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
The McDuffie Family settled in the Allentown Community. Charlie McDuffie homestead certificate was issued 11/24/1903. (Bureau of Land Management Records.) Early settlements were tightly knitted together with families often united together in marriages. Communication and transportation were limited and your community was the center of your world.
Charles McDuffie married Minnie Eugene Snow.
Minnie was the daughter of Washington William Snow who homesteaded in1882 in Allentown. Minnie’s mother, Essemiste Winnie Lee was the daughter of John Littleton Lee and Elizabeth Rebecca Rester.
John Littleton Lee Homesteaded in 1833 in the Allentown community. Minnie’s mother Elizabeth Rester, was a descendent of Frederick Rester who purchased public land in 1840. (Bureau of Land Management Records)
According to “The Scrapbook of Memories”,” some of the related families to the McDuffie Family are Fincher, Allen, Foster, Pierce, Rester, Harwell, Maples, Reeves, and Sullivan
SNOW FAMILY Photo furnished by Katherine Jarvis
Theophilus Snow was born in August 1832 in Mississippi, his father, John, was 62 and his mother, Elizabeth, was 35. He married Sarah Ann Jackson Snow on February 13, 1862, in Mobile, Alabama. He died on April 7, 1903, at the age of 70 and is buried in Semmes.
According to the Bureau of Land Management Records a Homestead certificate was issued to Theophilus Snow for 159.78 acres of land on 5/20/1885.
Washington William Snow was born on October 30, 1855, his father, John, was 27 and his mother, Ursula, was 30. He married Winnie Lee on December 11, 1875, in Mobile, Alabama. He died on December 26, 1929, in Mobile, Alabama, at the age of 74 and is buried in Semmes.
According to the Bureau of Land Management Records a homestead certificate was issued to Washington William Snow for 79.47 Acres of land on 11/20/1882.
BENJAMIN F. HOWELL was born on September 8, 1808, in Georgia. He married Ellenor Stringfellow, who was born in 1810 in Mississippi, on June 5, 1829 and they had four children together. She died as a young mother in 1839, at the age of 29, and is buried in Semmes, Alabama.
Benjamin Franklin Howell then married Tamsom Williams in Mobile, Alabama, on April 11, 1844, when he was 35 years old, and they had 11 children together. He died on June 24, 1885, in Semmes, at the age of 76.
Benjamin fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
**According to Bureau of Land Management Records Benjamin purchased and homesteaded public lands. He purchased 40.9 acres -3/10/1843, and on 6/1/1845, 40.9 acres. Homestead Certificates were issued on 9/26/1877 for 159.9 acres and on 10/4/1898 for 70.36 acres.
THOMAS J. HOWELL was born on July 31, 1852, in Semmes, Alabama, his father, Benjamin, was 43 and his mother Tamson was 25. He had five siblings. He died on October 16, 1927 at the age of 75.
Thomas married Rosalie Brown on March 2, 1879. Rosalie was born on June 5, 1858, in Mobile, Alabama. They had seven children in 14 years. She died on February 18, 1897, in Semmes, Alabama, at the age of 38, and was buried there.
According to the Bureau of Land Management records, Thomas Jefferson Howell purchased and homesteaded public land. He purchased 80 acres of public land on 6/1/1860, and on 7/12/1888- 39.97 acres. A homestead certificate for 169.485 acres was issued on 3/10/1884 and a homestead certificate for 80.41 acres on 7/22/1889.
** 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.
Thomas Jefferson Howell is on the left. His father Benjamin Franklin Howell is on the Right. Photo furnished by Stephanie Howell Austin, daughter of Harold Howell.
When researching in our archives, I came across the following remarks and prayer for the dedication of Semmes Heritage Park. These words express so eloquently the reason for preserving our history, our landmarks and continue to be relevant for today's society.
Personal note! (Charles Couey and I grew up in Semmes and Graduated from Semmes High School in 1961.)
