Simmons family made their final home on South Three Notch

Published 12:02am Saturday, March 10, 2012

Today’s writing will be a continuation and the conclusion of an informative narrative on the Simmons family. This review was made possible by Morgan Ferdinand Simmons who shared excerpts from the autobiographical data he has written on his family.

Just off of the square to the southwest was the First Baptist Church with its modest red brick towers linked by an arched portico. A corner entrance led to a modified Akron plan sanctuary with its radiating floor leading to a baptismal pool and central pulpit in the opposite corner. It was the only one of the “big three” churches – Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian – which didn’t have a pipe organ. Early on, they made do with a piano, but later joined the 20th century with the acquisition of a Hammond electronic organ. To the south of the church was the Baraca Hall where the men’s Bible class met and where I attended Boy Scout meetings. Behind these buildings is the Magnolia Cemetery, where beneath granite and hard Alabama clay lie many of my kinfolk. It’s fair to say that Sister and I are related to more people in that cemetery than anyone else in our generation from Andalusia. This dry, silent refuge is like Mecca; I make a pilgrimage there each year – a ritual that has been repeated for over 50 years. It is where I, too, will be buried.

Heading back toward the square along the west side of the courthouse was O’Neal’s stables where horses and mules for sale were held, and on the second floor of that smelly building was the WPA (FDR’s Works Progress Administration) office, a sprawling, crude space where Mother worked under the supervision of Mrs. Palmer, a kindly older lady from Monroeville. Completing that block was an old yellow brick building that was the forerunner to the First National Bank but was occupied by the Andalusia Dry Goods Company, a wholesale business. Some years later, that building was expanded to become the Martin Theater.

The next two blocks were the Prestwood buildings, which had been built by Uncle Aus. At the corner nearest the courthouse was a greasy spoon cafe that had a frequent turnover of owners. The middle space to the south housed Birdsey’s Feed Store, and on the corner of Church Street, was Patrick’s Furniture Store. The larger of the two Prestwood buildings was across Church Street. First came Wilder’s Dry Goods Store. Adjacent to Wilder’s was Lowman’s Barber Shop where Bibb Prestwood had a small jewelry counter and did some watch repair. In addition to Ben Lowman, there were Bunch Colquitt, a voluble talker with a severe harelip, and another barber called “Shorty.” Ben gave me my first haircut, an event that almost caused a split in the family. Without consulting Mother, Daddy sneaked me out of the house, and when I returned without my beautiful baby curls there was hell to pay, not only from Mother, but also from the whole Simmons and Prestwood clans. Ben was to continue as my barber through my high school years. I really felt grown up when at about 7 or 8, Ben used hot lather on the back of my neck and asked if I wanted a “shave.”

In the middle of the two-story building was the very steep stairway that led to the second floor and the offices that surrounded a primitive atrium. The place that fascinated me most of all was Moon’s Photography Studio. Here, I got some rudimentary instruction about the magic of darkrooms and the miracle that happened when blurry smears developed into identifiable objects before your staring eyes and open mouth.

Another Wilder enterprise, a grocery store that wrapped around the back of the barber shop and connected with the dry goods store, was to the south of the stairway. This was “our” grocery and meat market from where our orders were delivered by Mr. Welch who came to our house almost every day. More than once, he had to rescue me out of the high window of the bathroom where I had locked myself in, whether inadvertently or for the sake of drama I don’t know. There was sawdust on the floor around the meat counter which housed homemade sausage links along with home cured hams and bacon and country butter; barrels of salt mackerel were nearby, and there were stacks of flour and sugar in cloth bags, which, after use, Mother converted in to cup towels; but cornmeal came in paper bags. A soft drink case with chipped ice always caught my attention. Riley’s Drug Store completed the west side of the square. It was run by Mr. Alsie Riley before it was taken over by Walgreens. Linking up with this national chain added an air of sophistication to our provincial perspective.

On the corner of South Three Notch Street, facing the Square in the Sentell Building, was a “picture show” called the Paramount. It was there that I attended my first movie when my Aunt Sara Prestwood took me to see “David Copperfield.” As I remember it was in sepia, and it opened up a whole new world of make believe for me. In the middle of the block was Brooks Hardware where we traded. Douglas Brooks and Mr. Battle took care of the customers, and Mrs. Johnson managed the books. Completing that short segment of the Square was what had been the Bank of Andalusia, a substantial one story building that had a ceramic tile floor made up of small white octagonals that are found in many bathrooms of that era. It housed several businesses before reverting to a bank in the late 40s, among them a men’s store operated by Russell Smith and a jewelry and gift shop run by his mother “Miss” Zell. Today, it is a law office and is included in the National Registry of Historic Buildings.

Completing the south side of the Square were three storefronts, two of which were occupied by C. C. Everage for a dry goods business and the third for a clothing store of a rather nondescript character – it later became Wallace’s.

This concludes a review of the Simmons family and their first 40 years in Andalusia and Covington County. Again, appreciation is expressed to Morgan Ferdinand Simmons, a descendant of this family and native of Andalusia, who shared these excerpts from his autobiographical data.

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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