Remember when: Riley house graced East Three Notch

Published 12:36 am Saturday, April 27, 2019

More than 120 ago, songwriting and singing were vital parts of the American popular culture. Music of the late 1890s played a significant role in the war effort during the Spanish-American War (1898), and its tunes rallied Americans behind the cause. Songs that ended up in sing-a-long books whose melodies are included in club and school songbooks are titled – “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay,” “Daisy Bell,” “The Band Played On,” “Hello, My Baby,” and “The Sidewalks of New York.” We still sing these songs in assemblies and club meetings. They are routinely included in songbooks such as America Sings. This gives us a glimpse of the times in our little town about to explode into a city around 1899 when the train line was extended into Andalusia from Searight and when new methods of transportation brought real progress and growth to “the heart of South Alabama.”

Judge Malachi Riley came from Barbour County and married Anna White Chapman. He was elected Probate Judge three times and died in 1898 before completing his third term. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery surrounded by a picturesque iron fence. Much has been written about Judge Riley who may have died early from an attack of appendicitis. Some historians have a different theory as to the cause of his death.

Five children were born to this union – Alsie, Fannie Lou, Bonnie, John D., and Walter. Judge Riley’s widow built the lovely Colonial Revival home on East Three Notch Street following his death. Son John D. eventually inherited and lived with his family in the home. He married Inez Preston and their children were Inez, Peggy, and Jonnie Dee.

Begun in 1896 and probably completed some few years later, this home on the corner of Oak Street was designed by Architect Frank Lockwood. Lockwood had also designed the Covington County Courthouse, the First National Bank Building, the J. W. Shreve home, and the Laurin Avant home.

John D. Riley was a prominent real estate developer. He established several city subdivisions so his name is etched permanently in the history of Andalusia.  One of his subdivisions was Lake Forest where he and his wife planned to build a new home one day.

Moving through the years of this magnificent home standing as a beacon on Three Notch located only a couple of blocks from the Public Square, the third generation of Rileys lived in this main street landmark until the scene changed in the 1950s. Mr. Riley was definitely a progressive visionary of the time, and his idea was to build a new shopping center which would be Andalusia’s first of the kind!

From The Andalusia Star-News edition, April 10, 1958 – “Andy Landmark Being Altered – The John D. Riley home, stately 19-room structure that has stood since 1904 as an Andalusia landmark is being moved back from its present location. Columns and porches are being removed from the house situated at the corner of East Three Notch and Oak Streets. There will be an announcement for at least a week relative to the possible development of this key downtown business site,” John D. Riley stated.

“Some months ago Riley announced that he planned the erection of buildings for a trade center at the location. Members of the Riley family and guests spent an enjoyable Easter weekend at the home prior to the date when moving of the house began.”

May 1, 1958“$350,000. Development Planned at Corner of Three Notch and Oak – The building contract has been awarded to E. W. Motes of Sylacauga for the new Andalulsia Shopping Center, John D. Riley announced. Hooper and McDonald of Andalusia were given the contract to pave the 92 parking areas, sidewalks, and drives. Entries and exits will be from both streets.”

“The first building will encompass two ground floor physicians’ suites. At least two prospective tenants are now negotiating for that property. (Dr. Cumbie and Dr. Melton occupied their offices there.) The second building is leased to Winn-Dixie, Inc. The Kwik Check grocery store will occupy the space. F. M. Burgess, Florala druggist, has leased the front corner portion. Legal details for the transaction have been negotiated through the law firm, Albrittons and Rankin.”

John D. Riley is a local real estate agent and member of a pioneer Covington County family. The building construction is scheduled to be completed on or about September 1.”

Typical newspaper ads of 1958“When Appearances Count, We Can Help! Pruitt Cleaners, South Cotton Street, Phone 31”

“Welcome Wagon Days – Hostess Will Knock on Your Door with Gifts and Greetings!”

“Pixy Pin-Ups at Penney’s”

“Walt Disney’s ‘Old Yeller,’ Martin Theatre, Adults 50 cents, Children 25 cents”

Pictures of this beautiful main street residence have appeared through the years on post cards and publications that feature “homes of distinction” in Andalusia. Color photos can be seen of this home and other main street homes at the Three Notch Museum. I have vivid memories of the Riley family who lived in this home since one of my mother’s best friends was Peggy Riley Graves.

As the years passed, my mother Marge Brunson Bass and Peggy often reminisced and spoke of the activity there during World War II when the Navy soldiers would come up from Pensacola Naval Air Station to date the pretty Andalusia girls. Young people would often gather at the Riley home to socialize. Peggy actually dated my father, a Navy pilot, before my mother did. Mrs. Riley would tell the girls before they went out on their dates something like this: “Now young ladies, be home before 12:00. Remember, the devil walks after midnight!” She was usually at the door waiting when their dates brought them home to make sure no one had been smoking! (They usually had been!)

Inez Preston Riley’s father was Dr. A. J. Preston who had been a minster at the First Baptist Church. His extensive library collection was located in an upstairs study. After Dr. Preston’s death, Mrs. Riley made his books available to young Pastor Bob Marsh, FBC minister in the late 1960s. Marsh was invited and allowed to come and go at will to browse through Dr. Preston’s religious material. He eventually obtained his doctorate degree from the New Orleans Seminary with the help he received from perusing and studying the late Dr. Preston’s vast volumes.

On December 26, 1968 the youngest daughter Jonnie Dee married Ted Little. Their wedding was staged at the Riley home. I Remember When bride Jonnie Dee walked down the wide stairway in the family home. She was wearing her mother’s candlelight vintage wedding dress. The scene of that bride on the stairs with the lovely stained glass window on the landing in the background is unforgettable.

Not only was the dress worn by the youngest daughter Jonnie Dee but also as the family remembers by daughters Inez, Peggy, and later the daughters of Jonnie Dee and Ted, Mollie Dora and Terre Su Little.

“During the hard times in the 1930s of the Great Depression,” according to granddaughter Terru Su Little Jackson, “a lot of people were said to have worn that wedding dress. My great grandfather, Dr. A. J. Preston, would marry people in the house, and they would be offered to wear that dress to be married in!”

It was always fun when the cousins would come from out of town to visit in the summertime in the 1950s and 1960s – the Moss children from Atlanta (Daughter Inez married Paul Moss. She was a real estate agent in Buckhead herself.) and the Graves children from Arkansas. Once our family visited Pine Bluff, Arkansas where Peggy and Harry (“Barney”) Graves lived for a long while. They had transported and used the four colonial columns from the Riley home to adorn their new home there in Arkansas. It was a memorable visit since the children in both our families were about the same age. 

One thing has stuck with me for years that Peggy used to say about her father being in real estate. “It was either fast or famine in our household!”  Oh, so true in real estate families!

It is always a pleasure when Remember When allows me to pen my memories of happy days gone by in Andalusia.

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