Semmes First School
To enable the Alabama Territory to become a state, the Enabling Act was passed by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America on March 2, 1819. In section six, the act required in every township, the sixteenth section of land to be set aside for educational purposes. Semmes first school, a log cabin, was built in 1887 on the townships sixteenth section of land. The school served as the meeting place for church and other community activities, as was the custom in Alabama in this period of time. The school moved several times as the population shifted.
The center of town shifted from Moffett Road, (AL42) (US98) to near the Railroad. Thomas Jefferson Howell saw the need for the school to be closer to the center of town and gave one half acre to build a new school and one half acre to build a church. In the deed (Mobile County Probate DB102 Pg. 019 filed 11/19/1902), he stipulated that a school always remain on the property or the property would revert back to the Howell Family. Timber had become big business and there were saw mills making it possible to use sawed lumber instead of logs to build the school, church and homes.
In the Minute Book, Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, Sept 7, 1898-November 7, 1904
“County School Committee recommended the erection of a new school house at Semmes, Alabama at a cost not exceeding $350. (Plan#3) so much thereof as may be needed to be used. The reports were adopted, carrying the appropriation for the Semmes School. “Page 135 July 9, 1902”
The Teacher at Semmes, C. Pitard received $35.00 per month. June 22, 1903
The Committee Recommend an appropriation of $35.00 for a well and well house at Semmes School, Superintendent to have the same provided. Oct. 14, 1903
Minutes, Board of School Commissioners of Mobile Count 1902-1909 p.3
Recommend addition to Semmes School of 10 feet, Supt. to invite bids when attendance shall call for such. Page 3, 1904
Recommend that the bid of C.F. McCreary to erect the addition to Semmes School in the sum of one hundred ten dollars to be accepted. December, 1902
Minutes Book, Board of School Commission of Mobile County, Sept. 9. 1909- 9/10/13
County School Committee recommends that the following schools be painted…..Semmes…..Page 155, June 14, 1911.
Minute Book, Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, Nov. 9, 1904-August 1909
Recommended for election ---Eva Belle Jones-Semmes, 1906 page 54 Alice Pearson-Semmes, July 1908, page 143
In 1917 the 1902 school was moved across the road to sit besides the newly constructed stucco building. Other buildings were moved to sit by the new stucco building. The old Semmes Post Office and Allentown School were moved to this location. Semmes School, Powelltown, Allentown and Crawford (Morris Hill) Community Schools were consolidated into Semmes School. This was the beginning of Semmes becoming a regional School. In the 50’s Tanner Williams, Wilmer and Forest Hill elementary became a part of Semmes High School. The three major high schools in Mobile Co. at this time were Murphy, Vigor, and Semmes.
Semmes is the regional center for education is west Mobile County.
Preserving Semmes Educational History
The Story Behind Semmes Heritage Park
In January 1994 Robin Wulff was at the school board office and overheard that the one room Semmes school was going to be renovated or torn down. She immediately alerted Elizabeth Dodd. Mrs. Dodd called Julane Greenlee and Rita Durant and together they went to see Mrs. Katherine Montgomery, the principal of Semmes School to present the idea of preserving the one room school. Mrs. Montgomery was very receptive, and encouraging.
Theodore had recently restored an early school, so Julane and Mrs. Dodd made an appointment with Carolyn Dumas and Kathy Nelson, who had led the restoration at Theodore school. They gave us a tour, copies of their corporation history and grant applications.
Marion Howell and Mrs. Dodd went to the Courthouse to research the original deed and found the deed in Book 102, Page 179 and obtained a copy of the deed. The deed revealed that In 1902 Thomas Jefferson Howell donated to the Mobile Co. Public School Board one-half acre of land to build a new school and one half acre to build a new church to sit beside the school.
Bobby Nelson, who was in charge of new school board construction, Mark McDonald, Director of the Mobile Historic Development Commission were contacted and asked to inspect the school to see if it might be restored. “We were assured our little treasure was well worthy of the efforts of restoration.” said Mrs. Dodd.
Julane Greenlee contacted Jay Grelan, who wrote an article, May 13, 1994 in the Mobile Press, on our historic school house announcing a meeting May 22, 1994 to form a committee for the purpose of preserving the little school house.
