Sunday, March 11, 2018

Biography of William Lindsey McDonald of Florence, Alabama


William Lindsey (Bill) McDonald (June 7, 1927 - June 20, 2009) was a native of Florence, Alabama. A lover of history since he was a young boy, Bill McDonald was known for his in-depth knowledge of the area's history. A tireless researcher, he served as the Florence City Historian beginning in 1989 and authored or co-authored fifteen books and innumerable articles in magazines, newspapers and periodicals.
After serving in World War II, Dr. McDonald received a degree in business administration from Florence State Teachers College (now UNA) in 1952. He was a member of the first graduation class of the new ROTC program and after graduation from college he left to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the Korean War. A retired Army Reserve Colonel with thirty-eight years of service, Dr. McDonald's reserve duty included assignments on the staffs of the Provost Marshal General and the Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel at the Pentagon. In addition to his Florence State degree, Dr. McDonald graduated from the Army's Command and General Staff College (1974), the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (1975); and pursued seminary studies in the United Methodist Church. He was a member of the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.
After returning to the Shoals, Dr. McDonald was employed with the Tennessee Valley National Fertilizer Development Center and retired in 1988 as Chief of the Budget Staff. A retired minister, he served several rural churches in Lauderdale and Colbert Counties, and wrote prolifically on the history of Methodism in North Alabama. From 1968 to 1989 he served as Chair of the Florence Historical Board and in 1989 was appointed City Historian, a position he held until his death in 2009. He also served as president of the Tennessee Valley Historical Society and the North Alabama Historical Association, as well as Conference Historian for the North Alabama United Methodist Church. Dr. McDonald assisted in the organization of five museums in the North Alabama area and researched and wrote the texts for more than seventy-five historical markers in Florence, Lauderdale County and Courtland. The recipient of numerous awards and commendations, Dr. McDonald was recognized by the UNA Alumni Association with a Community Service Award in October 2000 and conferred with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by UNA in May 2006.
Bill McDonald collected historical information about the Shoals area for more than half a century. His research involved personal interviews, painstaking analysis of original documents and materials, and an uncanny ability to piece together information and ideas in unique and interesting ways. His personal collection included notes, hundreds of photographs, research documents, and a number of limited and one-of-a kind resources. In addition to his books, the public most often had access to Dr. McDonald's wealth of knowledge through his writings on Shoals history in the Florence Times-Daily.
Bill McDonald was married to Dorothy Carter McDonald, an artist and retired teacher in the Florence City School System. They made their home in Florence and had two daughters: Dr. Nancy Carter McDonald and Suzannah Lee McDonald.

The above is the official University of North Alabama biography of Mr. McDonald.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Naming the Shoals

Cities and towns are like cats; they usually have an official name and a nickname. Say the “Big Apple” or the “Second City,” and everyone knows which town is being discussed. That’s also true of Shoals towns, or at least most of them.

Look at Sheffield; it now seems to have two nicknames. Last year, PNS published an article about a Sheffield city council candidate who had a recent local arrest. When one editor used the term “City on the Bluff,” the candidate took great issue with it, stating the public wouldn’t understand the arrest was in Sheffield. The other editor agreed with her, stating “City on the Bluff” was an old name for the town. Is it?

The first record of that name found on the Internet is from an early 1980s Sheffield High School pep rally. In 1985, the Sheffield Library published the history of the town on the eve of its 100th anniversary. The book was called Sheffield, City on the Bluff – 1885-1985.

In this century, local filmmaker Steve Wiggins has produced Sheffield: City on the Bluff. Even current Sheffield police patches give a nod to the name, displaying it prominently at the top of the insignias officers wear daily.
Yet Sheffield does have a new nickname. Will it displace “City on the Bluff?”

An Internet search shows early 2014 as the first date “Center of the Shoals” was used to describe the small Colbert County town. At that time, a refurbished neon sign was placed at the juncture of Muscle Shoals and Sheffield on East Second Street.

Since that time, the city has begun to use the moniker on its website and in other blurbs. Yet there has been much discussion on local forums as to how accurate a description this new name really is. Exactly how does one define the center of the Shoals area when not everyone can decide its geographical boundaries? Or is “center” merely a relative term?

Which name will win the battle of the nicknames? Perhaps the City of Florence can tell us; we’ll visit it next.


We last visited the City on the Bluff; now we’ll visit the Queen City. Not familiar with that appellation? That makes you under the age of 40.

The term Queen City is used for towns in almost all the states. Once Alabama had two Queen Cities: Tuscaloosa and Florence. In the 1960s and 1970s, it wasn’t unusual to see vehicles sporting the bumper sticker “Florence – the Queen City.”

The last official reference to Florence as the Queen City was found online in a 1972 newspaper article by the TimesDaily editor Louis Eckl who predicted a strong future for Lauderdale’s county seat. It would seem the Vietnam era daily wasn’t that much different from the one of today.

