than in some other museum. My family was not filled with state senators or noted physicians but they were good people. This country was full of that kind of people. This museum shows their way of life and we wanted this dress to be here so people could see it and enjoy it."

Williamson said he had seen a picture of Alice Thornton at the museum’s spinning wheel in the Mobile Press.

"She had been named one of ‘Alabama’s Unforgettable Faces’ by the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel last year.’ The paper said she was 96 years old and I wanted to get an opportunity to see her spin. I had heard about Pike Pioneer Museum and had wanted to visit it. Mrs. Thornton was the reason I finally made the trip."

When Williamson toured the museum and saw Thornton at the wheel, he knew he had found a place for the baby dressed he had tucked away in a dresser drawer.

"I talked to other members of the family and they were all in agreement that if the museum wanted it, that’s where it belonged," he said. "We are proud to be a part of Pike Pioneer Museum."

Williamson said the museum is a treasure house of rural history and tells the story of the good, hardworking people who were the backbone of this country.

"It makes you proud to come from that kind of stock."