Remember When: Andalusia’s Bluebird Bakery

Published 4:31 pm Friday, August 2, 2019

Continuing the story from last week about the Brunson Hotel on South Cotton Street, it is remembered that the baking operations of the hotel was done in the basement. Bread, rolls, cakes, and pies were baked for the Brunson family of twelve children and those guests who lodged at the hotel. This went on from the time the hotel was established in Andalusia from about  1905 or 1906 until around 1914 when M. E.Matt” Brunson opened the town’s first bakery for the public , one of the earliest such enterprises in South Alabama.

Around 1920 or 1921, two of the older young men in the family, Charlie and Matt, purchased the bakery business from their father and moved the operations directly across the street in a storefront. This move made it possible for the baking to be done above ground level which was required at the time by the health department which had started inspections.

Also, it was thought that the bakery needed to be in full view of the public to establish walk-in traffic. At the same time, the new owners recognized that there was a broad market area in South Alabama and Northwest Florida for baked goods of premium quality.

Andalusia’s thriving downtown back in those days of open windows and doors for the most part, no air conditioning, soon became filled with the delicious aroma of baking bread, pound cakes, doughnuts, and cinnamon rolls. A quarter (25 cents) bought 3 loaves of bread wrapped in brown paper. Pound cakes were 20 cents each while the popular cinnamon rolls were four for a nickel (five cents). Brother Ellie or “Buddy” delivered these products in the downtown area on foot using a large basket. He was up and down the sidewalks and in and out of the businesses who welcomed the treats.

Bread was first baked in brick ovens built into the east exterior wall. Long paddles were used to load the oven. Later two giant 14 ft. X 16 ft. Dutch ovens were installed which held 500 loaves of baking bread at one time. The baking operation began at 4:00 a.m. and closed down each evening at 11:00 p.m. Matt fired the ovens in the morning and Charlie finished up at night. Baked goods were shipped as far south as Graceville, Florida and as far north at Fort Deposit.

There were many faithful employees over the years who worked in the bakery as the delivery boys and over-the-counter girls, but one in particular was mentioned over and over by the family. Johnny Crenshaw worked in the Brunson Bakery and Hotel as a loyal, steady, and trustworthy employee like a member of the family from the time he was a very young boy. He practically grew up with the Brunson boys.

Johnny delivered bread to the River Falls Commissary daily where prisoners would unload the boxes of bread and then load up firewood for the return trip to town for use in the hotel fireplaces and bakery ovens. Once the work mule, “One-eyed Jack” kicked Johnny. “Mama” Brunson put Johnny to bed in the hotel and made sure he was taken good care of just like one of her children.

A number of teenage girls enjoyed working at the counter of the bakery after school. Jean Enzor Ralls remembers those happy days. She later became the Conecuh County Clerk. Daughter Marge Brunson also remembers waiting on customers. She remembers naming all of the varieties of pies that could be purchased – coconut custard, apple, peach, cherry and that favorite, orange chiffon cake!  That spending money she earned in the early 1940s helped send her back to Huntingdon College!  The counter girls leaned quickly the art of greeting the public and assisting the customers. Mr. Brunson was a joy to work with, it was said by many. He even grilled steaks on Saturday evenings after closing time for his employees.

Around the early 1950s, the bakery acquired the first bread-slicing machine. Prior to that, bread was sold in a loaf. Everyone was so excited that they gathered to see this extraordinary event, a real milestone.

In 1929 during the great flood when the Gantt Dam broke, the River Falls-Red Level areas suffered from a lack of bread. “Mr. Charlie” Sellers, Red Level store owner sent word to “Mr. Charlie” Brunson. They arranged to meet on several occasions in a shallow place where Brunson handed Sellers fresh bread for his customers. This story was remembered and retold time and time again in Covington County!

