The following was from a letter written in 1955 announcing the Sixth Annual Camellia Festival. “Semmes was once the heart of the Camellia and Azalea industry of America.”
The first Semmes Camellia Festival was a community event that began in 1949 at Semmes School. It was an elegant affair with the displays of individual Camellia blooms, Camellia flower arrangements, and landscape displays provided by Semmes Nurserymen.
Students of Semmes school provided Camellia’s in Art and a Camellia Pageant. The Camellia Pageant consisted of a King and Queen from the Senior Class and a court of Camellia Maids and Knights representing each class. A theme was chosen and Entertainment for the court was provided by each grade.
Revived Camellia Festival
In October of 2012 Camellia Maids were selected from applicants to become good will ambassadors for Semmes Heritage Park.
In January 2013 a new Camellia Festival was held at the Semmes Public Library.
Since this was our first show I contacted Semmes resident Walter Creighton, a member of the Mobile Camellia Club Show for advice. Walter chairs the Mobile Camellia club show. With his advice the show was set up and the Semmes New Camellia Festival was born. Walter participated showing a variety of blooms, some from plants that he had developed.
Don Oyler, another member of the Mobile Camellia Club brought many blooms to show. Carolyn Oyler, the wife of Don, created and displayed a photo gallery of Camellias. This first show had 100+ Camellia blooms contributed by hobbyists, home gardeners, individuals and local nurseries. The show included Camellia arrangements (tablescapes), art displays and information displays on the growing of camellias. Nurseryman Vaun Jarvis was available to answer questions.
The Eighteenth Annual Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration was a great success!
Malone Chapel was filled to overflow with parents’ grandparents and community citizens as they gathered to celebrate Christmas the old fashioned way.
The celebration began with a musical program presented by Indian Springs Youth ensemble followed by Semmes First Baptist Children’s Choir and the telling of the Christmas Story.
A surprise gift of a tiny hand painted ornament depicting the Nativity scene and the shepherds in the field was presented to each child.
Open house at the Log Cabin Museum contained a cedar Christmas tree decorated with wooden ornaments, icicles, and a handmade silver star on top. Under the tree were homemade gifts and a few that might have been ordered from the Sears Roebuck Catalog or purchased at Semmes Country Store. To the delight of the Children and parents, each child received an old fashion gift; a brown paper sack tied with a red ribbon containing an Apple and a candy cane.
The Celebration continued with Christmas Caroling in the gazebo, and a time for children to try out the see saws on the play ground on the way to the school house for refreshments.
The school house with oil lamps burning (providing light) was all decked out with, fresh greenery, and a Christmas tree. Cookies and warm apple cider were served. The cider was kept warm in a pot simmering on the school wood stove.
Semmes First Baptist Children's Choir- Ambraly Purvis Director
-Indian Springs Baptist Church Youth Ensemble-Diane Moore Director
Jonathan Smith-Lott Rd Church of God Worship Leader
Photos - JoAnne McKnight
A steady growth of dairy farms took place from 1915 to the 1970’s when there were approximately 45-50 dairies in the Semmes Area. There are no dairy farms today!
The first commercial dairy farming in Semmes area began in 1915 when Bernice Graham started a dairy on Schillinger Road. He milked his small herd of cows by hand. The milk was strained and stored in five and ten gallon milk cans kept cool when the cans of milk were placed in canvas bags surrounded by cool pump water. The milk was then transported to the creamery plant in Springhill, Alabama where it was processed and distributed to homes and businesses.
1919 Dairy Farmer Roland Graham bottled raw milk (unpasteurized milk) into ½ pints,1 pints and 1 quart bottles and making delivered to businesses, homes, cafes, boarding houses.
In the 1920’s electricity began to expand into rural areas making it possible for the construction of an ice plant in the Crawford Community. Dairy farmers began using ice to keep their milk cold.
