Remember when: Family-owned businesses were large part of local commerce

Published 12:59 am Saturday, June 24, 2017

President Calvin Coolidge once said, “The business of America is business.” I suppose we can apply that to Andalusia and Covington County as well. In keeping with that thought, my thoughts race back to my teen years whereby I vividly remember a few family-owned businesses of the past. I know you will agree that the existence of these businesses helped to shape our town into what it is today. Keep in mind that I was reared in the 1950s and 1960s and recollections noted here are in that particular period of time.

My “baby-boomer” friends, Marge Russell and Betty Radcliff, had fathers who worked with their relatives at the Count Darling Company, an automobile dealership. Mickie Patrick’s dad and uncle owned the Patrick Furniture Company on the Court Square. My 1920s Queen Anne dining room table that was purchased by my grandparents back then still has its original label from Patrick Furniture on the bottom. Cheryl Taylor’s parents ran the Jitney Jungle grocery store on River Falls Street and worked long hours providing a wonderful upbringing for their four children. Beverly Brooks’ father operated the downtown Brooks Hardware store. Ward Taylor’s father and grandfather owned the Andalusia Motor Company, a proud tradition of many years. Marilyn McInnish’s father operated the Crescent Street Royal Crown Cola Bottling Company so we always had plenty of cases of RC Cola around for refreshment. Nancy Brown’s dad ran the Texaco station on East Three Notch. Ann Faulkner’s father owned the Dairy Queen. Kay Spicer’s parents ran a dry cleaning business on Church Street. Dent Williams’ parents owned a family clothing store on the Square. Hannah Rosen’s parents operated a women’s clothing store, Turners. Janice Adams’ parents ran The Variety Store across from the Alatex on River Falls Street. Paula Sue Cook’s father was a business salesman. My father wrote insurance down at the Bass Agency on Pear Street a block off the Square. He started with some pencils, paper, and a typewriter!

We are a community rich in business history. Most of all those business people listed above worked Mondays through Saturdays and thought nothing of it. I am certain that all of those “business kids” listed above heard at home that old faithful adage, “Now be sure and do business with those people who do business with us!”

In the post World War II era, Andalusia experienced many changes especially in the business world – progress! A large number of young married couples just out of the service came to town. Some returned to their hometown with newly wed husbands or wives while others moved here in various occupations to begin lifetimes – the Bill King family (dentist), the Dan McInnish family (optometrist). A good many of the newly arrived couples of the late 1940s resided in the newly-built Gables Apartments on Church Street.

The name “Church Street” means a host of things to Andalusians. We can visualize the scenic median filled with azaleas, dogwoods, and palm trees for several decades and now manicured with crape myrtles. The old-fashioned street lights are reminiscent of the old tune, “The Old Lamplighter.”

To some locals, Church Street means school days, once a street with the city high school until about 1939 and later transformed to an elementary school, according to which generation one is a part of. Now restored and converted to the cultural arts center, its stunning Mission Revival architecture is a tribute to those town leaders who planned and built it.

To others, Church Street memories are precious of The Gables Hotel and Restaurant or the Gables Apartments where one segment of our population began their walk through adult life.

In 1948, Hyacinth Haynie Ellis, otherwise known as “Mom Ellis,” built the 8-building brick complex with 32 units – 16 two-bedroom and 16 one-bedroom apartments. The idea was sparked from a traveling Montgomery builder who persuaded Ellis to build this project on the vacant lot adjacent to her home that had become the hotel.

     “Mom Ellis,” the City Clerk, was the mother of our late beloved Grace Larson who continued to operate The Gables Motor Hotel and Restaurant after the death of “Mom Ellis” in 1961. The Gables Apartments, Hotel, and Restaurant functioned as a fashionable social and business gathering place of the town for over forty years. The apartments upon completion became an overnight success with full occupancy and a waiting list with just the right clientele of couples and singles including a number of teachers who had previously boarded with widows.

