Rescued Relics, Montgomery
The Maker: Carole King
Helped by a group of dedicated volunteers, Carole King is saving Montgomery’s past – one window, door, bathtub, mantelpiece and light fixture at a time.
As curator of the city’s Old Alabama Town living history museum and Montgomery Landmarks Foundation’s “Rescued Relics” warehouse, King runs a unique business that saves period architectural pieces from renovated buildings, and offers them for sale to the public. All of the proceeds go to help maintain Old Alabama Town, a six-block collection of late 19th and early 20th century homes, churches, schools and other buildings.
“We now have about 50 restored structures that were brought here from around central Alabama,” King said. “About 25 of them have been restored as living history museums showing how people lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s, while the other 25 we rent for offices and retail businesses.”
Once the Old Alabama Town staff obtains a building, they bring it to the museum site for a back-in-time facelift.
“We try to make them look as close as possible to what they were like when first built, so we remove all of the non-period stuff,” said King, who holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from Western Kentucky University and has worked at Old Alabama Town for 35 years. “For instance, a family who lived in a house built in the 1880s might have added doors and light fixtures in the 1930s – but today those newer things are vintage.”
Old Alabama Town opened to the public in 1971 with the renovation of its first building, the 1852 Ordeman House. “As we restored more structures, we soon had all of this salvaged material sitting around,” King said. “So we came up with an idea of how to get rid of it while also making money for the museum.”
The group owned a warehouse on Madison Avenue a few blocks from Old Alabama Town. In 2010 they opened it as “Rescued Relics,” and started filling the building with salvaged doors, window frames, clawfoot bathtubs, mantles and more. “We had some items from Zelda Fitzgerald’s childhood home that had been torn down when they put I-85 through downtown in the 1980s,” King said. “When people found we had those, word soon got out about the warehouse.”
Now warehouse visitors browse through architectural items such as stacks of century-old doors, or cleverly readapted relics such as napkin holders made from vintage porcelain electrical insulators.
“Some folks find us from our Facebook page, but about 75 percent of our customers just drop in,” King said. “They’ll be driving downtown or walking by, and notice this building with a big, rollup door – and they’ll come in saying ‘what is this place?’”
King said she’s been fortunate to find volunteers with experience in restoring old buildings, and in selling salvaged items.
“A couple of the guys are retired salesmen, so they know how to price things. And volunteers are always needed – and they get to preview the new items first!” she said. “We stay pretty busy because repurposing old architectural pieces is very big now. Clawfoot bathtubs are really popular – we can’t keep those for long. And HGTV is the best advertising we could have. They’ll do a show on a house with a repurposed mantel or doorframe, and the next day folks will come by looking for something like that.”
And as long as Old Alabama Town keeps finding a home for restored historic homes, Rescued Relics will keep recycling Montgomery’s history one piece at a time.
“We just received some doors and mantels from a beautiful home that was torn down in Montgomery’s Garden District,” King said. “Somebody once lived there and loved it – so I’m happy that a house like that can go on living elsewhere, even if it is just in bits and pieces.”
The Product: Salvaged sinks, bathtubs, doors, light fixtures, mantels, window sashes, balustrades and more.
Take Home: Set of four cloth napkin holders made from vintage porcelain electrical insulators ($10)
Rescued Relics, 423 Madison Ave., Montgomery, is open Tuesday-Thursday.
10 a.m. to noon.
Old Alabama Town, 301 Columbus St., Montgomery, is open Monday-Saturday,
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.