Brother Matt eventually moved to Texas and joined some of the other Brunson brothers and sisters selling out his portion of the business to brother Charlie when it was decided that it would be increasingly hard for two growing familes to make a good living in the bakery business. It is told that they flipped a coin! So Charlie stayed in Andalusia and a little later had a son-in-law Bethea “Fay” Caton that he took in as a partner and helper in 1942. In 1943, they expanded the business moving the bakery from South Cotton Street to the Payne Building at 200 South Three-Notch Street on the corner of Pear Street.

Daughter Carolyn Brunson Caton became a master cake decorator as she artistically used her creative skills in adorning hundreds of birthday, wedding, and anniversary cakes for the special occasions of Andalusians. Son Charlie, Jr., “Charlie Boy,” worked with his father in the business after he returned from the Army of Occupation in Japan after World War II until the time he entered Auburn and then went on to the University of Alabama Dental School in Birmingham in 1956.

Automation to some extent was introduced in the Payne Building when around 1943 a revolving oven which baked 242 loaves of bread every 45 minutesfour times faster than the old method. The now famous “Bluebird Bread” was advertised “For Health and Happiness, A Real Food for a Real Meal.” By 1951, the bakery was offering more than 40 different items including bread, cakes, pies, cookies, buns, and cinnamon rolls.

Prior to his retirement in 1959, Charlie Brunson always made available a number of fruitcakes that were given in the December Rotary Club drawings. This was the backbone of the club’s Christmas meetings. He also baked delicious fruitcakes for Mr. J. G. Scherf, textile executive, who in turn presented the gift of a homemade Brunson fruitcake to each Alatex employee.

Charlie’s wife Foye worked alongside him in the bakery operations, secretarial duties usually in the afternoons, while at the same time made a fine home for their three children. This writer, granddaughter of the Brunsons, remembers helping to roll change each afternoon for the bank deposits. Also, memories are vivid of decorating cakes to take to the school classrooms for parties. East Three Notch School fourth grade teacher Jeanne Smyly talked about that birthday cake she received from her student for years!

Charlie Brunson will long be remembered as the man who gave away many a loaf of bread during the Great Depression.  During his lifetime, he baked an untold number of pound cakes and fruitcakes for his friends and family during his retirement year after 1959 until his sudden death in 1971. No wonder he kept a chicken house in his back yard – all those fresh eggs for those pound cakes!

Ed Dannelly, former editor of The Andalusia Star News summed up his entire life on the occasion of the Brunsons’ 50th wedding anniversary in 1967. Dannelly wrote of Mr. Brunson’s life of devotion to his family business, “…all work and no play” because of the long and extended hours in the bakery business for those 45 yearssix days a week! “Dad” and “Big Charlie” as he was called by his children and grandchildren once said that he had “lived a hundred years when it comes to work!”

Our mother always drove us to town to the bakery every afternoon when she picked us up from school. “Dad” always gave each of us children a doughnut. Younger sister Julie called “Dad” Brunson “Dut.” I Remember When we would go to our grandparents’ house, “Dad’s” black shoes were always covered in white flour when he came in from work. When we spent the night with our grandparents, we always enjoyed buttered toast for breakfast since bread was the main staple in that household.

During his almost a half century in business, Charlie Brunson never turned anyone down who was hungry including the depression years where many remember his generosity of giving away tons of bread. He often said that his bakery “weathered one panic, one depression, two wars, and a recession.” Bread trucks rolled all over South Alabama and Northwest Florida delivering baked goods to city grocery stores and country general stores alike.

In thinking of Master Baker Charlie Brunson’s humor, jokes, and laughter, Editor Dannelly stated, “There is no bigger job, nor a more satisfying one than giving your people good, wholesome baked goods where cleanliness, purity, and quality rate above everything else.”

This prayer was found in the Brunson family scrapbooks and memorabilia: “Help me, O God, to live the recipe before I give the recipe. Give me the kneading strength to work the words into the doughy recesses of my life.  Help me to leave it alone a while so it can rise. Help me not to fear the oven so it can bake, and grant that in the baking, the world would be able to roll down its window and savor the aroma of freshly baked bread.”

     Sue (Brunson) 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