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Punk’s Gourmet Sauce • Beekeeper Business • Springville Theater Waterside Renovation • Vineyard Success • OHV Trails Always Open

August & September 2013

Return of a classic Argo Drive-In a piece of Americana

Always There Provides the Silver Lining. At 75-years old, Jane Schroeder’s life is golden. “Being able to remain in her home is very important to her,” says Jane’s daughter Jen Schroeder. “Always There In-Home Care makes that possible. She dearly loves her caregiver, Amelia.” For over a year, Always There’s Amelia Gibson has nurtured a special relationship with Mrs. Schroeder that transcends helping maintain her home and preparing her meals. They have become friends. In fact, when Mrs. Schroeder takes her two walks per day, she carries her cane in one hand and Amelia on the other. Jens says, “We can’t imagine having anyone else care for her.” Like many adult children of aging parents. Jen has a busy personal life, which presents challenges in her ability to offer constant attention to her mother. Always There offers a solution - call it a silver lining - to that cloudy issue. My mother is not always easy to deal with. I tried other companies in the area, and Always There has been by far the best. In particular their Care Management services have been a huge help with planning and decision-making. I couldn’t be more pleased with their dependability and service.” For more information about Always There, call 205-824-0224, or visit our website at for a free online assessment of your needs.

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Features and Articles Discover

The Essence of St. Clair COVER STORY

Return of a Classic Argo Drive-In introducing a new generation to an American movie tradition

Page 28

Woods Ferry Farm & Vineyard Page 15

Punk’s Gourmet Sauce

‘Get your lips ready to dance!’ Page 8

Traveling the Backroads Remembering Avondale Lake beside the river

Business News

Beekeeping: From Hobby To Business Page 20 Renovations By The Water Page 42

St. Clair EDC unveils new plans for future

Page 36 Page 48 Page 52

Birding in St. Clair Growing hobby and tourism boon

Page 54

Ride the Ridge

OHV park always open

Page 62

Fort Strother

Keeping the history alive Page 68

Springville Theater Celebrating 37 Years

Page 74

August & September 2013



etro Bank is a full service state chartered financial institution with nine locations in east-central Alabama. We offer a full line of banking solutions for every need. Personal and business checking and investment accounts, programs for mortgage loans, consumer and commercial


lending and lines of credit to name a few. We have been listed consistently in the American Banking Journal as one of the nation’s top performing community banks. Metro Bank continues to build on the philosophy of



friendly, caring bankers that work to meet the needs of our communities. Our bank believes in the power of the local business. In these trying times, we want to encourage everyone to shop locally. Remember, we are never so powerful as when we work together.

Writers AND Photographers Carol Pappas

Graham Hadley

Carol Pappas is editor and publisher of Discover The Essence of St. Clair Magazine. A newspaper veteran, she retired as editor and publisher of The Daily Home, St. Clair Times and Lakeside Magazine to start her own multimedia company. She has been published in various newspapers and magazines, won dozens of writing awards in features, news and commentary and was named Distinguished Alabama Community Journalist at Auburn University for 2011.

Graham Hadley is the managing editor and designer for Discover The Essence of St. Clair Magazine and also manages the magazine website. Along with Carol Pappas, he left The Daily Home as managing editor to become vice president of the Creative Division of Partners by Design multimedia company. An Auburn journalism graduate, Hadley also served as the news editor for The Rome News Tribune in Rome,Ga.

Jerry C. Smith Jerry C. Smith’s interest in photography and writing go back to his teen years. He has produced numerous articles, stories and photographs for local websites and regional newspapers and magazines, including the St. Clair County News, Sand Mountain Living, and Old Tennessee Valley. His photos have appeared in books, on national public television, in local art displays and have captured prizes in various contests. A retired business machine technician and Birmingham native, Jerry now lives near Pell City. He recently published two books: Uniquely St. Clair and Growing Up In The Magic City.