Apartment rates were originally $47.50 and $57.50 which included apartment-sized refrigerators and gas stoves. The floor plans were well-designed with a large living room and dining area, lots of closets, and ceramic tile baths.

Many fond memories were recalled by former early tenant residents including the first baby born there, nicknamed “Virginia Dare,” a car horn getting stuck at midnight, piano lessons being taught there, hat and glove bridge parties, and a mattress catching fire amidst cries of “help me!” Why even a 13th anniversary reunion bash of tenants was held with a live band according to “Miss Grace” who is fondly remembered as the unofficial welcome hostess for Andalusia. Who can forget her spread of food at the daily buffet lunch table or her bridesmaids and after-rehearsal parties?

Many thanks to those who shared their stories of The Gables with me a few years ago including Grace Larson, Jack Studstill, Merilyn Jones, and Margaret Tunnell.

Robinson Memorial Park on Church Street has been the scene through the years of untold number of events ranging from family picnics, storybook festivals, and of recent years a walking trail. Even the City Pool was situated on the edge of the park behind the school for a number of years before it was relocated to Snowden Drive. Hundreds of young children learned to swim there taught by teenagers employed with summer jobs by the City Recreation Department. Neighborhood children enjoyed swimming at the City Pool since it was so close and convenient to a lot of homes in the vicinity. My husband, for one, said that he (Jimmy Wilson) and his best friend Billy Catrett walked to the pool every day in the summertime to swim and socialize (and show off) with their friends, but their hair turned green from the chlorine!

How many churches do you suppose were located at one time on Church Street? The Methodist Church for sure as there are pictures at the Three Notch Museum of the stately wooden structure which was just across from the present fire station – stained glass windows and all its splendor.

There was also a Church of Christ on Church Street about a block down just past the dry cleaners on the north side. Of course, the old First Baptist was just off the Square. The proximity of the main street homes of the church-goers enabled them to walk to worship when the church bells rang. Funeral processions were within walking distance to the Magnolia Cemetery from all three of those churches.

In checking my copy of an old hand-drawn February 25, 1906 map of downtown Andalusia, I notice that Church Street was listed as “Saw Mill Street.” I have been told by old timers that there were several saw mills at one time out on River Falls Street past the curve.

Today Church Street from the by-pass leads to “Historic Downtown Andalusia,” and I look forward to the day when a prominent sign is placed there at McDonalds directing all the beach traffic and passers-by to our rapidly improving downtown!

The “lost in the sixties” person that I am, the “Peter, Paul, and Mary” folk song resounds in my head.

     “Where have all the saw mills gone? Long time passing. Where have all the saw mills gone? Long time ago. Where have all the saw mills gone? Gone to churches every one. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

     “Where have all the churches gone? Long time passing. Where have all the churches gone? Long time ago. Where have all the churches gone? Gone to houses (and businesses) every one. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

     One last “business” I will mention. Back in the 1950s, my friends and I looked forward to Saturdays where many of those spring and summer days were spent having “rummage sales” on the seat walls in front of the courthouse. Back then, many people came into town from the country to conduct business on the Square and in the courthouse. These “rummage sales” were the forerunners of today’s “garage” and “yard” sales. When we had sold just about all of our fathers’ shirts and mothers’ dresses, we headed to spend our money making stops at Woolworth’s, J. C. Penney, L. M. West, Elmore’s, and Christo’s where we bought popcorn, hot dogs, French fries, potholder yarn, half heart necklaces, tight skirts, and Tangee lipstick! I don’t think that the “rummage” or the “garage” or the “yard” sales have ever taken away business from the local stores. After all, the ones who make the money at the sales, spend the money in the stores! Another way of looking at it is that the “rummage sale” experience was a training ground for the up and coming business people!

Know of an interesting story that needs to be shared? Do you have an interesting artifact that holds a memory of Covington County that should be preserved? The Three Notch Museum will accept your item and display it so generations to come can reminisce and REMEMBER WHEN!