The death of legendary country music star Hank Williams is shrouded in mystery. However, there is no mystery behind visiting some of the most notable sights associated with Williams in his adopted hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.
In 1937, Hank, his mother, and his siblings moved to Montgomery from nearby Georgiana. It was in Montgomery that 13-year-old Hiram Williams started using “Hank” as his stage name. After winning a local talent show and landing a twice-weekly, 15-minute radio show, Hank dropped out of school in 1939 and began touring with The Drifting Cowboys.
He eventually moved to Nashville as his career gained momentum, but Montgomery remained close to his heart. He regularly visited his mother’s boarding house, and stayed with her briefly following a spinal fusion surgery in 1951. Hank also visited town in late 1952 before embarking upon what would be his final concert tour.
Many sights in Montgomery have changed since Williams’s death in 1953. So fans expecting to see places preserved with original pieces and reflecting the 1950s will be disappointed. However, there are still plenty of sights connected to the country legend to fill an entire day.
Here are the five key spots that every Hanks Williams fan should visit in Montgomery:
Oakwood Cemetery Annex (1304 Upper Wetumpka Road)
Any visit to Montgomery to see sights connected to Hank Williams should start with his final resting place. His grave is in the Oakwood Cemetery Annex, which is about a five-minute drive from downtown.
Fans wishing to pay their final respects to the legend can follow the aptly-named Hank Williams Memorial Circle to the grave site. The best parking spot for photographs is on the right-hand side just as you spot the bright artificial grass of the grave site. If you want to take pictures of the back of the monuments erected to honor Hank and his first wife Audrey, you should park before the grave site so that your car is not in the photograph.
The Hank Williams Museum (118 Commerce Street)
After paying your respects at his grave, fans should head downtown to visit The Hank Williams Museum. It houses the largest collection of memorabilia associated with the star. The museum contains many of his suits made by Nudie’s of Hollywood, his 1939 high school yearbook, and most notably his 1952 Cadillac. The baby blue Cadillac is notorious for being the vehicle that Hank died in while being driven to a concert in Canton, Ohio.
Hank William Statue (216 Commerce Street)
Just one block from The Hank Williams Museum is a life-size statue of the country music legend. It stands in the median of Commerce Street about a block from the city’s River Walk. It originally stood on North Perry Street across from city hall, which is where his funeral service was held in 1953. According to a historic marker near city hall, Hank Williams Jr. commissioned Texas sculptors Doug and Sandra McDonald to create the statue. However, the statue did not attract the crowds city leaders expected, and it was relocated to its current location in 2016.
Municipal Auditorium (103 North Perry Street)
There was only one venue in Montgomery large enough to host Williams’s funeral in 1953. Municipal Auditorium was city’s primary concert venue, and seated 3,000 people. According to newspaper reports at the time, another 20,000 people lined the street outside the venue to pay their final respects.
After nearly 30 years of neglect, the city renovated the venue in 2011. Since then it has served as the city council’s chambers. There is a historic marker across the street from the building that details Williams’s funeral.
Elite Café (121 Montgomery Street)
Hank Williams’s final public performance was an impromptu event. On Dec. 28, 1952, Williams was asked to sing during an American Federation of Musicians holiday party at the Elite (pronounced E-light) Café. The Elite opened in 1911, and was a Montgomery institution before it closed in 1990.
After several years of vacancy, D’Road Café filled the the former spot of the Elite in 2016. The current establishment seats up to 50 people and serves Latin American fare. So much has changed from when Hank last visited this spot, but the new restaurant allows visitors to sit in the place where he last performed.
Getting Around Town
After starting a tour with a stop at Oakwood Cemetery Annex, it is best to find a parking spot along Commerce Street and walk to the other four sights in downtown. There are a handful of public lots, but metered parking along most streets costs $1 for two hours. Many parking spots along Commerce Street now feature digital meters that accept credit cards in addition to coins.
People who enjoy baseball, and especially Minor League Baseball, regularly plan their summer vacations around visiting ballparks. These trips are often based around individual goals, whether it’s to visit new states or new ballparks or to watch top prospects or even the most ambitious goal of seeing all 159 active, affiliated Minor League baseball stadiums.
With good timing, visiting all of the Minor League ballparks in Alabama can be done in a matter of four days. I undertook this adventure earlier this summer with my wife Katie.