Did the name Queen City fall out of favor because it was confusing? Or did the rising era of gay rights tarnish the term in the eyes of some?

Florence seemed to languish for at least a decade without a nickname; however, by the late 1980s, the annual Renaissance Faire had arrived. Florence, Italy, and Florence, Alabama, had been proclaimed sister cities. What better way to cement that relationship than by dubbing the Alabama town the Renaissance City?

Over the years, signage has sprung up bearing the image of the Italian town’s signature giglio, sometimes known as the lily or fleur-de-lis. Even the marble floor in the back lobby of the public library sports the floral logo.

Arguments have sprung up over the presence or absence of stamen in the signature flower and what makes it a true giglio. While it may have convoluted origins, it looks like the name Renaissance City is here to stay.

One Colbert County town didn’t have quite such a circuitous path to its nickname. Next: Muscle Shoals.


It was 1921 when Henry Ford visited Muscle Shoals. He proposed purchasing Wilson Dam for five million dollars and turning the miniscule plat on the map into what he called “the Detroit of the South.” Congress refused Ford’s offer based on the construction price of the dam having been at least eight times what Ford offered, but the nickname Detroit of the South stuck for years, possibly as much in derision as in apt description.

At least four decades passed before things changed appreciably in Muscle Shoals, but change they did. The small town of Sheffield refused to consider U.S. Highway 43 passing through its city limits, and Muscle Shoals became the next logical choice for the major traffic artery. The Detroit of the South was about to boom, if in only a small way.

Since the town had nothing to do with the automotive industry at this point, a new nickname was needed to convey what the town represented, and the success of Fame Studios provided it. Muscle Shoals was officially dubbed “the Hit Recording Capital of the World.”

Signs designating the town as a hit recording capital have waned over the years, but recent interest in the small Colbert County town’s musical history has again brought the name to the forefront 40 years after it first appeared. It just may be a keeper.

Next we’ll visit Tuscumbia…


The city of Tuscumbia is one of the oldest communities in the Shoals. It’s either the same age as Florence or two years younger, depending upon one’s point of view. From the official town history:

The town incorporated as Ococoposa in 1820. The name was soon changed to Big Spring. This name, however, still did not seem to do the town justice. In 1822, a vote was taken to change the name to either Anniston, after the first white child born in Big Spring, or Tuscumbia, in honor of the Chickasaw Indian chief living here. Tuscumbia won by one vote.

Should we consider Ococoposa a nickname? Probably not. How about Big Spring? Ditto.

So what is Tuscumbia’s nickname? If Florence, Sheffield, and Muscle Shoals each have two sobriquets, doesn’t Tuscumbia have at least one? Those we’ve asked have uniformly replied in the negative.

In the interest of fairness, it’s incumbent upon PNS to dub the city of Tuscumbia with an appellation it can be proud to display on billboards leading into the town. A historian residing in legendary Limestone County has come to the town’s rescue and coined a brilliant nickname for the Colbert County town. From this point on, the picturesque municipality shall be designated:

Tuscumbia – Gateway to Barton.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Iconic Three-C Grill

When students left the campus of Florence State College at the end of the spring semester in 1958, they left the Triangle Grill standing on the corner of Wood and Morrison Avenues. When they returned in the fall, they were met by the new Three-C Grill. The Triangle had been so named due to the acute angle at which Wood and Morrison met, and over the years it had won popularity with the college students who were its largest customer base; yet the Three-C is what most Florentines think of when asked to recall the corner before it was purchased by the university.

When Jerry, Jim, and Charlie Carroll acquired the old Triangle Grill, it seemed only natural to rename it the Three-C. Less than a year later the brothers established the Three-C Barbershop directly behind the grill on Morrison Avenue.

It was during this era that the Baptist organization on campus purchased a Victorian home on Wood Avenue directly across from the grill. The new Baptist Student Union was completed c.1962 and produced a marked increase in foot traffic at the iconic Wood/Morrison corner. Business flourished.

Even with its enormous popularity, the Three-C wasn’t always met with smooth sailing. In July 1960, an employee’s brakes failed as she attempted to park on the Morrison Avenue side of the grill, resulting in severe damage to the establishment. Yet, the Carroll brothers persevered, and by the early 1960s branched out, purchasing the former Jiffy Burger location on another triangular corner at Wood and Royal Avenues. They dubbed their newest eatery the Three-C Grill Jr. It boasted a drive-thru window that was perhaps, not counting bootlegger establishments, the only one in the Shoals at the time.

Business continued to be good for all the Carroll brothers’ businesses, and in 1966, they completely renovated the interior of the Three-C Grill adjacent to the college campus. It wasn’t unusual to see classes from Appleby or Gilbert Elementary Schools dining at the grill as a special treat. When plastic first came to the area, the Three-C became one of Florence’s first businesses to accept the innovative Bank Americard (the forerunner to Visa) in 1968.

