Camden entrepreneurs look to spark local tourist economy with Liberty Hall’s Antebellum South bed and breakfast ‘experience’
CAMDEN – “There Are No Strangers Here – Just Friends Who Haven’t Met Yet”
That is the mantra of Liberty Hall, a two-story Greek Revival style house built in 1855, and is now a bed and breakfast that offers visitors the unique opportunity to experience some of the aspects of antebellum life without missing the modern amenities like indoor plumbing and WiFi internet.
They’ve come from all over the world to stay at Liberty Hall. Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and South Africa, to name a few. The reasons are many.
“We have had family reunions, class reunions, weddings, funerals,” said Liberty Hall co-proprietor Julia Handly.
Handly and her husband, Dudly Handly, operate Liberty Hall, with Dudly handling the cooking duties of the bed and breakfast’s signature “plantation breakfast.”
“[They] just want to do something different,” Handly said. “One of the things people have told us they love is we don’t have televisions in the rooms. One guy had been here with his family – his children and all. And that is what he told us when he left. He said, ‘I can’t thank you enough for not having a television. We enjoyed time as a family.”
She added that initially they had a television in some of the rooms, but could not make it work and preserve the character of the house that is equipped with some of its original furnishings and others that date back 100 years or more.
How those furnishing survived is a story in itself. At the time of the Civil War, the occupants of Liberty Hall, then known as the McDowell house, were Samuel and Julia McDowell. As the Union troops made their way into Camden, they set out to burn down homes like Liberty Hall.
In anticipation of their arrival, the McDowell family cut out notches in one of the home’s columns (which are still visible today) and hid their valuables. As luck would have it, Samuel went out to greet the Union commander tasked with torching the homes to discover they were both Masons and the Union commander instructed his men to spare Liberty Hall.
Since then, the home has remained in the family, and the furnishings have stayed put through the generations.
“When the house passed down, it passed down,” Handly added.
My room for the evening is furnished with the belongings of Handly ancestor Confederate Maj. Felix Tait of the Alabama 23rd Infantry, who was also a veteran of the Mexican War, a trustee at the University of Alabama in the late 1850s and represented Wilcox County in the Alabama State Senate in the 1870s.
Each of the rooms has some kind of unique offering, one of which includes a library with books and magazines dating back over the past 100-plus years.
The Handlys actively promote their hometown of Camden, the county seat of Wilcox County, which has struggled economically for decades. They describe a stay at Liberty Hall as an “experience” replete with fellowship and southern hospitality.
Julia Handly was sometimes babysat by Gov. Kay Ivey, also a Camden native, as a child. She explained that they work with other local Camden businesses including the GainesRidge Dinner Club, the downtown Coast to Coast general store and the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center.
“I want you to experience this and get a taste of what good folks we have right here,” Handly said.
There are a few house rules – no alcohol and no pets. However, for the most part, the home lives up to its name Liberty Hall given guests are at liberty to use the home’s furnishing at their leisure.
Recently, the Handlys made an addition to the home so that some of the individual rooms would have private bathrooms – something obviously not possible at the time of the home’s construction.
Tours of the home are also available for $7. Those wishing to spend the night are encouraged to visit the home’s website LibertyHallBandB.com for more information.