Tina Tidmore Tina Tidmore was the editor and publisher of the Clay News newspaper for more than seven years. In 2009, she started a freelance career writing news articles, managing websites, writing advocacy letters, designing and giving PowerPoint presentations, writing business plans and providing a variety of other communications services. She has won state writing awards for her news articles, website management and speech writing. She also has given presentations about social media management after natural disasters because of her work for the city of Clay after the Jan. 23, 2012 tornado. She is a member of the National Federation of Press Women and is serving her second term as the Alabama Media Professionals vice president of professional development.

Elaine Miller Elaine Hobson Miller is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Journalism from Samford University. She was the first female to cover Birmingham City Hall for the Birmingham Post-Herald, where she worked as reporter, food editor and features writer. A former editor of Birmingham Home & Garden magazine and staff writer for Birmingham magazine, she has written for a variety of local, regional and national publications.

Carolyn Stern Carolyn Stern is retired after a career in publishing. Her work has appeared in Progressive Farmer, Birmingham Home and Garden, Birmingham Parent, Birmingham Post-Herald and St. Clair News Aegis. She is author of Ponds: Building, Maintaining, Enjoying and has earned writing awards on a state and national scale. She lives in Beason Cove and is owner of Cove Cottage Bed and Breakfast.

Jane Newton Henry Jane Newton Henry is a freelance writer with an M.A. degree from The University of Alabama. She has retired from Alabama Power Co., where she worked as a writer and editor in the Public Relations Department. She was an adjunct instructor at The University of Alabama and Samford University. Her work has appeared in publications and online. She co-authored Leeds, a pictorial history of the small Alabama city.

Mike Callahan Mike Callahan is a freelance photographer who resides on Logan Martin Lake in Pell City. He specializes in commercial, nature and family photography. Mike’s work has been published in Outdoor Alabama Magazine, Alabama Trucking Association and Alabama Concrete Industries magazines. Publishing his work to the internet frequently, he has won many honors for pictures of the day and week.

From the Editor

Another birthday celebration

We have blown out candle number two on Discover Magazine’s birthday cake and with this issue, we begin our third year of publication. What a wonderful journey this has been for all of us at Discover. Since our August 2011 inaugural edition, we have traveled many a back road in St. Clair County. We have scoured the countryside and main streets, neighborhoods and farmland, the river, creeks and lakes, looking for just the right story. We have taken you on a journey back in time with a wealth of historical pieces lest we forget our heritage. And we have introduced our readers to people, places and things that set St. Clair County apart. We have done this with one aim in mind — bringing you something a little different every time you pick up our magazine. So when a handwritten note from a teacher in Springville arrived with her subscription just last month, I couldn’t help but give it a grateful nod as I read the words thanking us for our work and giving us a teacher’s signature approval, an “A+.” There is no greater compliment, and it is one we will never take for granted. Our readers will always be at the forefront of everything we do, and we will never miss an opportunity to thank our advertisers for their support and encourage each of you to support them. We will always strive to do things a little differently, a multimedia approach that offers extras and reaches more people in more ways. It might be added video, audio and extra photos on It might be a preview of what’s coming your way or following up on a story between print editions through our electronic newsletter, on Facebook or through a tweet. Whatever platform we use, be assured quality content will always be our guide. As a new year begins for us, we look forward to many, many more journeys of discovery. Thank you for continuing to come along with us as we discover the essence of St. Clair.

Carol Pappas Editor and Publisher

Discover The Essence of St. Clair

August & September 2013 • Vol. 13 •

Carol Pappas • Editor and Publisher Graham Hadley • Managing Editor and Designer Brandon Wynn • Director of Online Services Mike Callahan • Photography Arthur Phillips • Advertising

A product of Partners by Design 6204 Skippers Cove Pell City, AL 35128 205-335-0281

Printed at Russell Printing, Alexander City, AL.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


