An interview with Sarah Phelps Wilson, 2018
Sarah is a descendent of the pioneer families of Semmes. According to the BLM land Records, Willis Waltman was issued a homestead patent for 80.24 acres 7/2/1904. Sarah Whiting and James H. Allen were issued a homestead patent for 161.19 acres in 1879.
Her great, great Grandparents- were Damon Blanche Waltman and Elizabeth Francis Henderson, and her Great Grandparents-Willis Master Waltman- and Melinda Tempy Whiting and grandparents Eddie Baker Waltman and Ella Mabel Lewis
Sarah’s mother and father were Alice Imogene Waltman Phelps and Alfred Henry Phelps.
Sarah’s father was a Merchant Marine and later he became a farmer. Even when he was in the Merchant Marines he had an interest in growing things. In his travel, he collected different varieties of pecan trees which he brought home to Semmes. The Pecan is native to south-central North America with different varieties growing in different regions. Calvin Tanner was living on the Phelps property while Alfred was in the Merchant Marines, and would plant the trees for Alfred.
Later on after leaving the Merchant Marines and marrying Imogene he began farming. Crops included vegetables, chickens, geese, peaches, pecans, chestnuts. A cow furnished milk for the family. The milk was rich and delicious with crème coming to the top that was used to make butter. Sarah said, “I loved to drink the milk after the crème had been skimmed off. Milk without crème was called blue john.”
The main crop that he grew was chickens for their egg production. He became the supplier of fresh eggs for ships docked in Mobile. He had two chicken houses that were lined with shelves of nests for the chickens to lay their eggs. He would gather the eggs and candle them before taking them to the market. Candling is a process where a candle was placed behind the egg to be able to see in the shell to see if the egg was fertile and should be kept for hatching baby chicks. Fertile eggs were not sold but saved to produce more chickens. Eggs were placed in card board boxes for delivery to the state docks.
Sarah said, “It was interesting to take the eggs down to the docks. The docks and buildings were open and you could drive right into the building on the docks to unload the eggs going on the ships.”
People in Mobile would come out to purchase eggs and other fresh farm products.
Semmes Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration is a free community event that reflects the simpler times of community life when the school and the church were the heart of the community. The whole community, from the youngest to the oldest, would gather together to celebrate Christmas. Our Celebration brings back those nostalgic memories with the reading of the Christmas story, and a Children's program.
A tour of the 1902 one room school house that is decked out in greenery and lit by oil lamps is the next stop. Upon entering the school, you are greeted by a cozy warm fire in the wood stove and the aroma of hot apple cider. You may enjoy the simple pleasure of sipping hot apple cider and nibbling on a cookie; then you will begin to hear the voice of Christmas carolers in the park.
Next on the tour is the log cabin with a glimpse of life in the olden days. There is a 1900's pump organ, rope bed and much more. A cedar Christmas tree decorated with wooden ornaments, icicles, and a handmade foil silver star. Under the tree are a display of gifts and toys from yesteryear. A tiny surprise gift awaits children who visit.
Braxton Lyles Jeanette,Velma, Chester Lyles
World War II brought a growth spurt. People from Clarke, Marengo and other counties flocked to Mobile to work in 1940’s at the shipyard and related industries. Mobile continued to be a boom town after the war.
My parents Braxton and Velma Lyles were part of this migratory group that came from Clarke County, first living in Prichard and moving to Semmes in 1945, when I was 2 years old. Semmes was a rural area. We had an outhouse, a hand pump, no electricity, no telephones Clothes were washed in a big iron wash pot that a fire had to be built under to heat the water, and a scrub board was used. We grew most of our food. Dad plowed with a mule. We had chickens, a milk cow and pigs. When we grew more food than we needed, we took it to the farmers market on Halls Mill Rd. to sell. My dad was a carpenter by trade and built a huge water tank on top of a high tower. Rain water was collected and a gasoline engine was used to pump water to the tank. The water tank made it possible to have running water in the house, gravity fed. Mom cooked on a coal oil (kerosene) stove. We had a rolling store that came once a week, and a ice man that delivered ice and coal from Mobile. The closest large grocery store was in Mobile. Our home was 3 miles from highway 98 off Wulff Rd, Lyles Rd.
I remember the joy of arriving home from school to discover electricity had been installed. Later in time, came an eight party telephone line. Eight different households were on the same line. You could pick up the phone and hear the conversations of whoever was talking on the phone.
The paving of Wulff Rd, was another memorial event. This ended the chance of missing school because the school bus had slid into the ditch.
Life was and is good! One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “Life is what you make it.” And when anything did not go as planned, my Dad would Say, “Well, we will just have to find another way.” and we did!
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.
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."
Someone once said, "A picture is worth a thousand words."
