General Store and First Bank
Memories Shared by Hoyt Pearson !
Reflections of life in Semmes as told by Hoyt Pearson at Semmes Heritage Park
The first General Store in Semmes was owned by Charles McCrary. The McCrary’s homesteaded in Semmes in the 1800’s. (Check out previous blogs for McCrary Family History) The name of the store was changed to Pearson General Merchandise when it was bought by C. K. Pearson. In the store at the time of purchase from Mr. McCrary was a large cast iron safe. The safe had small drawers in it and citizens knew to make use of these small drawers, as a bank, to place money in for safe keeping. This would have been the first bank in Semmes.
Pearson General Merchandise Store sold salt pork, sugar, flour, syrup, nails, shoes, socks, hats, men’s work clothes, women’s dresses, undergarments, panties, slips, tools. We would compare it today to Wal-Mart. You could get credit at the store.
Some important advice given to Hoyt by his father, concerning the operation of the store, “son save your pennies and the dollars will take care of your store.”
The bench in the front of the store was a place to sit and visit a spell. For Entertainment on Saturday night, folks would gather at the bench and play music, sing and visit.
Pop Smith had a rolling store called Buddy’s Rolling Store. The rolling store had dry goods, clothing, food, candy, knick knacks and animal feed. Cows Feed and chicken feed, flour, was sold in printed sacks. The girls in the family would line up with their mothers to pick out printed pattern sacks which would later become dresses. The rolling store had a set route and day to come, so you knew when to look for it.
The ice man came around and sold 25 pound and 50 pound blocks of ice that were wrapped in a blankets.
Hoyt, Clausell Blackwell and Gene Christopher were good friends who were always running around together. One Homecoming at Semmes First Baptist, Clausell and Gene went up in the attic and fell thru the ceiling. Hoyt said, “I was not involved but I got a whipping too because we were usually always together.”
Personal Notes: Jeanette Lyles Byrd
One of my fondest memories was running down to the road to wait for the rolling store to purchase penny candy.
Electricity was not available, until around 1949, everyone had an ice box and ice delivery was very important. There was a Crystal Ice and Coal Company somewhere around the “Loop in Mobile” that delivered ice and coal.
The picture is a print of a painting that I painted from a snapshot. The store was located at the corner of McCrary Rd. and Highway 98.
Tom & Elizabeth Dodd, Jr.
Permission granted by JoAnne Mcknight to reprint this article & Photo.
In 2009, I interviewed Tom and Lib Dodd about their life in Semmes--about their memories, the changes, their contributions to the community, and what they received in turn. I completed the story and submitted it to the Mobile Press Register to run in our neighborhood news. Mr. Dodd died on May 7th, just before the article was to run. I postponed the story until I could talk to Ms. Lib; I was prepared to cancel it completely.
But over lunch at a Mexican Restaurant near Semmes, I apologized to Ms. Lib because the article did run before Mr. Tom's death. I asked her what she thought I should do with the piece, and the gracious, kind and generous Ms. Lib, the matriarch of Semmes, said, "Whatever you want to do is all right with me, honey."
With a few edits to acknowledge Mr. Tom's death, the story did run in MPR.
With the Semmes Camellia Festival coming up on Saturday, January 27 at Semmes First Baptist Church, 4070 Wulff Road, it seems fitting to, again, recognize the Dodds' contributions to Semmes' designation as "The Nursery Capital of the World."
It was 1941, and World War II was raging in Europe when Tom and Lib Dodd got married. He was a student at Auburn University, which she attended, too, in the summer.
They left school without graduating because of the war, and came to Semmes, where the Dodd family had a nursery business. And for 68 years, they were mainstays in the community they loved.
Tom Dodd, horticulturist, nurseryman and community leader, died at Mobile Infirmary in Mobile on May 7. He wasa 94. A few weeks before his death, he and Lib sat down in their dining room for an interview about their lives and memories, which read like a history book--a chronicle of a community on the move.
Tom Dodd was born in the Orchard community of Mobile, around the intersection of Cody, Howell's Ferry and Overlook roads.
"We moved to Semmes in 1920, when I was 5," Dodd recalled of his family. "My daddy's sister had married a nurseryman, and they (the sister and her husband) established a nursery in Orchard. When the husband died, Dodd's father became partners with his sister in Dodd and Welch Nursery. The elder Dodd later bought out his sister; the name was changed to Dodd Nursery and the business sustained the family for several decades.
In telling about some of his early life, Tom Dodd remembers going to school at age 6, attending classes in the little one-room 1902 schoolhouse that now sits back on its original site on Wulff Road.
"Mrs. Augusta Mizell from Wilmer was my first-grade teacher," Dodd said. School Board policy at the time forbade teachers from working in the communities in which they lived, so Wilmer residents usually taught in nearby Semmes and vice versa, he said.
One memory that stood out in Tom Dodd's mind--and the telling of which amused his wife--was the tale of "the custodian who smoked a pipe."
Not only did the cleaning woman show up at the school with a pipe clinched between her teeth, she brought her pig with her. Her name is lost to time now, but Tom Dodd remembered the janitor rumaging through for discarded turnip greens and biscuits. Even in those tough times, he said, students couldn't always stomach turnip greens.
"The pig," he recalled, "would sit there and eat, and if you came up and scratched its stomach, it would lie down (stretching out on its back to make the scratching easier.) When the custodian finished cleaning, she'd take her pig and go back home"
Tom Dodd graduated from Murphy High School about 1934. "My brother drove a car and we just filled it up with people who wanted to go to school. We even dropped off one student at Spring Hill College," he said.
Another recollection that tickled Lib Dodd is how her husband paid for the first year of college.
As he related the story, "It was the Depression. I went down to Spring Hill and told them I wanted to go to school but was waiting for my brother, Steve, to graduate so we could go to Auburn and room together."
He didn't have tuition, he said, but his family being farmers, he did have something to bargain with. "So," he said, "I told them 'I don't have any money, so can I trade syrup for school?'" He did that for two semesters. Some of the students complained, though, about having to eat syrup so often."
Tom Dodd went to Auburn's school of horticulture, but WWII cut short his college education. However, he did not serve in the military. He had six brothers in the service at one time, and he was deferred because he was the oldest and farming was important to the economy.
Mrs. Dodd worked in the nursery office Tom grew plants and built up the business.
"He really had a good eye for the beauty of a plant. And when he'd see something he liked, he would take cuttings and propagate it, introducing it into the nursery," Mrs. Dodd said.
Lib Dodd did all the things Semmes mothers did back then--helped raise money for football fields and playgrounds, volunteered in the schools, worked at the Camellia Festival.
But there were changes in Semmes--new roads, new schools. And the Dodds became concerned with how many historic buildings were being destroyed in the name of progress.
"We've lost some beautiful things out here, a beautiful old hotel," Lib Dodd said.
She, along with others of a like mind, balked at letting the old school that Tom Dodd attended as a little boy become just a memory. That century-old school, in continuous use for its entire lifetime, sits alongside a reconstructed Malone Chapel in Semmes Heritage Park on Wulff Road.
Though the Dodds had a love and appreciation for things past, they were just as thrilled with some of the changes that have taken place fairly recently--new schools, new library, a community center, a solid reminder of the community's motto: Remembering our Past as we Look to the Future."
Preserving our History