‘Get your lips ready to dance’ Punk’s Gourmet Pepper Sauces born in Ashville

Story by Carolyn Stern Photos by Michael Callahan Ashville’s Marty Crews is all about peppers. And he promises your “lips will dance” with happiness when you taste his creations: Punk’s Gourmet Pepper Sauce (mild) and Punk’s Gourmet Pepper Sauce (Smok’n). At Pepper Place food and art market in Birmingham on a sunny day this summer, Marty, also known as Punk, and his British-born wife, Grace, share their pepper story. The tall, chef-attired Marty and petite, blonde Grace take care of their first-time and repeat customers as easily as they would friends and neighbors. Hungry shoppers are drawn by the smell of meatballs warming in mild sauce, as well as samples of tilapia freshly cooked in a skillet by Marty and served with a topping of sauce. The route Marty and Grace have taken to reach this booth in the market isn’t simple. “It’s a long story,” Marty says, “and I sure didn’t know it would have anything to do with gardening and cooking.” He and Grace met in Bahrain, a popular off-duty spot for military personnel in the Persian Gulf area. Marty was a Navy Search and Rescue Swimmer, and Grace was a flight attendant on Gulf Air, an airline used by the Emir of Bahrain. After their marriage, Grace and their children moved from place to place as Marty was re-assigned to posts. Their son, Thomas, 19, was born in Virginia Beach and Taylor Marie, 14, on Whidbey Island at the northern end of Puget Sound in Washington State.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Cooking demonstration at Pepper Place DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Punk’s Gourmet Pepper Sauces “After 20 years in the Navy, I was ready to move on and find a business that I could make my own,” says Marty. “A friend from Alabama suggested I join him in Montgomery in an enterprise that might give me that independence.” Marty accepted the opportunity at Alabama Mailbox Co., a distributor of high-end mailboxes such as those seen in new subdivisions. It wasn’t long until he decided to strike out on his own in North Alabama, where the products weren’t being marketed. He’s still working with that venture, but he had energy for more. The idea of pepper growing and cooking was born in Ashville in February 2012, a long way from the places Marty has traveled most of his adult life. Settling down in St. Clair County, he and Grace put in a garden and planted vegetables that included a field full of peppers. The fact that Grace grew up on a dairy farm in England and had attended an agricultural college was an added bonus. The peppers were plentiful, and Marty latched onto the idea of making pepper sauce, a staple in Southern kitchens. “I love to grill and had won several barbecue competitions. I started playing around with ketchup, added the different peppers we grew and onion — all fresh ingredients,” he says. “We gave the sauce to friends in Mason jars.” The experiment started out small and grew quickly. “We made the sauce in our kitchen in Ashville until we got to making up to 50 gallons at a time,” says Marty. “When I thought about marketing the sauce, I doubted any success because there are a million sauces out there.” A man who spent years jumping out of helicopters to rescue people isn’t one to back down from a challenge, though. Marty got the project rolling by looking for a packer to take the business out of the family kitchen. “When I started checking with packers,” he says, “I found out our business was too small for most of them. Finally, we found someone who could take it over.” Jill White of Kyleigh Farms came to the rescue. Other plans had to be made. The new product would need a “face” to attract attention. And it got one from a high school friend of Thomas’. Alex Hale designed the friendly and feisty pepper-face logos that are used on the labels and on advertising material. All members of the family have put in many a day out in the field, says Marty. One autumn, Grace was concerned about peppers in the garden that were still growing as the weather cooled. She was afraid they would freeze, so she got Thomas to help her pick them. He said, “Why are we doing this? Daddy is never going to do anything with them.” Surprise, surprise — the business that began


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Grace with the Punk’s Sauce logo

Punk’s booth is a favorite at Pepper Place.


Marty and Grace Crews and their daughter in a kitchen is moving into homes and markets, and people are smiling more and more. How did the sauce — and Marty — get the name “Punk”? When his sister died of breast cancer, Marty says, he “slid” into the role of father and uncle to her children. Soon the children took up calling him Punk, a combination of Papa and Uncle. The name stuck, and now his grandchildren and others call him Punk. Marty’s mother died of breast cancer in 1994, and the Crews urge the public to work for more research on the disease that claimed the lives of two of their family. A sideline of the business is the selling of pink t-shirts that say, “Punk This.” For more, go to l

Punk’s may also be found at retail outlets like Piggly Wiggly in Ashville.

