- John F. Harroun
Mr. and Mrs. John F. Harroun came to Semmes in the late 1800’s from Grand Rapids, Michigan. They built their own home, which was located just off Hwy 42 (aka Hwy 98). This historic 1900 house remains today.
John was the first Justice of the Peace in Semmes. He had the authority to marry people, settle legal disputes, issue warrants, presided over a court that heard misdemeanor cases; cases involving small debts, landlord and tenant disputes, or other small claims court proceedings.
John organized the first Sunday school at Mt. Pleasant Church and for many years was the Sunday school superintendent. He conducted church services and officiated at the funeral services in the absence of the regular pastor. The Mount Pleasant church was renamed Semmes First Baptist in the year of 1904.
The church moved from time to time as the population shifted. The first move for the church from the original site, the log cabin school, was to the place of Mrs. Turner-Strike off of the G.M. & N Railroad later GM&O. The next move was 1.2 miles northwest of the Strike place. A site was chosen and a building was erected only to find out later the land had been purchased by a couple up north which required another move. John had built a new barn and offered for the church to meet in it until new land could be secured and a new church built.
Thomas Jefferson Howell in 1902 gave land to build a new school and a new church in the new center of town, close to the railroad station. A replica of the church stands on this property, at the corner of Wulff and Nursery roads, there today along with the original 1902 school.
Due to failing health, John sold their farm home and moved to Mobile to live with their daughter. At this time, residents of Semmes Held a mass meeting and presented him with a loving cup in appreciation for his 38 years of service to the community.
When I asked Tom Dodd, Jr. about his memories of Mr. Harroun he had the following to say: “Mr. Harroun had a remarkable dog. When Mr. Harroun would head to the church in his car, to ring the bell for Sunday Service, his dog would go thru the field and be sitting on the church steps waiting for him.”
Scrapbook of Memories 1997
Historic 1900's John F. Harroun House
Painting by Jeanette Lyles Byrd
As the community grew there was a need for more activities for children and a youth sports program was begun. There was no fire protection and volunteers came together to form a Volunteer Fire Station. The Azalea Festival, Christmas Parade, Christmas Tree Lighting, Semmes Public Library, Semmes Heritage Park, Semmes Senior Center are the results of volunteer citizens who had had a mind to work, and gave of themselves for the good of the Semmes Community before there was ever a Semmes Municipality.
In the 1800's when there was no school, the community rallied together building a log cabin school which was also used as a church. The center of town moved from Moffat Rd (aka highway 42, 98) to center around the railroad station. Thomas Jefferson Howell stepped up and gave land to the school board to build a school and a church. Mr. Kino, an early resident of Semmes bought a gramophone and classical music that was given to the school so that students could have music once a week when the gramophone was wheeled to each class.
The character of the people who settle in Semmes is one of hard work, determination; fortitude and that same spirit exists today. When early settlers came there were just miles and miles of Piney woods. They came by horse and buggy, wagons, walked, and by train. Transportation was the major key to the growth of Alabama and the United States.
Alabama was advertised as a land of milk and honey, temperate climate year around with abundant resources. There were trees to build houses, good fertile land to plant crops and land was inexpensive. The result was Alabama Fever, the Alabama land rush of 1817.
Reflecting back on what makes Semmes a unique and wonderful place to live, it is the PEOPLE ! There is a common thread of kindness and caring for others, a can do spirit and striving for excellence. There have always been individuals who were willing to volunteer their time to provide activities for the whole community.
The community is continually changing. We have gone from the early settler’s days of homesteads, the timber industry, dairy farming and the nursery industry and a bed and breakfast community that has become a City. The nursery industry still is the major industry that exists; however, most of the land has gradually been absorbed into homes large and small. The population growth has brought a Regional Public Library, banks, doctor offices, restaurants, large and small businesses and services and new schools.
Public Education in Semmes has changed from an humble beginning of a one room school (15 students) to two elementary schools, Allentown (796 students); Semmes Elementary (560 students); Semmes Middle School (1,500 Students); Mary G. Montgomery High School with over 2,000 students is one of the largest in the Mobile County Public School System. MGM is a Signature Academy School.
School Academies of MGM Include Signature Academy of Biomedical Sciences; Academy of Business Leadership; Academy of Engineering Sciences; Academy of Faulkner Career Technical Center, and Academy of Liberal and Fine Arts. MGM has an outstanding Agriscience Department applying science to agriculture.
The interesting thing about life is the things we think are so modern today will one day be considered history, of the past and even old fashioned. Nevertheless, it is good to remember our past history as we move forward.
Reflecting back to the 2020 year at Semmes Heritage Park!
The park remains a wonderful testimony to the resilience of Semmes to remember its past as we move forward. With the world pandemic of Covid-19 our field trips, tours and event activities have been very limited.
Before the pandemic began to limit activities, we had a home school group field trip, senior adult tour and our annual Camellia Festival. Heritage Day and Old Fashioned Christmas were cancelled.
The 2020 Camellia Festival was a great success. This chair of the Camellia Festival was Alice Dodd Baker. Alice’s parents were Tom and Elizabeth Dodd, (Tom Dodd Nursery) who participated in the first Camellia Festival in 1949. The current Camellia festival was revived in 2013 as an historical event to commemorate Semmes Nursery History.
Heritage Day was cancelled; however, the Al200 commission recognized Semmes Heritage Day as an outstanding event in the Alabama’s 200th birthday celebration, 2017-2019 with the presentation of a bronze plaque. The plaque has been installed on the school house.
New additions to the park are a gazebo and a replica of hand draw well. Repairs and maintenance have continued. The historic 1902 church bell was repaired and restored to the church belfry which was no small task.
Before being adopted by James H. Allen, (the first Presbyterian Methodist Minister in Alabama), Will was known as William Hellings. He was born in Bristol, England.
His father was deceased and his stepfather, Hellings, worked on the docks as a “Lumper” (unloading of ships.) His stepfather was reported to be a mean sort, drinking and mean to his wife. This is probably why Will chose to run away.
According to the Nautical School for Naughty Boys, William repeatedly ran away. William was charged with “wandering” and was assigned at the age of 11, on October 16, 1884 to the Nautical School for Naughty Boys which was a docked ship the Formidable in Bristol England.
In the school log he is described having “a height, without shoes, 4 feet, 1 inches, eyes -hazel, hair- light, chest measured 23 ½ inches and he had a mole on his right hip. He was a bright little boy who didn’t have fits.”
He left the detention school on July 12, 1889 at the age of sixteen. He signed on to the ship Souvenir as an ordinary seaman for a wage of 25 shillings per month. Captain Collis and his crew were bound for “Buenos Ayres” but had a stopover in Mobile.
William jumped ship in Mobile and lived on the streets of Mobile until Rev. James H. Allen found him and adopted him bringing him home to Allentown. His name was changed to Will Allen. Will was married to Irene Snow. He and his wife are buried in Allentown Cemetery.
Personal Note: As a child my father took me to visit Will and Irene Allen. They lived in a large two story clap board unpainted house. The house was located on Snow Road a short distance from Wulff Road and before you get to Howells Ferry Road. The house is long gone; the land has trees on it where the house stood.
A fond memory was seeing the large size of the kitchen, which was the center of activity of the home, and the fact that there was a hand pump by the sink so you did not have to go outside to pump water to carry in.
Mobile Register April 6, 1997 “Unraveling the English Will Mystery,” by Jay Grelen
On April 22,2020 the 200 ALABAMA Bicentennial Commission notified Semmes Heritage Park , Semmes Heritage Day was being recognized with a Bronze Commendation plaque for its outstanding participation in the 200 Alabama Bicentennial Celebration. Due to manufacturing difficulties, COVID-19, the plaque was not received until September, 2020.
On September 19, 2020 Semmes Heritage Park held an open House celebration in honor of receiving the Commendation Award. The plaque is mounted to the school house.
Sen. Arthur Orr, Alabama Bicentennial Commission chairman said, “Communities invested time and resources in an amazing range of Projects. Our successful bicentennial celebration owes a real debt to their effort especially for projects that will be important to the state, its communities and its citizens for a long time to come.”
Awards were given in two categories: Commendations Awards, (forty-one for outstanding bicentennial programs and projects) and Legacy Awards (twenty-one for projects of exceptional and lasting impact.
The awards represented every region of the state and ranged from small towns to major metros, including Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville. Each winning project received a bronze plaque noting the name of the project and its award. The plaque is a public reminder of the achievements of the Alabama communities during the bicentennial commemoration.
The Mayor of Semmes, David Baker, issued a proclamation from the City of Semmes, proclaiming September 19,2020 as Semmes Heritage Park Day. Receiving the proclamations is Semmes Heritage Park President, Carolyn Owens.
Early Pioneer families often migrated together to establish new settlements. These Early Settlements were often called by the family name. Allentown was named after the Allen Family and had a church, school, blacksmith shop, store, and cemetery. The Allentown Cemetery remains and is used today. The Bureau of Land Management records indicate that James M. Allen bought 163.75 acres and James G. Allen bought 160.05 acres for cash on April 24, 1820 in Mobile County, which became Allentown. Allentown was located near the area of Wulff Road and Howells Ferry Road.
Reverend James H. Allen was born on Nov. 1, 1811 in South Carolina. He was the first Presbyterian Methodist Minister in Alabama. He married Lenora Maples, a native of Washington County. He died on December 22, 1893. Lenora died in 1903. Both are buried in Allentown Cemetery. (Source-Deep South Genealogical Quarterly Vo. 22 in 1985)
Perry W. Allen was born on April 28, 1841 and died January 10, 1911 in Allentown. He was a Private in the Confederate Army, CSA 21st Alabama Volunteer. He fought in the Battle of Corinth and Farmington and the siege of Fort Morgan. When the fort fell, he was taken as a prisoner to New Orleans where he was kept for two months and then sent to Elmira for nine months. He was paroled and sent home June 15, 1865. After the war he married Temple Melinda Pierce. He homesteaded property at the corner of Howell’s Ferry and Wulff Rd and established a grocery store, and a blacksmith shop (wagon yard). Their home was a stopover place for weary travelers. He was a loyal church member for fifty years and was buried in his confederate gray in Allentown Cemetery. (Source- First “Scrapbook of Memories” 1997).
Henry Warren Allen (1874-1953) married Harriet Georgia Lowery (1897-1944). He homesteaded land across from his father, Perry W. Allen. Some of the Teachers who taught at Allentown school and boarded in their home were Josephine Schmitz, Eugenie Van Aller, Helen Gill, William Fagerstrom, Katie Curry and Essie Williams. Henry and Harriet are buried in Allentown Cemetery.
On May 20, 1862, James B. Allen, homesteaded 168.62 Acres: James H. Allen, 80.8 acres; Sarah M. Whiting, and James H. Allen, 161.19 acres.
Allen’s born in Allentown
Return of the Church Bell
The historic twelve hundred pound cast iron church bell made by the Cincinnati Bell Foundry in the late 1800’s has been returned to Malone Chapel. Malone Chapel is the replica of the 1900’s Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church located on the original site In Heritage Park. The name of the church was changed to Semmes First Baptist Church in 1904. The bell was donated to the park by Semmes First Baptist upon the completion of the Mt. Pleasant church replica.
The bell was purchased by Albert P. Funk, the owner of Semmes Funk Hotel, in 1902 for $50.00 C.O.D. and arrived in Semmes by train for Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. Miss Fellie Christopher, the railroad station agent for Semmes collected the fifty dollars.
The bell was transported by horse drawn wagon to the Mt. Pleasant Baptist church. It was installed using ropes, pulleys, men and horses to lift the bell to the belfry.
Recently, it was discovered that the bell and belfry need maintenance and repair. The removal and repair of the bell was a challenge and no small task even with modern machinery.
When Semmes Air Specialty Heating & Air learned of the bell’s endangerment, they came to the rescue with their expert know how. Crane Works was called. The bell was safely removed and returned to the belfry by Crane Works after maintenance and repairs by Air Specialty.
Community Spirit is alive and well in Semmes. Thanks to Air Specialty and Crane Works the historic bell can once again ring!
Preserving our History