On May 22, 1994, a group of sixty-seven citizens and former students of Semmes School met together in the Semmes School cafeteria. Donations were collected in the amount of $370.00. Semmes Women’s Club served refreshments.
May 25, 1994, three days after the first meeting, an organizational meeting was held in the Semmes School Cafeteria and the name of Alumni & Friends of Semmes School was chosen. Officers elected were President Joseph E. Shumock, Vice-President Norville H. Couey, Treasurer- Mary Waters Hopkins, Secretary Kathryn K. Shumock, and Corresponding Secretary Linda Hudson Davis. The Board of Directors elected was Joe Shumock, Mildred Wiggins, Sara Wilson, Catherine T. Montgomery, Linda Hudson Davis and Elizabeth P. Dodd.
On July 18, 1994 Alumni & Friends of Semmes School was incorporated as a 501(C) 3 not for profit organization and on August 25, 1994 the 1902 one room school was declared an Alabama Historical Landmark, as the oldest continuous in use school in Alabama.
A lease was obtained from the Mobile Co. Public School System for the original site. The schoolhouse was donated by the Mobile County Public School System to Alumni & Friends of Semmes School, Inc. and returned to its original location in 1998 now known as Semmes Heritage Park. The Restoration was completed in 1999 and a dedication ceremony and celebration took place in May 5, 2001.
Goals and Activities
The goals of Semmes Heritage Park are to Promote Education through hands on history lessons, positively affect the quality of life and growth in the area, and remember our past as we look to the future.
Heritage Day began in 2003 and living History lessons began in the fall of 2004 with attendance of second graders from E.R. Dickson and in the Spring Dr. Turner’s History of Education TE517, University of Mobile. Field trips continue today with students coming from public, private Christian and home schools.
Additional Events are the Old Fashioned Christmas Program which began in 2002, and the Camellia Festival began in 2013 to celebrate our Nursery History.
Looking to the future Semmes Heritage Day, 2018 brought an exciting exhibit by MGM High School Robotic team and the Electric Car team showcasing the creative work of our high school students into the future.
An additional building in the Park is a replica of the 1902 Mt. Pleasant Church, now known as Malone Chapel. A model of the church was built from a photo before the construction of the replica. The bell in the belfry is the original 1902 church bell. Mt. Pleasant church later became Semmes First Baptist.
In 2013 a log cabin, reminiscent of early life in Semmes was added. It was built and delivered by Trophy Amish Cabins. It is furnished with a rope bed (Replica); donated period furniture 1900’s pump organ, displays of kitchen utensils tools and other items. Semmes Pioneer settlers came by wagon, cut down pine trees and built their own log cabin homes.
Jeanette L. Byrd
Early Pioneer families often migrated together to establish new settlements. These Early Settlements were often called by the family name. Allentown was a settlement that was named after the Allen Family and was a town with a church, school, blacksmith shop, store, and cemetery. 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 which is now known as Semmes.
Allentown was a settlement before Mobile County had road districts or a method to collect revenue. 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).
Allentown was in the Albritton precinct.
The Register Report lists James H. as being born on Nov. 1, 1811 in South Carolina. He was the first Presbyterian Methodist Minister in Alabama. He died on December 22, 1893 and is 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.
Allen’s born in Allentown
Early roads in Alabama were along Indian trails. One such trail used by the settlers and the Indians was close to Allentown Cemetery. The story has been passed down from generation to generation that the first person buried in Allentown Cemetery was an Indian that died on the trail. No one even knew his name.
The Indians and the settlers were friendly to one another, and once a year the Indians would use this trail to travel down to the sea to get salt. They would borrow iron pots from the settlers, boil the salt water and by the process of evaporation salt was left in the pots. When returning, the pots were returned to the settlers with a portion of salt for the use of the pots. Helen Waltman Caldwell, the great granddaughter of Benjamin Howell, said “the salt looked dirty but was good salt”. Today we know this salt as sea salt. Salt was a very important product needed by early settlers and the Indians and even sometimes used for money to trade with.
All that remains of the Allentown Settlement is the Allentown Cemetery. Many descendants of the Allen's are living in the area.