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Punk’s Gourmet Pepper Sauces

Cooking with Punk’s

A Punk’n Crock of Chicken

1 Bottle of Smok’n Punk’s Sauce 4 large Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker or crock pot and cover with one bottle of Smok’n Punk’s Sauce. Cook on low 8 to 10 hours. Pull chicken apart with forks and serve on a bun for a great sandwich, or just serve it in a bowl!

Punk’s Fresh Corn Salsa

4-5 ears of fresh sweet corn on cob 1/4 cup of fresh garden cilantro (chopped) 1/4 cup of garden chives or green onions (chopped) 1/4 cup of ranch dressing (your choice) Cut corn from the cob with a sharp knife. Mix with remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Salsa may be served chilled or at room temperature with your favorite tortilla chips.


Punk’s World Famous Barbecue Sauce

2 Parts Punk’s Sauce (Smok’n or Mild) 1 Part honey Meat of your choice Mix thoroughly and slap on meat halfway through cooking. Enjoy!

Punk’s Smokin’ Crab Dip

2 bars cream cheese 1 handful shredded cheese 1 package crab meat, cut up small 1/3 cup Punk’s Smokin’ Gourmet Pepper Sauce Let cream cheese stand out about 10 minutes to soften. Mix all ingredients together by hand in a bowl. Chill until ready to serve.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013



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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Woods Ferry Farm and Vineyard

A fruitful treasure

Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Michael Callahan It is not hard to imagine as you look out over the rhythmic flow of the Coosa River from banks that slope toward it that Indians once roamed this land. Or that Andrew Jackson, his army and Fort Strother once lingered just a short distance away, measured in yards rather than miles. As if on cue, a wild turkey crosses the meadow just below the hillside home of Brian and Tamara Mooring. On this summer morning, Tamara talks of the history that surrounds their home on 98 acres, mostly fronting the Coosa River just south of Neely Henry Dam. They have found “lots of arrowheads,” glass bottles from the early 1900s, a human bone and tooth, and other signs of old battles. “Historians come here with surveying equipment from time to time,” she notes. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize Woods Ferry Farm is rich in history and natural beauty. But it did take a rocket scientist to develop a vision for the property that did not disturb the essence of it. “I truly was a rocket scientist” working in Huntsville, Alabama’s ‘Rocket City,’ she says. After her fifth child was born, she decided to retire, but not in the sense most would think. She created a private school and began teaching. She added ballroom dance to the curriculum to give students a more sophisticated, well-rounded education. DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Woods Ferry Farm and Vineyard

Tamara Mooring with her blueberries She knew they needed a setting in which to practice, so she began to cater the meals to accompany the themed dances – Sock Hop, Medieval Banquet, Country and Western. At first, there may have been 60 guests. It soon grew to 100, 150 and eventually 200, counting siblings and parents. One thing generally leads to another in life, and that is how the Moorings’ life on Woods Ferry Farm has evolved over the past 14 years. It has been the setting for wedding receptions, catering, an herb farm and eventually a vineyard supplying grapes to two Alabama wineries. “The vineyard is pretty much a hobby gone wild,” Tamara says. It grew out of a trip to Italy, where the Moorings saw a vineyard and thought they might like to start one back home in Alabama. Tons and tons of grapes later, it is a family affair come harvest time — from her mother-in-law, children and on down to the grandchildren. It’s the grandchildren’s job to watch out for red ant hills as a homemade grape-picking sling fashioned from PVC pipe makes its way down rows of muscadines and scuppernongs. “Everything is organic. We even bring in lady bugs,” ordered online and introduced into the vineyard from a box to fight aphids and minimize wasps. From their bounty, they produce 3 to 4 tons of grapes a year that wind up as grape juice, jam and wine at Vizzini Farms Winery in Calera and Jules Berta in Albertville. At Vizzini, these St.-Clair-Count-grown grapes are used to craft Miss Scarlet, Alabama Red table wine, which won a silver medal. At Berta, they go into Bama Bully. They started the vineyard eight years ago with the


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Ladybugs are used to fight aphids in this organic vineyard.