After the arrival of Hardee’s in Seven Points and similar fast food restaurants in nearby areas, the Three-C Grill Jr. closed in the late 1960s, but the original continued to thrive. Many who remember the small eatery have compared it to Trowbridge’s in popularity and the loyalty of its customers. It’s entirely possible the Three-C would still be serving university students today if the school hadn’t coveted the choice property adjacent to the campus.

In May 1975, the University of North Alabama offered to purchase both the Three-C Grill and Barbershop from the Carroll brothers who accepted the offer. The UNA purchase was ostensibly to create more parking, but the land where the iconic Three-C once sat is now home to signage and landscaping. All that’s left of the Three-C is memories and the faint aroma of once famous hamburgers that many claim still permeates the small corner.

Bette F. Terry holds a BA is history from UAH.

Monday, November 30, 2015

If You’re From the Shoals, You Probably Use Glad Wrap?

This Thanksgiving one of the dinners I attended was a friends/neighbors affair. When a neighbor (originally from Arizona!) asked for Saran Wrap, I had to explain that Glad Wrap usage is more common here. Or is it? And why?

“Buy local” isn’t that new a phrase. My mother practiced that by using Glad Wrap. Not only was it better than Saran Wrap, it was a Union Carbide product. Unfortunately the Union Carbide plant left Muscle Shoals in the late 1970s, but my family’s Glad Wrap usage continued.

Since my neighbor had brought up the subject, I was curious to know if Union Carbide still produced Glad products. It seems that the company sold the Glad line to First Products (Energizer Batteries) in 1985. First Products later sold Glad to Clorox which still retains 80% of the plastic wrap giant. In 2002, Procter & Gamble acquired 20% of the Glad Product Company.

Will I still use Glad Wrap? As my mother told me, it’s better than Saran Wrap, so that’s a big “Yes!”

Bette F. Terry is a local historian. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Jesse Walker Stutts & His “Eas-It” Elixir

If you walked down Court Street in Florence exactly 100 years ago, you would encounter the pharmacy belonging to Jesse Walker Stutts. The small business was located where a sandwich shop now sits on the northwest corner of the Tennessee Street intersection.

J.W. Stutts Drug Store, Circa 1916
J.W. Stutts Drug Store, Circa 1916

Born on December 12, 1875, Jesse passed away on December 1, 1960. He's buried in the Florence City Cemetery on Tennessee Street in a plat that includes his wife Virginia Lull Johnson Stutts, his son Jesse Jr., and daughter Margaret E. Stutts.

The early 20th Century was an era when most drugs were compounded. Often physicians opened their own apothecary shops; however, whether these druggists had a doctorate or not, they were often addressed as "Doctor." Some documents refer to Jesse as Dr. Stutts, but records show that Stutts received the Ph.C. degree from Vanderbilt University in 1902, making him a Pharmaceutical Chemist.

Many also confuse Jesse Walker with his brother, Dr. Henry Lee Stutts, a prominent Greeehill physician. Both were children of John Ritter Stutts and his first wife Margaret Jones Stutts.


Over a 35 year span, Stutts marketed several medicines, including Ivago for poison ivy, Scratch-No-More for pruritus, and Germ Death, an antiseptic. Yet it was his pain medicine Eas-It that put his pharmacy on the local and regional map.

The Eas-it Chemical Company was established in December 1913. State records show that initial shareholders were J. F. Brown, R. W. Stribling, and M. S. Hansborough. Stutts proudly marketed his pain relief liquid as "non-narcotic;" however, it was formulated in an elixir base indicating the popular product contained a large percentage of alcohol.

Stutts conducted what could be called an innovative marketing campaign, utilizing both print ads and signage:


When current owner of the former apothecary building Delana Darby Blake began remodeling, she found one of Stutts' ubiquitous signs:


By 1940, Stutts' place in Florence history was cemented. He and son Jesse Jr. and daughter Margaret incorporated the Stutts Laboratories. For whatever reason, perhaps the uncertainty produced by World War II, the company was dissolved after a relatively short time. One of this company's most popular products was Nervine, recommended for both humans and horses.

By 1960, the year of Jesse Walker Stutts' death, his once famous drug store had become home to Kreisman's Men's Wear:


What would Stutts think of the building's current incarnation as a sandwich shop? The entrepreneur in the noted pharmacist would undoubtedly want to buy stock and initiate a new advertising campaign.

Bette F. Terry holds a B.A. in history from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Patch the Pony Born in Florence in 1963

It was 1963 when Margaret Liles of Florence heard FBI Agent Glenn Hearn address a PTA meeting. Hearn commented on the frequency of child abductions, and the idea was further brought home to Liles three days later when an attempted child abduction was reported at Gilbert Elementary School in North Florence. Liles wanted to make a difference, but how?

