- 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.
Preserving our History