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Hartselle as I found it

By Staff
Editor's note: Lizzie Reed Peen wrote this memoir in about 1989 and gave it to Allen Freeman of Washington, DC, a grandson of John Elmer Freeman Sr. and Annie Milam Freeman of Nanceford Road in Hartselle. Lizzie Reed lived with the Freeman family when she moved to Hartselle to attend school.
I was born January 26, 1902, just as the 20th Century was creeping into the State of Alabama.
My parents were teachers in rural schools-my mother having taught in a tiny Lawrence County school when she was only 16 years old. My father owned a farm almost in the corners of Morgan, Lawrence and Winston Counties.
In the beginning years of the 1900s men "made do" with whatever surrounded them. As a child I felt confident my father could cope with any problem-either his or his neighbors.
I have clear recollections of his building houses and barns, running his own blacksmith shop for his horses and mules, harvesting his crops-indeed, the only foods brought out "from town" were such staples as salt, sugar, soda, etc.
Our cellar had almost everything else we ate stored away.
In a grove of maple trees near our door I witnessed hog killings, soap makings, syrup makings, even coffin makings. My father was a skilled carpenter, and especially sad to me was the sight of little tiny wooden coffins being lined with black for some child whose people could afford nothing better.
Childhood for an only child in early farm days was lonely-happy incidents were visits from foot peddlers, tax officials on county rounds, visiting preachers, etc.
When I was 12 years old, I left the one room county school at Bashams Gap.
No longer all ages crowded into one big room, centered by the big pot bellied stove sitting in its big sandbox for fire safety.
A stove that grew red hot and sent its heat only part way up to the stage on which the teacher sat in front of the long home-made blackboard, a heat that certainly did not get all the way back through the rows of double homemade desks to the back of the room, where, lined against the wall, sat the tin buckets, baskets, boxes, etc. filled with sausage, biscuits, tea cakes-whatever food women packed for their children's lunches-lunches to be washed down with the communal bucket and water dipper, sitting in the corner of the room.
So from Stepping Stones to Literature, Books I and Up, Harvey's English Grammar, Blue Back Speller, My Arithmetic, and other such store houses of learning I came to Morgan County High School, the only county high school in Morgan County at that time, and I came to Hartselle, Alabama-a town of about 1,354 very busy optimistic souls.
I came to a little cotton town-all future plans being made always "hinging on the price of cotton"-a town with three small church congregations, three banks, two "dry goods stores," no public wet goods stores-although illicit liquids were fairly easily obtainable.
In earlier crossroads days, saloons, livery stables and cotton gins had been the chief attractions to the area. Hartselle had a county newspaper, The Enterprise, a fire bucket brigade summoned to action by the ringing of church bells and pistol shots.
Local amateur firemen often cheered their duties of putting out fires by catching some pompous old fellow in the path and sending down buckets of water on his bare head.
Hartselle had one photographer-a cousin of mine. Years later at his death great mounds of pictures showed the town's early struggles-its first little sidewalk leading up the hill to the new red brick high school, its first paved street in 1912, its little rocked East Pike leading out toward Somerville, a narrow rocky road on which I took my first ride in one of the two of Hartselle's first cars-a tiny red roadster owned by my cousin the photographer, a little slender meticulous man who always kept a feather duster in the car to flick off any dirt, also to prepare the seat for his rather voluminous wife (about 300 pounds).
Attired in their linen dusters, he in goggles, and the little engine spluttering away-their progress across county was marked by clouds of dust, farmers on roadsides firmly holding on to terrified horses and mules.
I'll never forget my two or three mile ride-my first-out the new East Pike in a car. Would the Concorde across to Paris be able to equal that moment?
Hartselle had two drug stores. Pattillo's was well stocked with tall brown bottles of Grove's chill tonic, nature's syrup of pepsin remedy, Wine of Carduii (sp ?) [cq].
Best of all with glass cases of chocolate covered white fondant drops-for a nickel two girls could get Mr. Pierce Pattillo to fill a white bag that could last all the way from town, up by Howell's Lumber Mill and back to school.
Back in back of the drug stores presided our grand old family doctors-the only clinics we knew of.
There they set broken limbs, pulled teeth, measured Gray's Powders into little white slips of paper for mothers to shake onto a child's tongue and wash sputtering down with a glass of water.
There was always Dr. Lovelady, ready as he said, "To render moral, legal, spiritual, and physical advice"-each phase of it equally beneficial to his patients.
Morgan County High School's building was a red brick two-story structure, built on a 5-acre plot cleared of a dense thicket of loblolly pines. In four large classrooms on first floor were housed grades 9-10-11-12.
Classes were small ranging from 15-30. Classes stayed put, teachers (usually about six) came from room to room with their knowledge, books, etc. along with them.
Needless to say corridors were quiet and orderly-only rarely was a pupil seen in a hallway-perhaps to go to the set of reference books enclosed in a book case in the hallway (the school's only early library) or to make a journey to one of the two small necessary facilities located a distance away in clumps of pines.
Rooms were heated with a stove in a corner. Lights were gas lights (furnished by a private dynamo owned privately by Mr. J.R. White). Later in 1917 Alabama Power came to light up the school and the town.
MCHS was new-expensive at $10,000 and the center of Hartselle's civic and social life.
Athletics was not encouraged. Hartselle's first football team was a community affair, coached by townsmen and with students and outsiders on the team.
Amusements were truly plentiful nevertheless. Debate teams, amateur theatricals, lyceum circuits, indeed much so-called music, oratory, etc. floated out over the town from the windows of the upstairs school auditorium.
On special occasions a census taker could have just about counted Hartselle's two thousand, or less, souls just by numbering them climbing the stairs to see and be seen at the commencements and such exercises.
School was a source of pride, paid for by the community, and led by Mr. J.H. Riddle, its founder, and his carefully selected dedicated, scholarly staff-a staff that suffers not one bit by comparison with one's later college teachers. Surely they were superior-not just glorified by long distance memories-but men and women who did truly deserve the title Teacher.
Events crowd into a four-year high school life.
Hartselle's entire wooden business section caught fire and burned during this (1916) time.
Later the town changed its direction and headed west, rather than North and South paralleling the L &N Railroad, which had been its first lifeline.
Bank robbers came in March of 1926 and escaped with all the cash from the Bank of Hartselle.
Later in the bank holiday of 1933 the banks were closed and liquidated-a time of stern panic and economic distress.
Wars touched Hartselle and took their toll. In the class of 1919 at MCHS we saw some of our own members leave school and join the services. The scene of their departure from the L &N Station to join up had left many of us with farewell pictures in scrapbooks.
We, who had never knitted before, began to turn to our mothers for instructions, and we soon created some rather drab khaki concoctions which probably impeded several boys' movements in the trenches!
Our German teacher lost a little prestige, dear, gentle man that he was. A play with some German characters proved a bit unpopular on the MCHS stage. One of our classmates was missing.
At last on Nov. 11, 1918 our class did a daring thing for us. We played hooky from school, marched to town, yelled, blew horns and did our shrill best to help declare the peace that was to end the War to End All Wars. So time marched into 1919. We sang in May "Tis June the Month of Roses" dressed in frilly white dresses, white pointed toed, high heeled kid shoes and stepped out for college, the world, and adult life from Hartselle, Alabama U.S.A.

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