Forgotten Trails: Street history revisited
Published 2:22 am Wednesday, January 10, 2007
After a skip of a few weeks Mr. Emmett Brooks continued to write about the streets of Brewton.
November 8, 1956
Carrying out my promise to write from time to time more about the streets of Brewton, we will revert this week to the downtown area and discuss for the moment the history of St. Joseph Street. Many of the people who are not familiar with the history of the city frequently ask the question, “Why did they let them put the railroad tracks through the middle of the business section of Brewton?”
That question is easily answered by the fact that the railroad tracks were there first and the business section simply accumulated, shall we say, along the railroad. The railroad from Montgomery toward Mobile was first surveyed and built about a hundred years ago, while Brewton was not started until a station was established here some years later. It was quite natural that the merchants of early days wanted their places of business as near the center of activity as possible, and a location near the depot also meant a short haul for their incoming freight.
So, as the community grew, more and more buildings were erected along the tracks as a matter of convenience and economy. Those who complain now about the present single track running through the “middle of town” should have lived here only a little more than 30 years ago when there was not one, but three sets of tracks through the business section.
Until the city council decided in 1922 (I believe it was) that Brewton had progressed to the point where the downtown streets should be paved, the L &N had the main line, a siding, and a house track extending literally from one end of town to the other. The crossings, which are still dangerous enough, were literal death traps. With trains passing on two of the tracks and another switching on the third, and no protective warning devices, visibility of approaching cars or engines was almost nil. And the noise of the steam locomotives but added to the danger of anyone attempting to cross the tracks on foot or by horse-drawn or motor vehicle.
Fatalities were all too frequent and serious accidents not an uncommon occurrence. A brilliant young Brewton physician was killed when his automobile was struck at the Mildred Street crossing by an approaching train that he did not see or hear on account of another on the siding.
So after negotiations with railroad officials, the city fathers persuaded them to move the passing and house tracks to their present locations outside the business section. But, then came to light a most interesting situation. Nobody had ever raised the question of ownership of the street space on each side of the tracks and up to the curb line which, of course, was considerably narrower than it is now.
The L &N insisted that it owned from curb to curb and in agreeing to the track removal and street paving it would not surrender any of its title or claims to the property. It reserved the right to reclaim it at any time it might be needed for railroad purposes. As a matter of law and of record it developed that the railroad company was right. Its original right-of-way grant gives it a strip 50 feet on each side of the center of its main tracks, or a total of 100 feet. And if you should take the trouble to measure it, this would go from sidewalk to sidewalk.
So, as you drive your car along St. Joseph Avenue, you can bear in mind that you are not traveling on public property as a matter of right, but on private land by permission and sufferance of the L &N Railroad Company.
November 15, 1956
Several people have asked me during the past week who the Brewton physician was that I mentioned last week as having been killed at one of the downtown railroad crossings. For the benefit of others who have perhaps wondered also, it was Dr. Clarence Farish who practiced here only a short time before his tragic death. His older brother, Dr. L.B. Farish, was for several years a beloved physician in Brewton who later moved to Atmore where his widow still resides. The younger doctor came here in 1918 to practice with him. The story of the heroic effort that was made to save Dr. Clarence Farish's life is a most interesting one. When his automobile was struck by a train he was not killed outright but, as it turned out, fatally injured.
There was no hospital here then and the nearest one where it was hoped that his life could be saved was in Mobile. Within minutes of the accident, railroad officials ordered the engine and caboose of the freight train which had struck him to rush the injured man to Mobile. The track was cleared for the abbreviated train and it started on what was hoped would be a life-saving run.
Unfortunately, however, Dr. Farish expired before it reached Mobile.
I hope you are getting some fun out of this. If you are, let me hear from you. Give me a call or drop me a line.