Currently, Alabama has three Minor League Baseball teams: the Birmingham Barons, the Mobile BayBears, and the Montgomery Biscuits. From north-to-south, the drive from Birmingham to Mobile is about four hours (266 miles). The drive between Mobile and Montgomery is about two-and-a-half hours (172 miles), and the drive from Montgomery to Birmingham is about one-and-a-half hours (90 miles). So for any baseball fan, this is an easy drive whether you start in Alabama or begin your trip in a neighboring state.
Planning this trip is a bit more difficult because a few years ago the Southern League, the Double-A league all three Alabama teams play in, switched from the traditional structure of three-game series to five-game series. So when one of the Alabama teams hosts another team from the state it can be difficult to visit all three ballparks in quick succession. Everybody has their own method for organizing schedules to create travel plans. I am a BIG fan of putting everything into an Excel spreadsheet so I can look at what teams are at home side-by-side.
I was fortunate that my goal of seeing all three teams play at home came together over Memorial Day weekend. Once the dates were settled, I started working on booking hotels in each of the cities and what other sights my wife Katie and I could see along the way.
As we lived in Tuscaloosa when planning the trip, we headed south to Mobile and worked our way north to see each of the teams. Due to the Southern League having an off-day on Monday, May 28 (Memorial Day), we were unable to see all three teams on consecutive nights. However, if schedules align it is quite feasible. So instead of trying to cram three ballparks into consecutive nights, we added a few extras days to our trip.
Game One: Mobile BayBears
We visited two breweries (Fairhope Brewing Co. and Serda Brewing Co.) and checked into our hotel in downtown Mobile before heading to Hank Aaron Stadium west of downtown near the junction of Interstate 10 and Interstate 65. I had previously attended a Mobile BayBears game in 2015, but this was Katie’s first visit to the stadium.
The stadium is located on reclaimed marsh land and is surrounded by a variety of shopping plazas, so there are plenty of parking spots at the ballpark that opened in 1997. The stadium is named after Mobile-native and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, but a plaque outside the park honors all of the city’s native sons who have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The plaque notes that Satchel Paige (Class of 1971, Willie McCovey (Class of 1986), Billy Williams (Class of 1987), and Ozzie Smith (Class of 2002) are also enshrined at Cooperstown alongside Aaron (Class of 1982).
After walking under the gate that proclaim “Hank Aaron Stadium,” fans are immediately greeted with a dose of the team’s history.
Many fans may overlook the BayBears Hall of Fame because it is on the left-hand side of the entrance to the ballpark, but it is worth checking out in addition to the banners highlighting former players who have achieved notable levels of success in Major League Baseball.
The stadium has a unique design because the luxury suites are not elevated, as they are at most ballparks. Instead, the luxury boxes are on the field level and infield seating for the general public is elevated about 20-feet above the field. So the view for spectators is quite different from what fans experience at other baseball games. With luxury suites underneath the general seating area, concession stands face the luxury suites.
Each concession stand carries the same items, so fans don’t have to go in search of specialty items available at only one stand (as can be the case at some Minor League stadiums). Fans will find all the typical ballpark items at the concession stands ranging from sunflower seeds and peanuts to hot dogs and hamburgers. The most unique items with local connections are a foot-long Conecuh sausage and Conecuh jambalaya. As I had ordered the Conecuh sausage on my previous visit, I opted for the jambalaya.
The best sight lines in the stadium are in Sections 106 or 107, which are immediately behind home plate in the seating bowl above the luxury suites. My seats down the first base line were enjoyable, but the view of home plate was cut off by the luxury suites. So my recommendation for buying seats would be to find something in either 106 or 107, assuming you actually want to watch the game action.
There are a lot of reasons to attend a Minor League Baseball game, and attending a game at Hank Aaron Stadium offers a particularly unique reason.
In 2010, the City of Mobile relocated the childhood home of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron to the ballpark’s site and restored it as a museum (read more here). Visiting Aaron’s childhood home and museum should be on the must-see list for any baseball fan. The museum is open to visitors Monday through Friday on non-gamedays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission costs $5 for adults, and $12 for children under 12 years-old. However, the museum is open during ALL games and admission is free.
After seeing some sights in Mobile, Katie and I headed to Montgomery for the second game of our road trip. Due to the Southern League’s schedule, we would not get to watch a baseball game until Tuesday evening. So we enjoyed a couple of days in town seeing some of the city’s sights.
Montgomery had a long history of supporting Minor League teams before the Biscuits arrived, but the last affiliated team to call the city home, the Southern League’s Montgomery Rebels, left in 1980. So the community welcomed a downtown ballpark that incorporated part of an old train shed when the Biscuits arrived in 2004.