The History of Semmes Heritage Park video puts faces to the special people who had a vision to preserve Semmes one room school and gives a glimpse of education in Semmes today.
To view the videos!
http://vimeo.com/281942738 “The History of Semmes Heritage Park” (2018)
http:// vimeo.com/221413870 “The Semmes Heritage Park” (2017)
Face book-Semmes Heritage Park
The state of Alabama will be 200 years old Dec. 14, 2019. A three year celebration called AL200 began in 2017 with a different theme for each year. 2017 was Exploring Our Places; 2018 Honoring Our People, 2019 Sharing Our Stories. In 1996 a book was written by Semmes Heritage called Scrapbook of Memories. This is the only written history of Semmes from the people of Semmes. The book is a collection of pictures, and stories of some of the early pioneers of Semmes. It is no longer in print; however, as part of the AL 200 celebration, Semmes Heritage is in the process of preparing a revised second addition. We are collecting, pictures, stories, Semmes family ancestry. Do you have any you could share? We would like to hear from you! Thanks! Jeanette
Check out this site-www.alabama200.org
Alabama was a part of the Mississippi Territory until Mississippi became a state in 1817, at which time the Alabama Territory was formed. The news spread quickly that there was rich fertile soil, good climate and great forest in the Alabama territory. A great invasion of Settlers came to claim land, so many that this land rush became known as “Alabama Fever.” Alabama was admitted as the 22nd state of the United States on December 14, 1819.
The Land Act of 1820 was enacted April 24, 1820 as a United States federal law that permitted the purchase of public domain lands for cash.
The Homestead Act May 20, 1862 was a law passed by Congress in 1862 that granted 160 acres of federal land to any U.S. citizen. An individual was given ownership of the land for free if that person lived on the land for five years and improved the land by building a home and producing a crop.
The Acts of the general Assembly of the State of Alabama on December 4, 1888 divided Mobile County into three revenue and road districts. The districts were further divided into Precincts. The Second District precincts were Citronelle (1), Mount Vernon (2), Creola (5), Mauvilla and Chunchula (6), Albritton (7), Carver’s (8), Steeley’s Store (20).
The town of Semmes was not laid out and named until 1900, when Semmes Land Company was formed by August Pickus, and eight other fellows. According to Probate Records, Book 3, page 484, Semmes Land Company purchased a section of land fifteen miles northwest of Mobile, Alabama and laid out streets, and lots, to their proposed town site. However, not many people came to buy Semmes land and many of the original land company left. “Scrapbook of Memories”
Early Settlers who purchased or homesteaded land in Township 3; Mobile County, Alabama, Albritton Precinct, according to BLM Records, (Bureau of Land Management) are listed below.
1839-Henry Chamberlin, William Goff, Elisha Powell, James Powell, Samuel Swift, Josiah Wilkins
1840-David Rester, Fredrick Rester, Zachariah Rester
1843- Benjamin Howell, Charles Havard, William Goff
1845-Jacob Collins, Benjamin Howell, James Roberts
1846- Samuel H. Wolf,
1848- Daniel McLeod
1859-Abraham S. Woodcock, Martha M. Cook, and John W. McCrary
1877- Benjamin Howell, James Howell, Anna A. Jerkins, Joseph W. Thompson
1879- Henry McCrary, Thomas D. O’Rourke, Henry McCrary, Hiram Powell, Jesse S. Powell, Jackson Rester, Mildred E. Allen, Nancy Cochrane, Sarah M. Whiting, James H. Allen, Isam W. Deese
1880- Frank King, Jackson Pierce
1882-Washington W. Snow
1883- Ralph Garner, Milton McCrary, Littleton Lee, Franklin Brown
1884- Thomas J. Howell, Nathan J. Allen, Commodore Reid
1885- Thomas Simon, Theophilus Snow
1887- Mary J. McCrary
1888- Thomas Howell,
1891- Jesse S. Finlay, John W. Howell, Louis M. Howell, Edward Parker, Jefferson D. Pierce, Henry Rester, Abigail Finlay
1892- Marion Havens, Hiram Powell, John A. Finlay
1893-Charity A. Pearce, & James Pearce
1894-Francis M. Helveston
1895-William E. Powell
1898- James A. McCrary
1899- Henry W. Allen
1900- Ellen Jackson, Nathan H. Howell
1901 -Andrew J. Lowery, Edward Rester
1902- Nellie Simmons, Mary Vickers
1904-John F. Corley, James A. McCrary, Willie Waltman
1905 - Virgil Helveston, Eugene A. Powell
1906- George E. Vickers
1910 -John Rester, Albert Foster
1912- Jerome Joyner
1914- John Helveston
1915- James D. McKinney
1929-Francis Sterling Kemp