Remember When: Signs of yesteryear [with galery]

Published 1:20 am Saturday, October 6, 2018

A few signs of yesteryear in Andalusia still exist. They used to be found on the streets, the store fronts, and the railroad lines. Some of these vintage signs are housed at the Three Notch Museum on Historic Central and Tisdale Streets. Keep in mind that there is always room for more if you come across an old sign that needs preserving. They are often found gathering dust in the cob web corners of your garage, attic, or basement. Gone but not forgotten!

Remember when the sign painters whose occupation was sign painting were busy day in and day out painting by hand. One of these craftsmen was Berry O’Neal. Born in 1908, he headed off to World War II in the early 1940s and was assigned to painting numbers and letters on trucks, jeeps, tanks, etc. He painted signs wherever they were needed in the European Theatre of operation. Upon returning to Andalusia after being wounded in Algiers in an air raid where he got his foot and ankle run over, he went into the sign painting business that lasted his lifetime. He died in 1999 and at the age of 91 was the oldest citizen of Andalusia at that time that had lived in Andalusia his whole life except for his military service according to his family.

At that time, another sign painter was Johnny Jones who painted out of a building on South Three Notch Street that is located behind what used to be the Hooper-McDonald surveyors’ office building adjacent to the First Presbyterian Church. All of that property is now owned by the Presbyterians. Jones did not stay in Andalusia. Another sign painter was Harold Hixon who painted in the building located off Church Street on the street now called Holloway Drive formerly known as Hixon Drive. O’Neal and Hixon were good friends, and they often painted projects jointly. O’Neal painted on South Three Notch and later in the building he built at the end of Barton Street where the North By-pass intersects.

Berry O’Neal’s son Duane O’Neal began his sign painting career at the age of 16 when he painted “Little Caesar” on both sides of a 1955 Chevrolet race car for Ray Findley. He also remembers one of his early jobs as painting the first car on the drag strip circuit of Rex Goodson’s Antioch Road racetrack.

I know you readers will agree that these old signs give us insight into life of days gone by. Not only do they help us to take a stroll down memory lane but also tell us a lot about advertising in the day. If you have ever been up in North Alabama or Tennessee, you may have noticed signs that dot the barn roofs across the countryside – VISIT DESOTO FALLS, VISIT LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN.

A Coca Cola mural was once painted on the south side wall of the Walker Business and Home building on Court Square that was occupied for many years by Patrick Furniture Company. These commercial type signs, all painted by hand, offered a kind of beauty and personality. Remember the Coca Cola boy with the bottle-top hat?

The soul of the town is its history, and signs are part of the visual story. They advertise the café, the boarding house, the hotel, the grocer, the furniture store, the hardware, the garage, the dairy, the livery stable, the druggist, the newspaper office, the blacksmith, the saloon, the factory, the school, the church, and the cemetery.

Hope you enjoy these pictures I rounded up. The Andalusia Vulcanizing photo is supposed to be a scene on East Three Notch across from WAAO. If anyone knows any different, let me know! No telling who painted those signs! Lest we forget the sign businessmen of today, Paul Stuart, The Sign Man, and Tony Brown, Pirate Graphics, who design and print with the computer in this new age. It is always enlightening to REMEMBER WHEN.


Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at