Forgotten Trails: Historical birthdays remembered
Published 12:10 am Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Before I start this week's column I want to take a tip from my friend, Ann Biggs-Williams. She has kindly reminded me that we have a couple of special birthdays in Brewton. Alabama became the 22nd state on December 14, 1819 and Escambia County was formed by an act of the Alabama Legislature on December 10, 1868. So let us wish both our county and state a very happy birthday. Now back to the street articles.
Just behind the courthouse stood the county jail, which was used until a new one was built about 1910. It was there on a wooden gallows outside the jail that the last person in Escambia County to receive an affirmed death sentence was executed. He was Charley Kelly, a Negro preacher from over at Wallace who shot his wife as she was coming from the well with a bucket of water in one hand and carrying a cat in the other arm. Charley boasted before the jury that he killed his wife without puncturing the bucket or hurting the cat. You can imagine about how long it took to reach a verdict.
Just across the street from the courthouse was what was known as the “Walker House.” It was a large brick building (torn down only a few years ago) in which Mrs. Rachel Walker operated for many years a most popular boarding establishment. Convenient to the courthouse, the city school and the business section, the Walker House cared for court visitors, teachers, students who came here to attend school and permanent unmarried residents who held business positions in the city. Nobody under 40 is expected to believe this, but Mrs. Walker furnished a comfortable room, heat, light and maid service, and three bountiful meals a day-all for the magnificent sum of $15 per month.
August 30, 1956
Someone asked me the other day if I had forgotten Douglas Avenue in writing about the north-south streets in Brewton. The question was quite natural because last week I discussed two of the cross streets. My delay in getting to Douglas has not been unintentional but entirely deliberate. To tell the truth, (which I always try to do-up to a point at least) I have been trying to determine through such sources as were available for just whom the street was named.
For 75 years or more, there have been Douglases living in Brewton and the name has been prominent in the history of Escambia County. But all of my efforts to learn which, if any, members of that family was honored by having a street name for him have failed. So I think that my conclusion that the street was named for the family rather than an individual member of it is justified on the basis of my investigation. If any reader has better information, I will welcome a correction.
The Douglases came originally from Georgia and settled at Dixie in the northeastern corner of Escambia County. Of six brothers, three came to Brewton to make their homes. These were Arch, A.T. and Joe. Two others, Frank and Tom remained at Dixie, while another, Sike, moved to Geneva County. A cousin, James Douglas, settled in Brewton and for many years operated a jewelry store here.
Arch, A.T. and James were all prominent in the early development of this city. At various times they were members of the town council, school board and other civic bodies, so I think it is logical to assume that Douglas Avenue was so designated in honor of all three of them.
Joe Douglas moved to Brewton in later years, coming by way of Pollard where he and Percy Watson, father of our local automobile dealer, Percy F. Watson, were most successful in the operation of a lumber manufacturing plant.
Of the original family and its descendants, only a few now reside in Brewton. One of these is the good lady whom all of us affectionately know as “Miss Lena,” the widow of Arch Douglas. The others are Mrs. Joe Lovett, daughter of A.T. Douglas, Mrs. E.E. Liles, daughter of “Miss Lena,” John Douglas, son of Joe Douglas, Mrs. Q. Gillis and Mrs. Myrtle Gillis, both daughters of Tom Douglas.
As for the street itself, until Belleview Park was developed about 30 years ago, there were few homes and no business buildings beyond Granberry Street. South of Granberry a number of prominent residents have always lived. Among the early ones was E. Downing Sr. who was one of the original owners of Cedar Creek Mill Company and one of the wealthiest citizens of this section. His residence still stands and is now owned by one of his granddaughters, Mrs. Dorothy Downing Pharr.
Another early home was that of Turner W. Curry, a druggist of Brewton who once served as U.S. Marshal at Mobile. That home stands at the corner of McLellan and Douglas and for many years was the residence of Col. James M. Davison, prominent Brewton attorney and father of Misses Lizzie Kate and Kathleen Davison of this city.
Geographically speaking, Douglas Avenue is the longest straight street in Brewton. Trace it in your mind and you'll realize it extends for about two miles with no curves and just a waver or two.
And you can believe this or not but the block on the east side and north of Granberry was once a corn field where the first airplane to land in Brewton touched the ground, and the spot where circuses always pitched their tents on their annual visits to this city.
Next week we will continue with more history on the naming of Brewton's streets.