1930’s Dairy farmers began to grow corn and hay to feed the cows. Commercial Feed stores began feed delivery to dairy farms.
1940 Roland Graham built a Pasteurizing Plant in the Crawford community. The Pasteurizing plant was sold to Barbers Dairy in 1950.
As electricity became available to outreaching rural areas, there was a change from hand milking to electric milking machines.
1940 Lewis Waltman built his own pasteurization plant and bottle milk from his dairy. He purchased a truck and delivered milk to homes, business. In 1960 he sold his pasteurizing plant to Van Antwerp. And his milk route to Barbers Dairy.
When I was around 4 year old we had a cow named Bessie to provide milk for our family. One day my mother heard me screaming at the top of my lungs out in the barn. She ran as fast as she could to the barn. Entering the barn she saw I was safe in Bessie stall and Bessie was on the outside looking at me wondering why I was screaming. Needless to say, I did not play in the barn again, or go near a cow.
My next up close experience with a cow was many years later when we were living at the Byrd family home place. My father in law decided to buy a milk cow to keep on the home place. He was a pastor living in a local church parsonage and asked if I would be willing to milk the cow for half of the milk. Our children were small so I agreed, and amazingly I learned to milk. The milk was rich and delicious with cream on top.
" Scrapbook of Memories," 1996
Early settlers had to be very resourceful, creative, inventive people. Resources were very limited to the tools, items they brought with them. When something broke it had to be repaired or a new one made from bar stock of iron or steel.
An important person in the early settlement was the blacksmith. He was a skilled craftsman, who heated iron to shape it, using a forge, anvil, hammers, tongs, chisels and punches to create, repair, and make needed metal items. With a vise and files, he refined the rough edges.
A forge (furnace) burning coal was used to heat iron placed in the forge to a high temperature. The temperature of the forge was controlled by air being pumped into the forge using large leather bellows, the more air the faster the coal burns, the higher the temperature.
Color changes in the metal indicate when the metal was ready to be worked. It was taken out of the fire and hammered on an anvil until the desired shape or repair was achieved. The reheat process is repeated until the desired shape, repair or weld was made. It was then dipped in a tub of water or oil to cool quickly or slowly to the desired temper of hardness.
Allentown had a blacksmith shop that was located at the corner of Wulff and Howells Ferry Road. (Allentown was a town with a church, school, store, cemetery and blacksmith shop that was named for the Allen families who homesteaded in 1820. The only thing that remains today is the Allentown Cemetery and Allentown Holiness church)
Semmes blacksmith shop was located at the corner of Wulff and Hwy 98, just north of the Tift-Pringle grocery store. The shop was owned and operated by Mr. Wulff. Horses and mules were shod, and all types of agricultural equipment were kept in repair. Knives and other useful items were made.
Russell Wulff would later build a home and operate a grocery store at this location. Today in 2019, Walgreen’s Drug Store occupies this property.
The gazebo is a wonderful addition to the park. We are looking forward to using the Gazebo at the Semmes Old Fashioned Christmas Celebration. Make plans to attend- Mark your calendar! AL200 endorsed event.
Property has been purchased by the City of Semmes in the heart of the old town of Semmes for a New City Hall. The old town of Semmes was laid out and named by the Semmes Land Company in 1900, and is located near the railroad next to the Semmes Honor Park on Wulff Road.
The City Council approved on October 1, 2019 the above design for Semmes City Hall, submitted by Adams-Stewart Architectural firm. The New City Hall is a combination of ideas reflecting Semmes in 1900, the 1900’s Semmes Funk Hotel and surrounding farm homes.
The City Hall Complex will house Administration Works, the Municipal Court, Council Chambers and a Banquet Hall.
Tsukasa Kiyono was one of the earliest Japanese immigrants to settle in Alabama. He came to Semmes in 1914 purchasing farm land and began growing Satsuma’s and Pecans. In 1921 he returned to Japan for a visit, marrying Tomoe and returning to Semmes.