The downtown location of Riverwalk Stadium means there is limited parking, but it is great if you’re visiting from out-of-town. Depending where you stay in downtown, walking to the ballpark takes between five and ten minutes. If you aren’t staying in downtown there is parking on streets around the stadium, but there are a few dedicated surface parking lots explicitly for the stadium.
When Katie and I arrived the team’s mascot, Big Mo, was just inside the gate greeting fans. So we quickly stopped to get our photo with him.
Big Mo may look like an aardvark or anteater or some other real or imagined animal, but he is NONE of these. The Biscuits call him, “A Biscuit Lovin’ Beast.”
Regarding biscuits there is NEVER a problem finding them at the park because there is a portable concession stand right behind home plate that sells biscuits, of course!
Maybe if for some unbelievable reason a fan doesn’t like eating biscuits, but instead wants to wear some biscuit paraphernalia then the team store is the place to go.
On the night I visited, I found some special “Greenbow Biscuits” gear for sale. The team did a special promotion and renamed themselves the “Greenbow Biscuits” in honor of the fictional hometown of Forrest Gump. However, I was more impressed by the biscuit-shaped “hat” you could purchase that was on display next to the Greenbow Biscuits jerseys. Naturally, there is a LOT of other team gear available in the store, too.
Like most Minor League baseball stadiums built since 2000, visitors to Riverwalk Stadium enter on the main level and walk down to the seating bowl. The concourse wraps around the ballpark, so Katie and I explored a bit before settling in to watch some of the game. The concession stands offer a variety of food options from the common ballpark fare like hot dogs and chicken tenders to the more unique like chicken wings (a special on Tuesday nights) and, of course, biscuits.
We didn’t get food on our first trip around the ballpark, but did find a great selection of craft beers. Down the right field line there is a bar with a large entertainment stage. The Club Car Bar is a full-service bar that offers liquor drinks and wine in addition to beer. There are over a dozen beers on draft in addition to several in cans and bottles. There is a solid representation of Alabama craft beers in bottles and cans plus brews from Fairhope Brewing, Ghost Train Brewing, Back Forty Beer, and Goat Island Brewing were on draft when we visited.
A portable stand by home plate also had a solid selection of craft beers with offerings from Alabama breweries like Back Forty, Fairhope, Folklore Brewing, Ghost Train, and Goat Island. Seeing these selections shows how much the craft beer industry has grown in Alabama over the past five years, as beer drinkers can support local breweries at the ballpark.
After picking up a beer at the Club Car Bar, Katie and I took our seats behind home plate and settled in to watch some of the game.
The design of the stadium is conducive to great sight lines everywhere, but it is particularly fun watching the trains pass by left field wall. The luxury suites are elevated above the seating bowl with six built into the old train shed and the remainder in a newer structure down the third base line.
Like my previous visit to Riverwalk Stadium in 2012 (read it here), it was a great time at the park. The stadium is beautiful with a great downtown location that makes it easily accessible to local fans and visitors alike. The promotions are unique, and fun. The food and beverage choices are diverse, and most importantly reflect location connections and options.
If you ask baseball fans what’s the oldest stadium in America many of them are likely to say either Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago, and both answers would be wrong. The oldest professional ballpark in the country is Rickwood Field in the West End neighborhood of Birmingham, Ala. It opened in 1910, two years before Fenway and four years before Wrigley.
Despite being the old professional baseball stadium in America, Rickwood Field hasn’t hosted a regular tenant since 1987 when the Birmingham Barons moved to suburban Hoover. However, since 1996 the Barons and Friends of Rickwood have hosted a throwback game at the stadium. The game usually takes places during the Barons’ first homestand in late May or early June immediately after Memorial Day weekend. I previously attended the 20th Rickwood Classic in 2015, but Katie badly wanted to attend the game so it was incorporated into our road trip plans.
Really ambitious baseball fans can attend a Barons’ game at Regions Field, which opened in 2013, in downtown Birmingham, and attend the Rickwood Classic on consecutive days. Usually the Barons’ schedule has them hosting a game at Regions Field the day before and after the Rickwood Classic, so it is possible to see all four Minor League ballparks in Alabama within a relatively short time frame.
Stories say that Rick Woodward, who owned the Birmingham Coal Barons in the early 1900s, used Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and Pittsburgh’s Forbes Fields as the models for his new ballpark.
Attending the Rickwood Classic is really like attending a game from another era. The starting lineups are written on a chalkboard shortly right as fans enter the park.
