Thinking about Andalusia’s bells and belles

Published 1:03 am Saturday, April 30, 2016

Back when the little village of Montezuma was located down on the banks of the Conecuh River, one might have heard the distant clanging of the cow bells. Settlers had moved into the settlement on covered wagons when the new Alabama territory had opened up for land purchases. Lumber jacking, log rolling, black smithing, cow hide leather making, and farming became the prevalent occupation for the newcomers. A ferry across the river made it possible for those who had built cabins on either side to travel from one side to the other. A general store, a courthouse, and a post office made this little community a busy place, but after a few years, spring flooding and disease such as yellow fever and typhoid caused the residents to seriously consider relocating to a higher site. It is said that a cemetery no longer found today was in the vicinity. New Site on older maps soon became Andalusia, up to higher ground from the river town. Historical records indicate that the move was gradual. 1844 is recognized as the most often official date for the establishment of the town when the post office and courthouse moved up the hill.

It is not known or recorded that the second Covington courthouse in Andalusia, a little square two-story frame building with four limestone chimneys, had a bell or not, but the third and majestic two-story brick courthouse built in the center of town square in 1897 had a clock tower bell that rang out to wake up the citizens for a new day, to remind those within the sound of the bell to milk their cows, to alert the business people in town to go home to lunch, to ring out the time for the close of the business day, and to signal the town folks that it was bedtime. That bell still sits as a monument on the present courthouse lawn. Inscribed thereon are these words, “The old courthouse bell from 1897 to 1917 has been donated to Covington County this Bicentennial year 1976 by H. Speller Moates and family. Dedicated to the early settlers of Covington County. Erected in the honor of the Bicentennial of the United States of America by the Andalusia Bicentennial Committee with donations from citizens of Covington County.”

Out in the farms of the country, the dinner bell called workers in from the field. Anice Taylor Jackson once told me, “When we heard the bell on the Elmore farm, we would all put down our cotton sacks and sit on the shady porches and spread our lunch. I was just a child, but those were the days! ”

Remember that scene in “Gone With the Wind” when the work bell rang at the end of the day in those cotton fields, “Quittin’ time, quittin’ time,” the overseer called out!

Many of those dinner bells are preserved in yards across the south as a reminder of a family’s heritage. There are even some restaurants today in Dixie named, “The Dinner Bell.”

The rolling store bells consisted of pot and pans clanking when the store pulled by horses or mules came into the communities peddling their wares.

Let’s not forget the one-room schoolhouse bells of Covington County. One of those is installed at the Three Notch Museum. When school groups tour the museum, we always pull the rope and hear the sound that is foreign to students today. The electronic school bells in the consolidated schools of the county replaced the rope-pulled bells. More recently, I know for certain, at Andalusia High School an electronic buzzer has replaced the bell. In our choral classroom, we kept a padded shower cap over the bell, because it was so loud. We like the replacement buzzer much better!

Reflecting on the stately turn-of-the-century homes once gracing the main streets of Andalusia, some formal dining rooms contained floor buttons that the mistress of the house would step on while dining that rang a bell in the kitchen or butler’s pantry. This would beckon the hired help for service. I have even seen this feature in local homes built a half a century later.

This reminds me of the famous Mrs. Hill Guy who lived on East Three Notch in a tree-shaded colonial. Mrs. Guy would often visit the young mothers with new babies and shower them with baby gifts. Arriving in her chauffer-driven luxury car, she once visited my mother, Marge Bass, a new mother, and by accident left her mink coat in the living room. When Daddy got home from work, in the early evening Mother drove the family car to Mrs. Guy’s house to return the stole. A butler in a white jacket met her at the door. Ushered into the formal dining room, Mother was surprised to find Mrs. Guy enjoying a candlelight dinner with her china and silver laid. I am certain that Mrs. Guy would have had a dining room floor bell. At her death Mrs. Guy bequeathed her home to the First Methodist Church. She was passionate about helping children. Many stories of her generosity have been shared by those who knew well her frankness and fun-loving spirit.

Some may remember the cow bell ringing over the air waves on the local country music radio station owned by the Williams family. The bell would indicate that some listener had already answered and won the answer to the trivia question of the day so there was no need to call in your answer!

In conclusion, let’s not forget a memorable “belle” of Covington County and the large congratulatory billboard in the late 1950’s that was located just north of Roscoe’s Grocery Store where East Three Notch Street intersected with the new by-pass. That billboard made us all proud that the “National Maid of Cotton” was a native Andalusian. Her name was Miss Katy Sue Meredith and she was pictured on that billboard for the longest. Miss Meredith is now Mrs. Ashton Wells.

Other local Southern “belles” who brought us much pride were Miss Ginger Nettles, “Alabama Jr. Miss,” and Miss Alexa Jones, “Miss Alabama.”

As long as we keep the bells of Covington County ringing, there will always be a song ringing in our hearts!