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Woods Ferry Farm and Vineyard help of Kelly Bryant, a leading Alabama vineyard owner in Talladega County who supplied the cuttings. The vineyard is located on 3 acres of Woods Ferry Farm, named for the ferry operation that once crossed the river nearby. The vineyard is actually located where 200 year-old Fort Strother is believed to have once stood. The Moorings grow four varieties of muscadines and scuppernongs that make white wine “and a really good jam,” she says. She is noted for her blueberry jalapeno jam, with blueberries coming from a nearby field of blueberries overlooking the Coosa. Her jelly and jam making in volume began in earnest after she would serve muscadine jelly to guests at a bed-and-breakfast she and her husband ran in Park City, Utah. “The guests just loved it.” And the grapes are loved by many, according to Vizzini Farms Winery owner Tom Vizzini. A second generation winemaker — his Sicilian grandfather being the first — Vizzini describes the grapes as “top quality. They are extra ripe, which means there is enough sugar to turn them into alcohol.” Using the fruits of the Moorings’ labor, Vizzini’s Miss Scarlet captured the silver medal in the Finger Lakes Wine Competition, which saw 3,600 entries from 22 countries — not bad for a wine made in Calera, Alabama, with St. Clair County grown grapes. Vizzini said the Moorings brought the grapes to him to try, and he did. “It turned out to be a real nice wine. You’ve got to start with a quality grape to get a quality wine.” And that partnership has turned out to be as fruitful as Woods Ferry Farm vineyard. “We sell out quick,” says Vizzini. “We’re doubling our volume this year.” l

Picking time is a family affair. Sunlight peeks through a vine at Woods Ferry Farm.

Miss Scarlett, a silver medal winner from Vizinni with Woods Ferry Farm grapes 18

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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Success Hobby becoming backyard business for Riverside beekeepers What started with 3 pounds of bees in a mail-order kit a few years ago has become a thriving backyard business for one Riverside couple. Nick and Lori Thomas, the husband-andwife beekeeping team, work together to harvest honey, tend to their ever-expanding bee population and manage the sale of honey, bees and wax — and all in their spare time. Graduates of Jacksonville State University, they both have jobs at the Anniston Army Depot and are busy raising a family, too. While they are not ready to quit their day jobs, the demand for their products is growing almost faster than they can keep up with it. “We actually sold too much honey last year,” Nick said. “We did not have enough left over for ourselves,” continued Lori. This year, honey production is much higher, though, both because they have more hives and because each one is more productive. “We are as excited as our repeat customers are to see the increase in the honey this year,” Nick said. 20

Story by Graham Hadley Photos by Michael Callahan

Nick Thomas holds up one of the honey combs covered in bees he has just removed from a hive.




The Thomas Farm produces a variety of products, including honey and candles, from their bees.

It started with old stories

Holding up her baby son, Ethan, Lori says he will make the third generation of beekeepers in the family. “First your Papa (Nick’s grandfather), then Nick and, one day, this one.” Nick is quick to point out that his grandfather, Wayne Hare, was not exactly a “beekeeper” in the truest sense of the word, but it was his stories that captured Nick’s imagination and drove his interest in bees. “He was not a beekeeper. He would go with his uncle to rob bee trees of honey. He would tell me stories of how they did it, how they would find bees and follow them,” Nick said. They would cut out the beehives and take the honey home. “He really sparked my interest with those stories,” Nick said. After they were married, Nick would often toy with the idea of keeping bees as a hobby. “He had talked and talked about it. So one Valentine’s Day five years ago, he got his first hive,” Lori said. Three pounds of worker bees and one queen came in the package — a simple wood frame with screens on both sides. The project was a success from the word “go.” The first year, the colony swarmed — the process by which one hive has grown and splits into two. Often the old queen will take half the workers and look for a new home. Nick saw the swarm in the air and employed what he thought was a bit of a wives’ tale from his grandfather — he threw his baseball cap into the flying bees. “I don’t know why it works, maybe they think they are


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013








DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Harvesting Honey Nick and Lori smoke the hives and take out the racks, gently removing the bees. Special suits are worn to protect the beekeepers.

