Commercial district holds key to history

Published 12:44 am Wednesday, June 7, 2006

By By Lydia Grimes – Forgotten Trails
This week I am going to start a new series of articles that I hope you will find interesting.
The Brewton Historic Commercial District contains some 34 buildings considered historical.
Most of the buildings date from the late 19th century to the first decade of the 20th century. Most of the buildings have changed very little since the 1920s.
The facades may have changed some but one can see the original size and shape of the building by looking at the upstairs windows and the rooflines.
The whole historic district runs on both sides of the railroad tracks, which dissects the downtown area.
Some of the buildings along Belleville Avenue area are also included. Some of those considered a contributing factor in the historic nature of the town have been demolished which include the old courthouse, the Lovelace Hotel and the railroad depot.
Most of the buildings are one and two-story brick with narrow fronts and simple ornamentation.
One exception is the older part of the Bank of Brewton, which contains tiles and elaborate carvings. Construction of the buildings is typical of that found in the more prosperous communities found in South Alabama.
At one time the district was considered as a candidate to be included in the National Register of Historic Places.
The statement included with the description of the buildings says it was the largest commercial center between Montgomery and the Gulf Coast ports of Pensacola and Mobile during the early years of the 19th century.
The timber industry which developed during the latter part of the 19th century brought wealth and prosperity to the rapidly growing town.
Firms such as Robbins and McGowin and Luttrell Hardware made buying trips to New York on a regular basis, bringing up-to-date items into a typically rural town.
The district is noted for its strong association with the timber industry of South Alabama and the architecture is typical for its time.
Also, according to the Register application, Brewton grew up around the train station, which was situated on the Alabama and Florida Railroad.
The railroad connected Montgomery to Pensacola and Mobile and was a major rail line in Alabama.
The lumber industry had been around since the 1840s and several mills were constructed in the area before and after the Civil War. It was in the 1880s that large-scale use of the long leaf pine was begun.
Brewton, being on the rail line, attracted the attention of smaller communities in the area and became the center of the lumber industry. In the years between 1880 and 1890 the population doubled bringing the number of people living in the Brewton area to around 1000 in 1890.
By 1900, Brewton could boast of some of the largest stores in south Alabama. The local newspaper, The Pinebelt News, reported that there were no vacant stores in downtown Brewton.
In the next few years, Brewton grew to 5,000 and enjoyed electricity, waterworks, a fire department, sewers, fives miles of paved streets and a public park.
About the only drawback to the small town was the constant floodings from the nearby Murder Creek and Burnt Corn Creek.
Major floods occurred in 1913, 1915, 1928, 1929, 1975 and 1977.
There were many instances of smaller flooding in other years.
The worst floods were the 1928 and 1929 floods, which forced several businesses to close due to financial losses.
Coupled with the Depression, the town suffered and lost its claim to the prosperity it had known.
Today Brewton serves as a major commercial center for the area and for the headquarters of T.R. Miller Mill Lumber Company, which was established in the 1870s.
It remains on the largest lumber companies in the southeast.
Next week I will start with the buildings downtown and tell you what I have been able to find out about each one.
Features writer Lydia Grimes can be reached at 867-4876 or by e-mail at

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