Beyond the chalk-written lineups, the game lacks many of the elements of a modern Minor League game. There are no promotional contests between innings and no walk-up music for batters or music between innings. The only music is played by a live band behind home plate that plays music fitting each year’s theme. The 2018 Classic celebrated the “Fabulous Fifties” when the Barons were affiliated with the New York Yankees (1953-56).
The game usually starts at 12:30 p.m. with gates opening at eleven o’clock, so visitors are provided ample time to wander around the ballpark and bask in its history. It is been painstakingly restored, including the manually-operated scoreboard in left field and the advertisements on the outfield walls that feature vintage-style ads of current companies and one dedicated to Woodward Iron Co. paid for by descendants of Rick Woodward.
After exploring the park, Katie and I settled into our general admission seats near home plate under the roof that was added to the ballpark in the 1920s.
One possible short-coming of attending the Rickwood Classic is the lack of unique food items at the game. The most “unique” items available would be the Polish or Italian sausage available at a tent outside the seating bowl where a grill cooks up a variety of encased meats. That’s not to say the food is bad because it is quite delicious, but fans will not find as many options at the Rickwood Classic as they would attending a Barons’ game at Regions Field. One modern convenience is that fans can find personal-sized pizza from Papa John’s at the park. Beer choices are limited to either Miller Lite or Yuengling, so sadly none of Birmingham’s delicious craft beers are available at the game either.
None of these limitations should affect the enjoyment of the game because the purpose of attending the Rickwood Classic is to bask in the essence of “old timey” baseball before technology became integrated into our enjoyment of the contest. Watching a baseball game in America’s oldest professional ballpark is about watching the sport in virtually its purest form.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of attending the Rickwood Classic is that fans are allowed onto the field after the game. At many Minor League stadiums only kids are allowed onto the field to run the bases after certain games. As part of being a “living museum,” fans are allowed onto the field to play catch, run the bases, or just lay down in the grass and reflect on the history that has occurred at the ballpark.
So after an extended weekend, Katie and I got to see all three of Alabama’s Minor League Baseball teams play at home. It took us five days to see all three teams, but the additional days provided us the opportunity to see and experience a bit more in each city. Whether you’re from Alabama or visiting from out-of-state there is a lot to see and do in each city, even if you’ve been to the cities before there is something to explore in each downtown area. There are several craft breweries and award-winning restaurants in Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham, along with a bevy of historic sights and contemporary museums to keep baseball fans of all ages engaged on a road trip to see Alabama’s Minor League teams.
As the summer travel season is almost upon us, my wife Katie and I will be making our first extended trip of the year over the Memorial Day weekend. The inspiration for our upcoming trip is baseball and craft beer, as we are setting out to see every Minor League Baseball team that plays in Alabama while also visiting more of the state’s craft breweries.
Our schedule is built around attending MiLB games, but we will assuredly be visiting craft breweries and seeing other local sights. Here is our schedule…
In addition to seeing games at every Minor League ballpark in the state, Katie will get to attend the Rickwood Classic. We regularly attend Barons games at Regions Field in the Southside District, but she has never been to the annual game at Rickwood Field. So this year, we are making it happen.
In addition to the baseball games, we plan on visiting the following breweries…
For good measure, we’ll also be exploring some Civil Rights sights in Montgomery and Selma, too.
To see everything together, you can check out the Google Map I created that combines two of my favorite interests and some of the other sights we plan to visit during our trip.
You can follow along with our trip on the usual social media accounts. I’ll be posting regularly on Twitter (@StevenOnTheMove) and Instagram (@StevenOnTheMove). If you enjoy craft beer, you can follow my check-ins on Untappd (StevenOnTheMove) by sending me a friend request.
Since I started this blog, I’ve begun to interact with a lot of other baseball bloggers. I’ve referenced some of them in my posts like Craig Wieczorkiewicz (Twitter: @MWLtraveler) and Malcolm MacMillan (Twitter: @BallparkGuide), and most people know about MiLB.com’s Ben Hill (Twitter: @bensbiz). In addition to interacting with these other bloggers, I’ve also made interacted and wrote about a baseball travel writer who has written numerous books about visiting Major League and Minor League stadiums: Josh Pahigian (Twitter: @joshpahigian). You can find an inventory of all his books on Amazon.com here.
Last April, he contacted me about his latest project and asked if he could include a photo I took of a biscuit when I visited and blogged about my trip to see the Montgomery Biscuits in 2012 in the book (read about that visit here). That book came to fruition this spring, so it felt appropriate to share that my blogging work has resulted in something I created appearing in print.
