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Red Bay Museum full of historical treasures

There are a lot of great museums around the world like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and the British Museum in London, but for the local history buffs out there, there is no better place to visit than the Red Bay Museum.

Located in downtown Red Bay, the Red Bay Museum has been giving visitors a sense of the town’s past since opening in 2006.

“It’s important so people can see how local people used to live,” said Scotty Kennedy, the “unofficial” curator at the museum. “Our goal is to really just preserve a way of life that no longer exists.”

But establishing the Red Bay Museum was not the first step in preserving the history of the town. In 1995, the Red Bay Civitan Club published One Hundred Years of Memories: An Oral History of Red Bay, Alabama 1888-1988. Former Alabama congressman and Carl Elliott authored the history book, which took a decade to research.

“The book is the real history of Red Bay. It’s got a lot of details and specific information about the town’s history,” said Kennedy, who served as the book’s photographer. “I think the museum gives visitors an overall general visual of what the book offers. We want to be as educational as possible.”

Kennedy and others, before and throughout the book research process, told people to hold on to old, historical artifacts and pieces and to keep old photographs in hopes of one day being able to display those items in a future museum. In 2004, nine years after the history book was published, the Red Bay Civitan Club secured a building downtown to display all of the items they asked people to hold on to over the years.

“The building itself, when we got it, needed some work,” Kennedy said. “After we fixed the building we put in a lot of the original pieces. The stairs to the second floor are the original stairs from the Red Bay Hotel. So renovations like that also took time before we could open.”

Kennedy also spent that time putting together the many displays the museum has to show off. Today, the museum’s displays include the Red Bay Hotel, the Bay Theater, the drug store and soda fountain, the Red Bay Depot, the Bank of Red Bay, a local church display, a military display, a Native American display and a school display, among others.

“We’ve tried to recreate well-known Red Bay landmarks in our displays with original and authentic pieces,” Kennedy said. “We’ve added a lot over the years and that has just made the displays even better.”

Perhaps Red Bay Museum’s most popular attraction is one that has not been mentioned yet. That is the large Tammy Wynette display that is located on the second floor of the building.

Wynette was a legendary country singer and songwriter whose career spanned three decades. Among many other accomplishments, Wynette had 20 No. 1 singles and, following her death, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

The Tammy Wynette room at the Red Bay Museum holds many articles of Wynette’s clothing, album covers, miscellaneous personal items and photographs.

“We have the largest exhibit on Tammy anywhere,” Kennedy said. “Tammy was known for her generosity and it has rubbed off on others. Many of the items we have here were donated by fans and by her family members, including her daughter Georgette.”

Interestingly enough, Wynette was never actually from Red Bay, though. Wynette attended Tremont High School in Mississippi, but Red Bay was the closest town to her birthplace, so she adopted it as her hometown.

“The folks from Tremont and Bounds Crossroads still aren’t happy about that,” Kennedy said.

Nonetheless, the Tammy Wynette exhibit attracts fans of the artist and the genre.

“The Tammy exhibit is very popular,” Kennedy said. “We have had people come here from all over the country just to see it.”

Kennedy said he is unable pick a personal favorite exhibit.

“That’s like picking your favorite kid, and I can’t do that. All the displays are like my babies,” he said.

But for every visitor, there is usually one display that stands out from the others.

“Everybody is different,” he said. “For some of the older people, the soda fountain may bring back fond memories. There’s a lot of people that enjoy the military display, and, obviously, a lot of people are drawn to the Tammy Wynette exhibit. It all just depends. I don’t think there is one better than the other.”

Over the last 11 years, the museum has grown a lot, adding more space and more items to the museum, but Kennedy says they are always looking for more things to add to the exhibits.

“There are some displays where I’m honestly running out of room to put items, but we don’t want to take anything out,” he said. “We’re always looking for Red Bay and Tammy Wynette items to add to our displays.”

“You don’t have to donate it if you don’t want, either. If you own an item and want to keep it, you can loan it to us. We’ll make sure it is taken care of and we’ll display it here, but you still own it.”

Despite being open for over a decade, Kennedy says he still hears of those from Red Bay who have not been to the museum and occasionally greets first time visitors.

“I think that’s something that’s probably normal with smaller local attractions, and even though they may pass it every day, they don’t know its there,” he said. “Red Bay has a lot of history and tradition. It doesn’t cost much to learn a lot about where you’re from.”

And after visiting the museum, Kennedy encourages everyone to check out the Civitan Depot, Red Bay’s thrift shop, which is located next door.

“It’s open on Fridays all day, and that supports the museum,” he said. “We couldn’t stay open if it wasn’t for them.”

The Red Bay Museum is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Large groups can call 256-356-8758 to make appointments for other days. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for students and free for children under six.

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