Pierson’s medical office becomes post office

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2011

The River Falls Post Office is one of the most interesting local landmarks, and it has been promoted in a number of ways.

Its status for the last several years has been that of a main attraction on the grounds of the Three Notch Museum, which is located in the former Central of Georgia Railroad Depot on Historic Central Street in Andalusia.

The unique building was donated to the museum by a prominent family in the River Falls community.

While the history of the structure as a post office is quite significant, its earlier history is the focus of this writing.

It may not be known to some that the building was first constructed to serve as a physician’s office and school classroom.

Dr. William Whatley Pierson, a native of Troy, was born in 1859. He moved to the River Falls community, located a few miles from Andalusia, to become the company physician for the Horseshoe Lumber Co. With fairly frequent accidents in millwork, the management wanted to have a medical doctor on hand to treat and care for the mill employees.

After receiving his medical training in Mobile, Dr. Pierson chose to “go west” and settled in Texas. For several years, he enjoyed the life of a cowboy while practicing his profession. He later returned to Red Level where he maintained a medical practice for a couple of years. Then, during the early 1900s, he accepted the position of company doctor for the Horseshoe Lumber Co.

There, Dr. Pierson built a fine two-story home for his family, and it still stands in reasonably good condition.

In fact, it is one of the two or three buildings that survived the devastating “Flood of 1929,” which destroyed the lumber mill and most of the homes and other structures.

The Pierson house stands next to U.S. Hwy 84 as the first building on the left side of the road after crossing the Conecuh River on the E.L. More Memorial Bridge.

After having his house constructed, Dr. Pierson set about building something for his office.

At the same time he was mindful of his wife’s interest in teaching the local children in her private school.

This is how the structure, currently known as the River Falls Post Office, came into being.

It was erected on the west side of the house and in the front yard where it sat until moved by the Town of River Falls.

The lumber and materials for building the house and the office/school would certainly have come from the local lumber company.

After Dr. Pierson moved from River Falls following the “Flood of 1929,” a Houston family purchased and resided in the Pierson house.

A son of the family, Shannon Houston, continues to make it his home. The post office building was later vacated and then purchased by a local citizen who had it moved to a different location.

The small building was designed to have three rooms.

A small front one served as a reception area with the doctor’s pharmacy display in the right end.

After being converted to a post office, it would be where patrons checked their boxes and did business with the postmaster.

The second or middle room served as the doctor’s examining and treatment room. It later became the work area for the postmaster.

The wall separating the second and third rooms featured a fireplace on both sides to supply heat for the treatment area and the school classroom.

Later the fireplaces were removed and the wall moved forward to reduce the size of the middle room.

The third or back room served as Mrs. Pierson’s classroom, and it became the freight or storage room for the later post office arrangement.

In the building’s present state at the museum, the three various rooms remain basically as they were when it was a post office with some minor modifications made by a previous owner.

The first two rooms are maintained with post office furnishings, and

the larger rear room is being used to display area schools’ memorabilia.  This collection contains old desks and furniture, framed class-group photographs, graduation gowns, school yearbooks and examples of earlier school materials and textbooks. (Donation of items for this collection and all others at the museum are always appreciated. Everyone is asked to please support the museum in this manner.)

Dr William Whatley Pierson resided in his home and practiced medicine in his small office building until the “Flood of 1929” destroyed the Horseshoe Lumber Co., which was his employer.

He then moved to Elmore County where he practiced medicine for a few more years before his retirement.

Not much is known at this time about Dr. Pierson’s family.

It is known that he was married to Ments C., and they had at least two children.

When the 1910 Census was enumerated, the couple had two sons, Thomas C. and William Whatley Jr., in their household along with an uncle, Joseph Anglin who was 61 years of age.

There were also two boarders or possibly employees living at the residence.

Thomas C. Pierson, born in 1890 in New Mexico, was in his father’s household in River Falls in 1910 at 20 years of age.

He was residing in Florala in 1920 and had moved to Jefferson County by 1930.

It appears that he became a physician like his father and was married to Lillian.

William Whatley Pierson, Jr., born in 1892, was married to Henrietta E., a native of Brundidge who was born in 1890. William was a resident of River Falls in 1910 and 1920. By 1930, he was married and residing in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he became dean of one of the schools at the University of North Carolina.

This writing is an effort to present and preserve the history of Dr. Pierson’s medical practice in his small office building, his wife’s private school and the period of the building housing the River Falls Post Office. It is also designed to share some of the history being preserved at the Three Notch Museum.

Anyone who has any correction to the above history or additional information on the family of Dr. William W. Pierson or his medical office and practice is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.