Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tuscumbia Lustron Home As I Remember It

I lived at 705 East 4th street at the time the house was erected. I was the paper boy to everyone in the east end of town so I thought I had to see and know about everything that was going on.

The Catholic Church was on the corner of East Street and 4th. In the earlier years there was a Catholic School and living quarters on the corner of Hickory and 4th.

Sometime around 1948 0r 1949, they decided to build a new Rectory behind the church. It was decided to be a Lustron House. At that time Lustron produced and shipped all steel enameled houses.

The site was prepared and the parts and pieces arrived. A wrecker came to unload the steel parts. They stacked the steel parts and boxes of screws, bolts, etc., along the curb in front of the house. Each part was numbered and much time was spent as they sorted and found the right pieces. Each part had a certain screw or bolt for that section. I was allowed to pick up these things at the end of the day and wish I had saved some of them.

As the house took shape, it was easy to see that once the last screw was in place, it would be ready to live in. Everything was enameled in the color that had been chosen.

I don't remember how long it took them to finish but it did not seem very long. One thing that stands out now as I look back is the fact that there were no fancy electric or air tools as we know them today. Everything was screwed or bolted by hand.

There was some discussion among the workers about not having a back door because of concern for the Priest. Access to him was very limited outside of the Church. I will drop by the site to check this out once the ground dries up and the weather gets better.

This type of house was supposed to be the next best thing to sliced bread as far as technology was concerned. Not only was it pre-insulated, it was designed to last a long, long time. This is evidenced by the one we see off of Woodmont Drive. Even though the years of neglect are showing, I am sure it is in a lot better shape than a wood-frame house would be after all this time.

I don't know the whole story of the company but there are references to bad business decisions and other problems. There does not seem to be problems with the houses themselves. Can you imagine what your house would look like 60 years after it was built had it been neglected and not maintained?

Thanks to Mary for finding it and to everyone for providing the opportunity to tell about it as I remember. Also, thanks to everyone who loves Tuscumbia as much as I do for your interest in saving and preserving as much of our history as we can.

THIS WAS ONE TIME WHERE A meets B and Y met Z that everything came together.


Colbert County native Jim Smith is the author of Walk Through Town (with me as a ten year-old boy). It can be found on Amazon and at several local book stores. Link

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Real First W.C. Handy Festival

When was the first W.C. Handy Festival? Many point to 1982 which began an annual tradition of a week long event, but the first Handy Festival was held 12 years before. The year 1970 saw the dedication of a reconstructed Handy birthplace accompanied by a two-day festival on November 22 and 23.

The 1970 festival featured a concert with such illustrious talent as the Olympia Brass Band, Maxine Sullivan, Blanch Thomas, and the immortal Eubie Blake and his song-writing partner Noble Sissle. The next day saw a parade and street strut down Court Street led by the Olympia Brass Band from New Orleans.

Attending this first festival were Mrs. W. C. Handy, Charles E. Handy, W. C. Handy Jr., Mattie Handy Robinson, and Catherine Handy Lewis. At the end of the festival, Florence Chamber of Commerce President Jim Odum announced the event would become an annual tradition, but it was not yet to be.

The next Handy Festival was in 1973 and honored Handy’s 100th birthday. The event was held November 17 and 18 and began with a parade on Court Street. Special entertainment followed at the halftime of that afternoon’s University of North Alabama ball game. The Handy family was honored with a reception following the game.

The next night a concert was held in Norton Auditorium. A sold-out theatre saw Thomas, Sullivan, and Blake return to the Shoals stage. Eubie Blake was then 90 and reportedly the highlight of the night. At the end of the festival, Jim Odum again stated the festival was to become an annual event.

Under the direction of Odum, both festivals were considered huge successes. Why a delay of nine more years before the third festival was held? A slow economy as well as the aging of Mr. Handy’s family and contemporaries may have been to blame. Nevertheless, the festival is now a permanent Shoals fixture each summer.

Bette Favor Terry holds a B.A. in history from UAH.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Goober Day


It was well known that UNA graduate George Lindsey didn’t like to be called “Goober;” however, on April 23, 1966, Mr. Lindsey managed to put aside his personal feelings and enjoy a day named in honor of his Andy Griffith Show character. Arriving at Muscle Shoals Airport on the preceding Thursday, Lindsey spent the better part of three days signing autographs for his fans, among them a young “Danny” Klibanoff, brother to Florence’s future Pulitzer Prize winner Hank Klibanoff.

