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Time marches on for Falco

BY KEVIN MCKINNLEY | ALL THINGS SOUTHERN

As the virgin forests around Falco, Alabama came to life with the sounds of train locomotives and other industrial noise, the tiny communities around the boom town gained new residents as well.

Falco, Wing and Beda were all located within walking distances of one another. In 1889, John A. Nichols was postmaster of the tiny community of Payson, Ala., which was later to be named Wing, thereby proving that sufficient people lived in the area to establish a post office even before the early 1900 boom.

Among the early families who came to the Wing area was the Cotton family. Dallas Cotton established a blacksmith shop and from there he taught his sons to be industrious young men in the area. Dallas married Martha James and had seven children, all were boys yet two died in infancy and Merrill died at age 11.

The other boys were Dexter, Ebin, Walter, Eza  J. and Stacie. Eza J. Cotton, often called E.J. had a son named Donald who went to school at Falco and went on to run Cotton Ford Tractor in Andalusia. He remembers school days at Falco.

“I lived at Wing, as a boy and it was about three miles to Falco where the school was located,” said Mr. Cotton.

Mr. Cotton attended Falco’s school in the 1930s and 40s; well after the town’s boom had gone bust, but during a time when the faded glory of the old town was still fresh in the local memory.

He attended first through fourth grades and thereafter his family moved to Florida. Later, his family returned to the area and he attended the seventh and eighth grade at Falco before transferring to another school after the Falco school burned.

“At one time there was a large grist mill and pond at Falco; the town had streets with homes on each side for the saw mill workers and businesses,” recounts Cotton.

In “Those Special Memories of Falco, Beda and Wing,” which was written at some point in the 1980s, locals remembered the mill.

People from everywhere applied for jobs at the grist mill because of its modern large operation according the above-mentioned book by an unknown author.

A very young Cleveland Coxwell applied for work at the grist mill at age 15 ½ but was told to come back when he was 16; in that 16 was the minimum age for full time employment. Coxwell eventually got his job at the mill and later became a carpenter.

The Lundy family also contributed to the earlier Falco/Wing/Beda book mentioned above. Their parents were G.T. and Vallie Lundy and the children were G.W., Helen, Sybill, Lynn and Glenn (Cotton) and Ellen. Their dad had a contract school bus route and their mother was a wonderful housewife and mother. One of the siblings wrote the following about summers in Falco:

“In the summers we built play houses in the woods, climbed trees, searched for wild grapes and went swimming in the trestle. We would run all the way through the marshy area surrounding the mill pond and beat the water with sticks to chase away the snakes.”

Yet as idyllic as a place Falco was for children to spend their summers, it was on the precipice of change as the early 1900s boom was bringing challenges of its own.

Falco was rapidly growing at this point in its life. Mrs. Mary Hamby Jackson stated mothers would often tell children not to be on the streets or in town on the weekends because of the rowdy mill workers who had a pocket full of money and sometimes a bottle of whisky in hand.

It was now that a sea of humanity was starting to flood the town and fill the streets and push out the lumber like pistons in a giant machine of industry for the consumption of some far away giant with an unsatisfied appetite for wood. Yet the business and political back and forth which founded Falco was not as simple as the hard work ethic that built and sustained the town.

Falco, Inc (Florida Alabama Lumber Co), was incorporated in Florida in 1901. Its home office was in Laurel Hill, Florida. The company was organized to purchase the Simpson and Co. properties and develop a sawmill and railroad.

On Dec. 11, 1901, the trustees of the Simpson and Co. properties sold the Falco company their rail road which ran from about Wing down to Galliver, Fla., for $25,000. This sale included a 50-foot-wide right of way for the entire length of the railroad tract for about 30 miles.

Documents at the Baker Block Museum in Florida illustrate just what a lifeline the railroad was to Falco. Traveling salesman, also called “drummers,” would arrive in Falco by train, rent a horse and buggy at the livery stable and circuit ride the area to sell hard to find consumer goods. The train also delivered fresh vegetables to the depot and the train brought in a soda fountain and a jewelry store to serve the people. The railroad also had a turntable at Falco so that the trains could be turned around for the return trip to Galliver.

As part of the land deal for Falco, on Jan. 15, 1902, the Simpson company sold the Falco company all their land in Covington county and Santa Rosa county in Florida for $4.50 an acre.

Around the same time, Falco officer Samuel M. Gross contracted with local land owner John W. Stokes’ gristmill pond on Dec. 1, 1901, to cross his land so that the railroad could be extended into Falco and to construct supporting buildings. He also signed a three-year lease with an option to extend for 10 years for use of the mill pond for the purposes of floating logs for the mill operation. Stokes was paid the princely sum of $5 a month.

Next week; “Pardon Me, But Is This The Way to Falco?” Special thanks to Jerry Simmons for use of the book, Those Special Memories of Falco, Beda and Wing. Donald Cotton of Andalusia and John Jackson and his wife Mary of Wing.