Remember when: Fine furniture was made here

Published 2:08 am Saturday, April 6, 2019

A school group from Covington County toured the Governor’s Mansion in Montgomery this week. One of their teachers, Tammie Evans, texted me to find out any information I might have on whether or not the chairs and table in the mansion’s formal dining room were really made by an Andalusia manufacturing company.

A tri-fold pamphlet in my historical files labeled “Alabama Governor’s Mansion” reads, “Many First Families and their guests have enjoyed meals and fellowship in the Mansion’s Dining Room. The current mahogany table and chairs commissioned for the mansion in 1959 by First Lady Mary Jo Patterson, were made by Southern Craftsman Furniture Co. of Andalusia, Alabama.”

This pamphlet came from a handout by a Southern Belle dressed in vintage costume at a Candlelight Tour of the mansion visit one Christmas several years ago.

A snippet of information was in my “historical” filing cabinet, but after talking with my friends Gayle Banks Merrill and her husband Dr. Phillip Merrill of Dothan, a treasure of history was soon gained about  Southern Craftsman, a business owned and operated by Gayle’s grandfather, O. P.(Oscar Page) “Pete” Banks, president, and father, Zeagler (“Zig”) Banks who was secretary-treasurer.

An article from the Star News which they provided highlighted much information about the company that once employed 35 workers from the Andalusia area. Many of whom commuted from cities and farms in Covington County and helped turn out furniture for the firm, the company whose reputation for painstaking craftsmanship was known throughout the 48 states and beyond.

August 1950s  – “One day an American traveler in Europe stopped at a French castle and promptly fell in love with a Louis XV sofa. He said to himself, ‘That’s exactly what I’ve always wanted for my own living room back in the states.’ So he took out his camera and sent the picture to Andalusia’s ace furniture reproducers. A short time later, a faithful copy of the French masterpiece perched in his home.”

“The job was all in a day’s work for the Southern Craftsman Furniture Co. of Andalusia. Hardly known even to many of its residents, this firm is one of three such in the nation engaged in this precision type of work. The other two are located in Richmond, Va. and Grand Rapids, Mich.”

Andalusia’s period reproduction specialists have designed pieces for famous Hollywood movie sets, big shot executive offices, and well-decorated homes from Maine to California.”

“Some of the famous clients are numbered among the firm’s clients including Senator John Sparkman, Johnny Mack Brown,  Governor Fielding Wright of Mississippi, and churches across the U. S.”

“There’s no such word as can’t,” said Banks pridefully. “If it’s made of wood, I’ll reproduce it whether it be Victorian, Louis XV, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Duncan Phyfe, modern Chinese, ancient Greek, Empire, or modern.”

“Most of the wood which goes into Southern Craftsman products is solid British Honduras mahogany which is shipped to Andalusia in rough boards.”

“In order to reproduce period furniture, top-notch hand carvers must do the job, and today there aren’t many around. But Andalusia with its two senior carvers has two of the best in the nation.”

“In 1936 the company opened its doors making high quality bedroom and dining room sets. Strict attention to minute detail has brought many orders from churches throughout the world for special-styled pews, communion tables, and other interior constructions. Among them – Brewton’s First Methodist and Universalist Churches; Pensacola’s Sacred Heart Church; and Meridian’s First Baptist.”

“A table built for the largest Baptist Church in the South, the Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis brought this comment from the pastor, Rev. Robert G. Lee: ‘It is the most beautiful and exquisite work I have ever seen…If this world stands, your handiwork will be something in which God will be glorified through every service held in this lovely house of God.”

“Recognition like that,” Banks said, “is what inspires me to greater efforts. Everything my company produces is a challenge.”

“One of the pillars of his accomplishment, Banks feels, is the care he takes in shipping and delivering his handiwork. A table 16 feet long and only four feet wide was put together for the Mississippi State House in Jackson. The finished product had to be carefully hoisted up through a window!”

Mayor John G. Scherf relocated Mr. McLendon from Montgomery to be a part of this company, it is remembered by many citizens. Could that be where McLendon Avenue got its name?

Originally established in the Andala Building on Coffee Street (now the home of Big Mike’s Steak House), the business was relocated to Through Street, the site of the old National Guard Armory across from the first fairgrounds and (horse) race track.