Lindsey spent most of Friday, April 22, on the campus of what was then Florence State College. He later appeared on WOWL television’s local program Outlook, and ended the day with a banquet in his honor at Florence Golf and Country Club. WOWL owner Dick Biddle acted as master of ceremonies, and Lindsey’s former college coach Hal Self presented him with a set of golf clubs. During the banquet, the comedian joked that Florence insurance agent L.L. Whitten, who had scheduled the weekend’s activities, had given him three minutes to shave.

Goober Day on Saturday was organized by Downtown Florence Unlimited and featured a parade that began at Rogers Hall and continued down Court Street. Lindsey disappointed local industrialist Elton Darby when he refused the offer of a helicopter ride the few blocks from his accommodations at the Holiday Inn to Courtview. The motorcade, complete with local bands, stopped at the Tennessee Street intersection where Mayor Alfred C. Putteet gave Lindsey a key to the city.

Mr. Lindsey then visited with his fans for over two hours, signing autographs, and regaling the audience with his homespun wit. The day’s festivities were capped with an invitational “Beat Goober” golf tournament at Florence Golf and Country Club.

Since the event was sponsored by the DFU, most downtown stores didn’t miss the opportunity to engage in a sale or two. Some retail establishments gave away Tom’s Roasted Peanuts in honor of Goober. Even the Holiday Inn employees got into the act by sporting purple and gold beanies.

As George Lindsey left to return to his home in Los Angeles, he stated he wanted to quote Sheriff Andy Taylor. Commenting on the day in his honor, Lindsey said he “Shore did ‘preciate it.”

Bette Favor Terry holds a B.A. in history from UAH.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fort Willingham

Fort Willingham was built in Florence in 1937. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s possibly because the military facility was almost universally referred to as the “National Guard Armory” or simply the “Armory.” Located on a large block situated between Royal Avenue and Tennessee, Mobile, and Oak Streets, it was originally home to the 101st Engineers, or light ponton company, as it was then called. “Ponton” is the French word from which the English “pontoon” is derived.

It was headed by Capt. W. H. Cromwell who had petitioned the Alabama governor for funding to establish a guard unit in Florence. Begun in 1935 as a WPA project, the armory was completed two years later. The Florence unit consisted of three officers and 132 enlisted men with an additional 170 local men applying for membership as war in Europe threatened. Fort Willingham’s total payroll was $20,000.00 annually, and it initially contained as much as $200,000.00 in armaments and equipment. The 101st Company stood ready to be activated in time of national emergency. Divided into three groups, each patrol could erect a ponton bridge in one hour’s time.

After Germany declared war in Europe, the scope of the Alabama National Guard began to evolve, and the 115th Signal Battalion was organized in Florence on December 1, 1940. After the end of WWII, Maj. L. A. Bonifay commanded Fort Willingham for several years as its mission changed to meet the needs of a cold war military climate. An addition more than doubled the square footage of the armory and was celebrated in January 1958 by an open house attended by Gov. James Folsom.


From the historical marker on the former site of Fort Willingham: Originally the 2nd Battalion, 151st Engineers, it was organized a number of times from 1940 to 1959 as its mission was changed to meet the Nation's military requirements. In World War II it was designated as an Engineer Combat Regiment (later Battalion). During the Korean War it was on active duty as the 104th Anti-aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion.

As the United States continued to upgrade its military facilities, so did the Alabama National Guard. In the late 1970s, a new armory was built on Helton Drive, and Fort Willingham was razed. The area lay relatively unattended until the Oak Park Garden Club took over landscaping for the large tract now also bordered by Florence Boulevard, a major gateway to the city.

Realizing the land where Fort Willingham once stood was underutilized, the City of Florence proposed to locate a park on the tract. In May 2012, Memorial Grove Park was officially dedicated at a ceremony centered around a monument to fallen Florence Police officers. The park is still in its infancy, and more memorials are planned. 

Bette Favor Terry holds a B.A. in history from UAH.