While I’m not making money off the publication, if you enjoy attending baseball games you should check out Pahigian’s The Amazing Baseball Adventure: Ballpark Wonders from the Bushes to the Show. You can find it on Amazon.com here.
You can find my photo and Josh’s write-up about what makes eating a biscuit at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, Ala., unique at #95 in his list.
My photo featured prominently next to a write-up about eating a biscuit.
I hope some seamheads enjoy the photo and write-up. It is really cool to see my work picked up by another writer.
On my way back to Stillwater, Okla., for the school year I took a scenic route to watch some baseball games and see some sights. After seeing some National Park Service sites in Tuskegee, Ala., my first baseball game was a Montgomery Biscuits game at Riverwalk Stadium.
The ballpark is built into a former railroad building, which is clear from the signage at the corner of Coosa and Tallapoosa streets. The building still bears decorative signage dating from 1898 as home of the Western Railway of Alabama.
The view from home plate does not provide fans with a spectacular view. There is a nice scoreboard in left center and fans get an open view of the field, but the backdrop isn’t one that has people bragging about the view. The signage in the outfield isn’t excessive, so fans get to watch the game without being inundated with advertising.
The crowd was almost nonexistent, and I’m not sure why. It was a Wednesday night in August, so it’s not a prime game-night. However, I expected the crowd to be better than what I saw. Granted, August in Alabama is always humid, so maybe that’s why there were so few fans at the game.
With a team called the Biscuits and being in the South, I had to try the biscuits. The biscuit stand is on the concourse immediately behind home plate, so you can’t miss it. I had a few options for my biscuits, but settled on plain biscuits for two reasons:
I didn’t want to eat JUST biscuits, so I couldn’t get chicken biscuits or biscuits and gravy and feel like I could eat something else. Whenever possible, I try to sample a few noteworthy items at a ballpark.
I almost opted for the strawberry shortcake biscuits, but passed when I learned that the strawberries were not fresh and came from a can. By default that meant I had to order plain biscuits and top them with butter and either syrup or jelly.
Growing up in the South I’ve had biscuits with honey or jelly quite often, but I had never considered putting syrup on my biscuits until this night. I faced a difficult decision: original Alaga syrup or Alaga Yellow Label syrup. After taking into consideration some sage advice from the veteran biscuit seller and sampling the two varieties, I opted to mix and match. I combined the Yellow Label and the original cane syrup for a delicious treat.
For my sustenance I opted for a foot-long red hot sausage at the Sausage Shack. I love encased meats, so I chose the locally-made sausage. I’ve never heard of Conecuh before, but I was very pleased with their meat. Yes, insert inappropriate meat joke. I got my sausage topped with grilled peppers and onions and added sauerkraut before topping it with just a touch of yellow mustard.
I paired it with a beer from Back Forty Beer Co., which is based in Gadsden, Ala. I drank their Truck Stop Honey previously (read my visit to Regions Park for more details), so I decided to stick with a local craft brew and tried their Naked Pig Pale Ale. It was a good pairing with the spicy sausage, and I’m glad I stuck with a brand I knew.
I passed on Dreamland BBQ nachos because I ate them at Regions Park a few weeks prior to this trip. So I didn’t feel the need to eat them again. Many folks told me to try something from the South of the Border cart because it was the best bang for my buck. Maybe next time I’ll experiment with Mexican food at an Alabama ballpark.
Mugging with the mascot
Food is always great, especially when it’s unique to the ballpark or region. However, I think the best moment of the game was getting my photo taken with Biscuits mascot Big Mo – the biscuit lovin’ beast. I don’t know how to describe him, but a friend said he looked like an anteater. I guess it just goes to show you that some creatures are beyond description, and you just have to love them for what they are.
A wild finish
The game moved along fairly quickly as the Biscuits rallied in the 9th to claim a 2-1 victory over the stunned Jackson Generals. A dribbler down the first base line left the pitcher and first baseman confused as to who should cover the bag and who should field the ball. The runner on second raced around the bases as the batter dove head-first under the tag of the first baseman to give the home team the win. It was a great finish to the game!
The nightly recap
I loved my experience at Riverwalk Stadium. It is a great location in downtown with ample street parking nearby. It wonderfully incorporates an old building into a newer structure. To top it off, the Biscuits’ staff plays up the aspects that make people fall in love with Minor League Baseball: the food is unique, the prices give fans a good bang for their buck, and most importantly the staff is friendly.
Final: Jackson Generals 1, Montgomery Biscuits 2 Box Score