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America was on the move in the early 1900s

STORY BY KEVIN MCKINNLEY | ALL THINGS SOUTHERN

During the early 1900s a series of local newspapers did much to preserve the history and local news of the infant communities, which dotted the landscape of Escambia County Alabama and Northwest Florida.

R.W. Brooks, a reverend and a newspaper man, wrote many spirited accounts of history he witnessed first hand and, in doing so, provided a glimpse into the past for those of us reading his articles more than 90 years later.

R.W. Brooks was the template for other journalist in the area. Some were reporters, publishers or just weekly contributors. Many are lost to history today but one mysterious reporter by the name of “Violet” wrote for the Atmore Spectrum in the early 1900s and kept a weekly accounting of the comings and goings of the good people of Canoe Station.

Her efforts covered not the big, history making news of her time nor did it document the lifestyles of the well to do. Instead it gave a fleeting glimpse of an age where men walked with a certain swagger and women were gentle and delicate.

Travel seemed to concern Violet a great deal in her updates to the Spectrum. In one 1903 piece she mentions Mr. Robert Lowrey making a “flying trip” to Brewton on a Monday. Lowrey owned a store in Canoe and was also the postmaster. Perhaps his trip was for official post office business or to visit family or friends.

As the train reached Brewton, the steam locomotive gradually came to a stop by the depot while outside his window a sea of straw hats moved in a steady unison of humanity. Other businessmen had caught the train at earlier stops such as Flomaton and Atmore and now with their shined shoes and white starched collars they had arrived at the county seat to conduct their business.

Meanwhile the local women with their wicker shopping baskets and other men in their earthen soiled work overalls outnumbered the well-polished business types on the crowded Brewton streets.

Train travel was different in that far away age. Today most trains serve a singular, utilitarian purpose-the movement of goods. Yet in the early 1900s trains were smaller and served a varied existence. Those who used the trains for transportation would have been familiar with the deep chugging of the exhaust and the groaning of the iron wheels and their steady rhythm that played out across the rail lines as small villages gave way to broad fields and piney woods. The trains would stop to pick up passengers at the stations or pass workers along the side of the tracks thus breaking up the monotony of the trip.   

America was on the move in the early 1900s and a spirit of community reigned in most regions of the country and Canoe was no different. Violet updated the Spectrum on several occasions regarding Saturday night dances at Mr. Whitley’s place. The young men in their new suits and the young girls with their lace and bonnets illuminated by lantern or bond fire cast the mold for memories reflected on decades later when those in attendance had long since shed the innocence of youth and entered the twilight of their being.

Religion was important in the life of those in the village of Canoe during those lofty days of the early 1900s. On December 25, 1903, Violet writes that Rev. J. M. Sallie will preach at Canoe the following Sunday.

On April 4, 1904, Violet mentioned in her column that the ladies of the Canoe Methodist Church were hosting an ice cream supper on the 9th in the old William Carney storehouse.

Violet shared a since of light humor with her audience in her articles. On February 12, 1904 she wrote: “We hope three certain fellows are enjoying themselves in Canoe.” Perhaps she was referring to some sort of mischievous youngsters who were carrying frogs in the bib of their overalls or making young girls shriek by pulling their pigtails.    

In the same February 12th article she noted the attendance of A.J. Hall at court in Brewton and the visit of H.E. Miles to Canoe on Monday of that week. Always, the careful observer of travelers, Violet noted that W.J. Troutman went to Atmore on business the same day. The day before, Clarence Hall spent Sunday in Atmore. Henry Miles of Wawbeek visited Canoe that Saturday and Fred German made a “flying trip” to Mobile the previous Thursday.

She also sent sympathetic word for Mrs. A.J. Hall and Hallie Troutman who were sick at the publication of that week’s article.

Some of Violet’s writing refers to individuals whose role in Canoe life remains a mystery but which leaves their position in life open to speculation. On January 15, 1904 she notes “Dave Hollaway left for his home in Monroe County and has been replaced by Mr. Cappach of Brewton.” In the same article she mentions, “Mr. Franklin of Atmore will take over the office in Canoe.” Could this be the L&N depot to which she refers?

Violet was not the only mystery writer in the employ of the Spectrum during that time. A writer by the name of “Scrap” wrote on March 4, 1904: “W.F. Brown of Century, and candidate for the county commission in Escambia County Florida, visited relatives here Sunday. Politics is getting pretty warm and candidates are numerous.”

The Spectrum was a fascinating newspaper of the day. The paper carried local as well as national headlines and gave updates on every community in the area. The classifieds are fascinating to read and the names of long forgotten businesses and professionals come and go in a steady stream of ink and pages yellowed by the years. Most businesses who advertised in the paper never mention their address in the ad because the area was so small everyone knew where the businesses were located.

On November 20, 1903 the Spectrum ran an ad for Mr. S. A. Barlow of Canoe who was “Seeking to sell 24 acres of land one half mile east of Canoe. Four acres cleared and fenced. Nice red land in high state of cultivation. Will include 120 egg incubator with the sell.” This location could have been near present day Dug Out Lane.

The story behind Violet and Scrap may never be known and we may never know if S. A. Barlow sold the 24 acres of land with the incubator but the clues and historical nuggets provided by the Atmore Spectrum provide a portal into a time long since passed into the dusty pages of our history.