Tsukasa and Tomoe had two daughters, Mary born in 1926 and Marion born in 1928 while living in Semmes.
Hard freezes destroyed the fruit crops and the farming changed to grow nursery plants. In the beginning years, all work was done by Tsukasa and Tomoe. With years of hard work, Kiyono Nursery became very successful; employees were hired to do the labor.
Tsukasa was always interested in the development of new plants and methods of growing plants, traveling back to Japan and over the world to see plants that might be grown here. He became known as a renowned horticulturist. He was featured in Life Magazine in 1939. The Nursery industry was growing in Semmes.
The Kiyono’s are fondly remembered for their kindness, friendship and generosity to the community. Semmes was a rural community with a rural school with limited teaching resources. Tsukasa purchases a Victrola and records for Semmes School. The Victrola was rolled from room to room every Friday and classical music played according to Tom Dodd, Jr.
In 1939 Semmes First Baptist Church had built a new church but did not have money for pews. Tsukasa purchased and donated all the pews for the main auditorium in honor of his two daughters, Marion and Mary, who had become Christians.
While the Kiyono Family was on a visit to Japan 1941, World War II broke out preventing their return to the United States. Kiyono Nursery was sold at auction to Clint McDade and renamed Semmes Nursery.
Melba & Buddy Martin
The Martin Family Philosophy still rings true today!
John and Essie Martin
“BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE, BUT NEVER BE ASHAMED OF, NOR FORGET WHERE YOU CAME FROM. NEVER FORGET YOUR ROOTS—IT’S WHAT KEEPS YOU GROUNDED. GOD PLACES YOU WHERE HE WANTS YOU IN THIS LIFE—MAKE THE MOST OF IT. DON’T SIT AROUND WAITING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO TAKE CARE OF YOU. EARN YOUR KEEP. MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE WITHIN YOUR CIRCLE. AND NEVER FORGET THE PEOPLE WHO EXTEND TO YOU A HELPING HAND ALONG THE WAY.”
(Donna Martin Turk)
John and Essie Martin and their children Sara Elizabeth, Edna Earle, Johnnie Ruth and Jack moved to Semmes on Snow Road in 1935. James Rufus, Betty Ann, and Thomas E. (Buddy) were born in Semmes.
Semmes was a very rural area, sparsely populated with small farms, and a few nurseries. It was a period of time when neighbors knew all their neighbors and willing to share a helping hand to one another when needed.
The Martin Family farmed the land and sold produce, cut and sold firewood, odd jobs, plowed for neighbors, mowed lawns at schools and other locations around Mobile.From Produce farming, John decided to go into Dairy farming. His father and grandfather had been dairy farmers. Semmes was becoming a large dairy farming community.
Early dairy farming was hands on farming that was very hard work, beginning before daylight and lasting till after dark, seven days a week. Cows were fed and milked by hand. The dairy farmer had to grow food for his cows, Hay and Silage. Hay was grown cut, and dried then gathered for storage in the barn. Silage, annual green crops, usually corn and sorghum were planted and gathered green, chopped, stored in a silo where fermentation took place. (Silage had a pleasant sweet smell.)
The beginning of a turning point in the Martin Family from Dairy Farming to the Nursery Industry happened when Buddy stopped to help a neighbor Delano Ikner, whose horse was in a ditch. Delano managed a Nursery in Semmes. Delano and Buddy became friends.
Not only did Buddy become interested in the nursery business, by simply stopping to help a neighbor, but he later met Melba who was to become his wife. Melba was the sister of Delano’s wife Gloria.
Buddy and Melba and their families continue to uphold the family philosophy that was passed down from John and Essie Martin, not forgetting their roots, working hard, and making a difference in the lives of those around them, and contributing to the people of Semmes. The Martin Family Farm that began with 40 acres has grown to 400 acre Nursery which is known worldwide.
Preserving our History