A catalog was available for shoppers to browse through to decide on their orders of the custom-made furniture. Some of the designs that are listed on original invoices include such styles as “Round Marble-Top Table, Sheraton , Jefferson Davis Side Chair, Old Fashioned Card Table, Coffee Table with Glass Tray, 8 Leg Dining Table, Beveled Edge Mirror, Bed Side Table, Cocktail Table, Console Table With Solid Brass Casters, and Betty Washington Cove.”

Many of these furniture pieces have graced many of the homes in Andalusia, Montgomery, and other cities in the U.S.

Mr. “Pete” Banks was a native of Charlotte, North Carolina. He met and married Lois Zeagler, daughter of B. H. and Katherine Newkirk Zeagler. The Zeaglers from Andalusia were visiting relatives in North Carolina when Pete and Lois met. Pete had been in the banking business with Ed Sullivan’s brother in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Lois and Pete first lived in Ohio where their sons, “Zig” and Bill were born. Tired of the north, they came south to the hometown of Lois’ parents and began the furniture business on a grand scale of financial expertise, close attention to detail, and customer satisfaction.

Much needs to be said about the Zeagler family of Mrs. Pete Banks (Lois). Mr. B. H. Zeagler owned and operated the Dixie Hotel on South Cotton Street adjacent to and across from the L & N Railroad Depot.

Katherine Newkirk Zeagler (known as “Katie”) and her husband had moved from Brantley. Mrs. Zeagler, a native of North Carolina) was a devout Catholic. Horse and buggy often took her to Eufaula on Sundays where the nearest mass was conducted.  (“Papa” Zeagler did not actually become a Catholic until “Mama Z” passed away.)

The Zeaglers lived in a residence on East Three Notch Street across from “Springdale.” A wrought iron fence was in the front yard. A pretty stained glass adornment was prominent in an upper window. A picture of the house is on display at the Three Notch Museum. The home was part of the sidewalk neighborhood that led those who strolled to the Public Square. People used to sit on their porches and greet passers-by. “Katie” would often come out on the porch in her apron that held the keys to the hotel.  The Dixie Hotel, a real landmark of the town, tragically burned and was never rebuilt. Many remember that it did not have a room #13! Visitors to Andalusia that arrived by train would often check in to the architecturally beautiful Dixie Hotel. Porters would carry their luggage.

The Zeaglers had three children, Mary Esther, Lois, and Paul. It is said that Mrs. Zeagler was one of the first Catholic citizens in town. She was instrumental in establishing the Catholic Parish in Andalusia. Sabbath Mass was first celebrated in her dining room and at the Dixie Hotel.

Through Mrs. Zeagler’s persistence and dedication, services were offered once a month. In the publication “History of Christ the King Parish” the writer states that “for the next sixty years (after 1900), priests traveled many miles by train or horse and wagon to provide services to the developing community. The Catholic population gradually increased especially when the Swift Packing Company out of Chicago moved to town in the early 1920s.”

Services were held in a small building on Crescent Street near the original First Baptist Church behind the courthouse. The RC Cola bottling plant was later located on that site. Then around 1941 a small church on Barton Street served the denomination until 1973 when the new church building on Sanford Road was dedicated.

The Zeaglers sent their two daughters, Mary Esther and Lois, to St. Cecelia’s Convent in Nashville for their 10th through 12th grades. Lois was a graduate of the first graduating class at Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Mary Esther and son Paul attended the University of Alabama.  Descendants of the pilgrims at Plymouth, Katherine and some of her family members were and are lifetime members of the Mayflower Society.

Katherine certainly added much culture to Andalusia during her lifetime. A graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she hosted piano and violin lessons and recitals in her living room.

The Zeaglers along with daughter Mary Esther Shreve were laid to rest in Magnolia Cemetery surrounded by an historic iron fence, one of the focal points of Magnolia. Mrs. Zeagler’s work for her church to create a religious environment in a minority situation in the community along with a stable financial situation will long be remembered.  St. Katherine’s Altar Society was founded in her memory. Mr. B. H. (Budd Hamilton) Zeagler’s front page obituary honored him as an outstanding Andalusian and businessman.

The history of the Andalusia area crosses paths in many ways – the business, religious, educational, and social paths often intertwine. Remember when one small mention of the governor’s mansion table and chairs brought out a lot of information from the annals of local history.


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