The mother of four soon came up with the character of Patch, a pony designed to convey safety messages to primary school children. As Patch said, “Nay, Nay, from strangers stay away.” Mrs. Liles then began a campaign to introduce Patch and his safety slogan into local and then state schools. Governor George Wallace was so impressed with Liles’ character of Patch that in 1966 he flew her to Washington to speak to the President’s Commission on Crime. 

Embarking from Florence in a designer ensemble donated by Abroms Department Store, Margaret Liles hoped to make her Patch character as well-known as Smokey the Bear; however, while support was there, the money never materialized. Despite the lack of government funding, Patch became well known in school systems in all 50 states where teachers presented his story in film strips and in books given to each student. 

After much thought, Liles decided to sell the rights to her creation to someone more financially able to produce the materials used in Patch’s program. Then with the advent of better technology, Patch gradually began to fade from school systems, and many relegated Patch to a bygone era. Some years ago the rights to Patch were purchased by Russ Fender, a man who had grown up hearing the story of the pony who wore an eye patch.

Fender stated he wanted to bring Patch up to date and make him known to a new generation of children, but found the cost of his project made it necessary to proceed in increments. A glance at the website for Patch shows that it’s reverted to GoDaddy.
What of Patch now? Until Fender gets the resurrection of Patch the Pony fully underway, those who fondly remember Patch and his creator Margaret Liles who passed away in 1990 may wish to to join the pony’s fans on Facebook: Patch the Pony.

Bette F. Terry holds a BA in history from UAH

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Florence's Dutch Treat Turns Into Trick?

The Doughnut: Historical or Just Dangerous?

If you say “Dusty Joe’s” to a person of a certain age, you’re sure to hear tales of barbecue and teenage hijinks long before the now defunct strip was even thought of. Many will still say the demise of Florence’s premiere fast food establishment was a sad turning point in their lives.

Yet in 1971, Dusty Joe’s closed its doors for the last time, and the Huddle Restaurant arrived. Its stay in Florence was short-lived, and in 1973, the Dutch Treat opened at the busy corner of Tennessee and Poplar Streets. It was to remain until 1980 when it also closed, leaving the building vacant for a year until it became home to the Trailways Bus Station. While no treats are now served at the building that is currently home to Knight & Humphries Real Estate (Kevin J. Knight and Steve N. Humphries), it seems there’s still a trick remaining.

The Dutch Treat was opened by William and Jane Woldenberg and Linda Mae Bryan, and while the menu may be lost forever in local memory, it’s certain the most popular items were doughnuts. After 41 years, the store’s neon adorned sculpture of a doughnut still stands on the southeast corner of Tennessee and Poplar, yet unclaimed by any and all and a menace to the public.

Since the building that housed Dutch Treat had stood on the busy downtown Florence corner for years, it’s safe to assume the neon doughnut had its own electric meter added when the desert shop installed the sign--a meter that was pulled when the new owners took possession of the building.

It’s also safe to assume that when Trailways remodeled the building to house more public restrooms and locker storage, the switch to the doughnut sign was covered in dry wall and forgotten. To make the problem of the now leaning doughnut sign even more perplexing, the pole on which the sign is mounted appears to be secured, either firmly or tenuously, on the state right-of-way. Florence didn’t pass a sign law until the late 1970s.

A few years ago, a local blogger proclaimed the sign one of the Shoals area’s eyesores. At that time, the city said Knight & Humphries (which also operates under the name “Real Property Management”) owned the rusty doughnut, while the real estate firm adamantly averred the city was responsible for the relic and any damage it might in future cause.

Is it dangerous? Is it a local landmark that should be preserved instead of relegated to a scrap yard or stored ala the famous neon Coca-Cola signs? In case any think it should be declared a landmark, much of the neon that outlined the pastry is now missing, the doughnut itself is rusty, and two iron rods (presumably to hold additional advertising) are secured underneath giving the sign the look of a primitive weather vane.

Due to the extensive loss of life two counties to the south of Lauderdale, perhaps many didn’t regard the true extent of damage to Florence trees and signage after the April 2011 tornadoes, but nevertheless many seemingly firmly planted objects were uprooted and swept yards from their original location.

If the City of Florence does own the sign by default after all these years, perhaps it could offer it to any collector with proper credentials and insurance who would remove the eyesore and sell the pole for scrap. Or perhaps one day the Shoals area will awake to read the headline: Unlucky Driver Beheaded by Flying Doughnut.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Gary Williamson, the sign officer for the Florence Building Department, is aware of the problem of the delinquent doughnut and should make a decision soon on its ultimate fate.

Bette Favor Terry holds a BA in history from UAH