Simmons family were residents of Andalusia during the 1930s

Published 12:00am Saturday, March 3, 2012

This column will be a continuation of the feature on the Simmons family of Andalusia. Again, the following remembrances are excerpts from autobiographical data written by Morgan Ferdinand Simmons, son of Morgan Foshee and Nan (Prestwood) Simmons.

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In the years before the curse of shopping centers and franchises, Andalusia (population about 5,000) was a pretty town – in fact, one of the prettiest Southern towns I ever saw. Like many county seat towns, it was defined by its city square. As mentioned earlier, a brick courthouse built in 1896 originally sat in the middle of that square, but was replaced by its current impressive Greek Revival building in 1916. And so, the square became a sort of park with a few arborvitae and other miscellaneous shrubs with a circle in the center set off by a concrete walk and radiating walks leading in four directions. At Christmas time, it was gussied up with a large native cedar tree and decorated with multicolored lights – as magical for us as Rockefeller Center’s gigantic adornment, and in summer, the circle was bright with red zinnias. Care for this park had been granted to the Civics Club, of which Mama Simmons and Mrs. Oscar Duggar were charter members. After World War II, the city fathers decided to convert the square into a parking area and cut a street through the middle thus connecting East Three Notch and Church Streets. Mama and Mrs. Duggar were so incensed that they threatened civil disobedience by taking their rocking chairs to the square for a “sit-in.” The city prevailed, and the disastrous project went through and changed the character of the town. Only within the last few years has the park been restored; there’s no need for the extra parking since the surrounding buildings are either vacant or occupied by the burgeoning legal profession.

In its heyday, the square bustled with activity. At the southeast corner was the impressive six story First National Bank building – our skyscraper – a narrow structure of smart gray brick. Its upper floors housed offices for doctors and lawyers, as well as a beauty shop and various other enterprises. To its north was the two-story Henderson Building, occupied on the ground level by Brown and Broughton Drug Store. P. Lewis’ Jewelry Store (a small emporium of crystal, china, silverware and optometry in addition to jewelry and watches) was next door. It was the place to shop for wedding gifts. The owner’s wife, Lorraine, was one of Mother’s closest friends, and the handsome five branch silver candelabrum that graces our dining room had belonged to her and was given to us when she broke up housekeeping. The third store in that block was Benson’s Hardware.

Continuing north across East Three Notch was the Milligan Building with our premiere dry goods store on the corner: Covington Stores, filled with ready made clothes for men, women and children, shoes and piece goods, where labels such as Buster Brown, Hickey-Freeman, Florsheim and Nellie Don were available. A dressmaker’s shop was in the back. The sales people – Graham Dunn, Robert Ham, Erin Avant and Miss Ada Sentell – were all good friends, and my aunt, Naomi Prestwood, frequently clerked there during Christmas vacation to supplement her meager teacher’s salary. On the second floor above the store was the Andalusia library, where Mrs. Duggar served as the volunteer librarian. I remember going there after school on one occasion to get a book out about China and the pleasure it gave me to expand my literary horizons. Back on the ground floor was Perrett’s Grocery Store followed by Rodgers Grocery, and across the alley at the head of North Cotton Street was J. W. Shreve & Sons feed and farm supply.

On the northeast side of the courthouse was the jailhouse, a hybrid structure of red brick that is something of a cross between a residence and a public building. At one time the sheriff, Tom Head, his colorful wife, Ida Kate, who could cuss like a sailor, and their family, lived there along with the inmates.

The massive granite courthouse with its fluted Corinthian columns breathed solidity and security, an edifice that reflected the character of Papa Simmons who had played such an important role in making this landmark building possible. It sat well above street level, and to enter it, one had to mount several marble steps to a wide landing before making a higher climb to the portico with its several double-doored entrances. Inside there was marble everywhere – the floor of a high domed atrium, support columns for the expansive balcony surrounded by marble banisters and the impressive double stairway that led to the second floor. Brass spittoons added their acrid redolence to the stench of stale tobacco, and this grandeur was further interrupted by the down home touch of screened doors to the various offices that were necessary to keep flies out in warm weather. There was no air-conditioning in those days.

In addition to serving as a center for county government, the courthouse and its lawn were gathering places for Saturday activities when the farm folk flocked into town for their weekly purchases and visiting. In the courtroom, there were frequent Sacred Harp song fests – a time when religion and society came together to give life to a centuries’ old tradition of folk hymnody. The weekly newspaper would list the song leaders and their selected hymns on the Thursday prior to these nasal-twanging gatherings. The courthouse steps were Andalusia’s version of London’s Hyde Park. There itinerate evangelists shouted their messages of gloom and doom. I remember riding by one Saturday as one of the more colorful ones shouted, “Bless God’s liver.” At the time, I wondered if God had a drinking problem, but on reflection, I realized he meant “one who lives for God.” In good weather, the lawn became an open-air market where the different church groups held their rummage sales.

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Again, credit is given to Morgan Ferdinand Simmons, a descendant of this family and native of Andalusia, who shared these excerpts from his autobiographical data. The review of this family will be concluded in next week’s column.

Anyone who might have any question regarding this column or who might have information on a family that could be featured here is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson, 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.

 

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