Merrill men were major builders in Andalusia

Published 2:12 am Saturday, August 18, 2018

In today’s column, the involvement of the Merrill men with the Andalusia Manufacturing Company and in the construction industry of Andalusia will be reviewed. By 1907, the two brothers, Eli Reid Merrill Jr. and Walter Clement Merrill, had become partners in operating the Andalusia Manufacturing Company, a business in which they spent their entire lives. The building complex was located on Tisdale Street, which runs parallel with East Three Notch Street. The extensive structure is still standing, but it has not been used or occupied for a number of years.

The Merrill brothers and their sons, Augustus Reid, Eli Benjamin, Henry and Walter, are credited with the construction of several of the most outstanding architectural buildings and homes in Andalusia. One of these is the current Andalusia City Hall, which was formerly the East Three Notch Elementary School, the second brick school building erected on that site at 505 East Three-Notch Street. Built in 1914 at a cost of $100,000, it was designed by Frank Galliger AID. It stands today as one of the most impressive structures in downtown Andalusia. It is most fortunate that it was renovated and made into a very functional and attractive city hall facility.

The Merrill men were also a part of the construction crew who built the grand Andalusia High School building in 1939 at a cost of $140,000. It was designed by architect Carl Cooper who drew plans for several impressive structures in Andalusia. This fine old building has been preserved and modernized through the years to accommodate up-to-date instruction. and it still stands as one of the most beautiful schools in Alabama. Current construction if underway by Wyatt Sasser Construction to rebuild the auditorium and stadium which will further enhance school activities and productions.

An earlier high school was housed in the Church Street School building which is of Mission Revival design. This distinctive building was completed in 1929 by the Andalusia Manufacturing Company at a cost of $60,000. After the high school was moved to the new building in 1939, the facility housed the Church Street Elementary School to serve the children living on the west side of Andalusia. Sometime after the new elementary school was completed in January 2001, the city and other interested parties worked to convert the picturesque building into the Church Street Cultural Arts Center.

Another fine architectural wonder is the present-day Springdale mansion which was designed by Carl Cooper in the Spanish/Mediterranean Revival style. The Merrills of Andalusia Manufacturing Company were involved in its construction in 1937. It was built to be the home of John G. Scherf and his wife, Ruth Gibson Scherf. They resided and reared their family there at 505 East Three Notch Street. In later years, the family of Dr. Charles Tomberlin made it their home. It was eventually purchased by the City of Andalusia and renovated into an attractive gathering place for special events.

The Merrill men were also the builders through the Andalusia Manufacturing company of several fine houses in Andalusia. The stately J.W. Shreve house located across from the current City Hall at 502 East Three Notch Street is truly an architectural wonder. Dr. Bill Hansford described it as being of Neo-classical Revival/Colonial Revival style. It was built by a crew from the Andalusia Manufacturing Company which just happen to be located a short distance behind the site of the Shreve house. It is understood that building materials were hauled by mules and wagons to the nearby location. The house has been renovated recently and is currently on the real estate market.

The attractive two-story home of Colonial Revival style, located at 910 East Three Notch Street, was built between 1930 and 1932 by Walter Clement Merrill for his family. It has been reported that a mule used during the construction died in front of the house, so the decision was made to dig a very large hole and bury it right here in the front yard. The house has been referred to as the “yellow-brick house,” but it was painted in later years. Some years after the Merrill family had inhabited the house, Charlie Bass purchased it for his family’s residence. This means Tripp Bass grew up in his childhood home and was able to acquire it in recent years for his own family.

Another report is that W.C. Merrill had enough materials left over from the construction of his house that he was able to use them to build a single-story house at 204 Third Avenue. It is recognizable by the color of the bricks, a similar roof line and the use of similar columns in the front. It was the home of Mark McGowin’s family for many years, and in more recent years, Ab and Vicki (Stewart) Riley have made it their home.

The stately Crittenden-Avant house located on Sanford road was designed by Frank Lockwood and built by the Merrill men. It was built in 1918 in a Neo-classical/Colonial Revival style. It was a wedding gift for Lauren Avant and his bride, Olive Elizabeth Crittenden. It is believed that Olive Elizabeth’s father had it built for them. The current residents are the Bill Avants, and it is understood that the house has always been the residence of members of the Avant family.

Another attractive and of distinctive bungalow architectural design, located at 621 Church Street, was built for Dr. Gordon L. Wood’s family. The dark red brick used for it appear to be the same as those in the Milligan house as well as the bungalow house on East Three Notch Street. The Wood house was built in 1929 and has been the residence of several families. Those known after the Woods include Maynard and Mary Douglas, who were the last residents. In more recent years, Roger LeCompte and Dot Burkett purchased it with the plans to renovate and make it their home. However, Roger suffered serious health issues which prevented him from performing the necessary work. They have abandoned the plan at this time, so the future of the house is uncertain.

The dark-red brick house across the street from First Baptist Church parking lot on East Three Notch appears to have the same red brick as the Wood house. It was originally the home of P. Lewis, a local optometrist, and has since been the home of several families including Riley Powell and his wife.

Another attractive house built by Henry Merrill for his family is located at 101 Second Avenue. It was constructed in a ranch style with modified colonial character. It has been reported to be the first house built in Andalusia to have 6×8 and 8×8 feet walk-in closets. It is currently the home of Henry’s daughter, Melissa (Merrill) Gambill and her family. The spacious house has been the home of several Andalusia families such as Minnie Ruth Harris, Bill and Suan Salter, and Don and Dot Lingle. Again, it is remarkable that Melissa and her family were able to acquire her earlier home upon their return to Andalusia.

The Rankin/Merrill/Scarborough house, which sat west of the First Baptist Church on East Three Notch Street, is of American Foursquare style. It was built in 1904 for Judge Albert Lamar Rankin and his wife, Addie (Hill) Randle-Rankin. It was not constructed by the Merrills, but Eli Reid Merrill Jr. purchased it in 1914 for his family’s residence, and he made significant renovations. In later years, his daughter, Frances, and her husband, Floyd Scarborough, lived there, so it became known as the Scarborough House. They were the last residents before the house sat vacant for some time and the First Baptist Church bought it. In the late 1900s, Charles and Jean (Wallace) Gantt purchased it and had it moved to the Gantt property at the foot of Deveraux Hill near River Falls on U.S. Highway 84. They had it placed in an attractive location some distance from the highway and spent considerable time restoring it to its original beauty. It remains as the Gantts current residence.

The Merrills built most of the brick homes along Third Avenue and many of the houses that are located in the J.W. Shreve Addition Historic District (National Register September 2009). They also assembled a number of the Sears, Roebuck and Company mail-order houses in that vicinity. Those were erected to fill an urgent need for housing for the employees coming from Chicago to work at the Swift Packing Company. The Merrills also made many of the decorative mantles and intricate wood work pieces used in Andalusia homes.

The sources for this story include Dr. Bill Hansford’s book on local architecture entitled Andalusia, and interviews with Melissa (Merrill) Gambill and other residents.

Anyone who might have a question regarding this column is requested to contact the writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-804-1442; or Email: