Bill Dodd-Semmes Heritage Park November 2008
I was born in 1920 and it was a very strict time of life, but a wonderful time. We (my brothers and I) milked the cows, fed the chickens and pigs. We had a barn that had a hay loft. I did not learn how to read until after I had an exam and it was found out that I could not read.
I remember someone came down from Iowa to see if we could grow plants to sell in one year. Plants were shipped bare roots, tied together 20 to 40 plants to a bundle on the train. We had Roses and Privets.
My brothers and I had chores. We were to carry buckets of water for the workers working in the field. We had to work in the field too. Sometimes, one of my brothers would climb a tree to be the look out while we rested. He would sound the alarm when he saw someone coming so we could get back to work.
Roses were a big crop in Semmes. Tyler Texas undercut the prices of roses so the rose business went to Tyler. One of our jobs was the budding (grafting) of roses and multi flora Japonica with budding stock. You took a knife made a “T” shape cut into the plant and the budding stock was inserted and wrapped.
Dan McDuffie was a farmer that hauled pigs to market on the weekend. He cleaned his truck well and it became the school bus during the week.
I remember classmates Dorothy and Melody Pollard, and eating lunch with P.J. Christopher whose grandmother ran the railroad station. We played under the schoolhouse. The Schoolhouse was high up because the land would hold water.
Mr. Kiyono was a nurseryman that moved to Semmes in 1914. He had children in school and he bought an (RCA) Victrola for the school. Classical music was played every Friday as it was rolled from one class to the other.
Mrs. Tift and her daughter Mrs. Pringle had a store, Bread was delivered by train form Smith Bakery in Mobile to Semmes. I would go to the train station pick up the bread and deliver it to the store. I was paid a nickle, and at the end of the year I was rewarded with a Smith bakery Calendar. that had just expired.
There were section houses close to the railroad. The Havard house that sits close to the railroad tracks was made from section houses.
P. J. Christopher would meet the train and if he did not like the way a person looked he would tell them to get back on the train and keep on going.
Daniel Christopher would put on his Confederate Uniform to come to town.
Will Christopher worked for the railroad as an inspector of the railroad tracks.
May, 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Semmes Heritage Park to preserve the Semmes One room School. The park is the center of the Historical Preservation of Semmes.
Semmes was once known as a community in the Albritton Precinct.
The Albritton Precinct came about when the Alabama General assembly divided Mobile County into three revenue and road districts in 1888. The districts were then divided into precincts for voting, mail delivery, the collecting of revenue and building roads. Prior to this time most of the roads that existed were Indian Trails.
Early small settlements of Alabama were often close together as transportation was limited to walking, by horse, by wagon and boat down creeks and rivers. Families often migrated together purchasing and homesteaded land close to one another. These settlements were often named after the founding pioneers.
Land was plentiful, but communication was limited. Sometimes early immigrants just picked out a piece of land, cleared the land and built a log cabin house, not having legal claim to the land they were known as squatters and had to move when the legal owner was known. This happened to one of the first churches in Semmes known as Mt. Pleasant Church which was later renamed Semmes First Baptist Church. Each small settlement had its own school, church, blacksmith shop, cemetery and general store and all were located within a ten mile or less range of one another.
The uniting factors of these small surrounding settlements into Semmes were transportation and education. A railroad station was established in Semmes allowing the shipping of goods to the port of Mobile and included passenger service.
The beginning of the town of Semmes
Word had traveled up north that Alabama was the land of opportunity with rich soil, mild winters, great forests and plenty of wild game for food. The 1900’s saw an increase of migrations of people to Alabama.
In 1900 August Pickus and eight men from Illinois purchased a section of land fifteen miles west of Mobile near the railroad station and began laying out a new town. They gave the town the name Semmes after Admiral Raphael Semmes. The Pickus group stayed at the McCrary’s home while laying out the town. The McCrary’s had homesteaded in Albritton Precinct in the 1800’s. The town of Semmes became the City of Semmes May 2, 2011.
The beginning of Semmes Public schools
The enabling act that was passed in order for the Alabama Territory to become a state required that each township set aside the sixteenth section of land for public educational purposes. State Route 42 (A Post road) running through the sixteenth section of land of township 3 is now known as US 98. The first school in Semmes was a log cabin on the townships sixteenth section. Mt. Pleasant church began in the school house and is known today as Semmes First Baptist Church.
Shifts in the population, and new transportation in the 1900’s brought about the need for a new school building. Thomas Jefferson Howell, a concerned citizen, saw the need to have a new school closer to the new center of town, near the railroad. He gave land to build a school and a church. In his deed to the Mobile County Public School Board, he specified that a school must remain on the land or the land would revert back to the Howell Family.
By this time logging, saw milling, and turpentine stills were the main industries of Semmes. This made it possible to transition from log buildings to buildings made of lumber. The new school and church along with new homes were built of sawed lumber and were unpainted. Mobile County Public School records indicate that the new school was not painted until 1911. I remember seeing older homes as late as 1950 that were not painted.
Early Settlement Community Schools
In 1917 the Semmes School stucco building was built on Wulff Rd across from the 1902 Semmes School. Semmes 1902 School, the Allentown School and the old post office were moved to sit besides the new stucco school building. This began the consolidating of smaller public community schools into Semmes School thereby uniting the communities together.
Preserving our History