Once they bring the honcombs inside, they use a heated tool to remove the wax caps from the cells, exposing the honey. The wax is set aside and used for candles and other products.

The racks containing the now exposed honey are placed in an extractor, which spins the honey out. It is then poured through a double filter into a container.

The filtered honey is poured into various containers for storage and sale.

being attacked by birds, but you throw the hat and they cluster — land all in one spot. My grandfather told me about it, and it worked,” Nick said. They quickly gathered up the swarm. “One turned into two; two into four, and so on,” he said. Currently, Nick and Lori have around 15 colonies of bees. They have had as many as 21 colonies, but they sell off the extra colonies to other beekeepers. “One guy drove all the way up north with the bees in his car — he called to let us know he had arrived with no trouble,” Nick said. Several years after that first batch arrived, Nick’s hobby is starting to make money for them and help pay for itself. They made a little profit last year and, with this year’s windfall of honey, they are expecting a much larger profit — unless they buy more equipment or expand their operation, Lori said. “There are a lot of startup expenses. Bees are not cheap, especially professional honey-extraction equipment,” Nick said.

Handle with care Not only are bees not inexpensive, they require special care and handling, both to make sure the bees thrive and to avoid stings — something that is not entirely possible for beekeepers (or magazine writers, apparently). The Thomas’ operation produces honey, beeswax — which they sell in bars and as candles — and bee colonies called nucleus hives. So far this year, they have harvested 480 pounds (more than 40 gallons) of honey. That is a huge increase over last year’s 120 pounds. And, though they can’t be certified organic because Nick and Lori have no way to control where the bees gather their nectar, they do manage their entire operation without harmful chemicals or artificial additives. Instead, they find natural ways to control pests, like using cinnamon to remove parasites. Likewise, the Thomases double filter their honey but don’t pasteurize it like big commercial distributors do, a process which both of them say destroys many of the beneficial and homeopathic properties of the honey. They also say it is not necessary. Honey is, by its very nature, mostly sterile and has a near-infinite shelf life. “People say our honey tastes better than the big commercial brands, which are so over filtered, over pasteurized, over processed,” Lori said. Even their wax is just that, beeswax — no additives or scents. “It just smells like

This extractor spins the honey out of the combs after they have been uncapped.



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4 BEST SELECTION for all your  beverage needs honey,” she said. What Nick says he enjoys most are caring for the bees and making sure the colonies are healthy and watching for swarming, which is important to prevent because you not only lose bees, they eat lots of honey before leaving. He also enjoys harvesting the honey, but says that can be a lot of work, often requiring long stretches in a hot bee-suit. Before approaching the hives stacked across the back of their property, Nick and Lori suit up in outfits that cover them head to toe, with screens around their head so they can see out, but the bees can’t get in. Nick says stings happen, but not nearly as often as you would expect from someone who handles thousands of bees every day. Part of that is because Nick and Lori keep Italian bees, which are more docile than other breeds. Carrying a smoker — a can with burning leaves or grass — they approach the hives, opening the sections where the bees build combs to store honey, not the areas where the bees actually build cells for breeding. Then, they remove the racks. Each rack contains honeycomb covered in wax caps, every cell full of honey. They gently remove the bees and store the racks in a case to carry back to the garage where their equipment is kept. The whole process takes only a few minutes. Once back in the garage, Nick or Lori quickly closes the garage door — if they did not, the bees would follow the honey inside. “One time, I had been working in here and had left the door open after draining most of the honey out of the extractor — there was maybe an inch in the bottom. I came back down and the garage was full of bees. They were everywhere,” Nick said. “I learned then what to do when your garage is full of bees. I left the top off the extractor and closed the garage door. The bees all went in and ate the honey left in the bottom. Once they got their fill, I opened the door and they all flew directly back to the hive. They were all gone.” After hanging up their suits, Nick and Lori set up kind of an assembly line, with Lori removing the racks from the case and giving them to Nick, who uses a special tool to quickly scrape the caps off the honey comb, exposing the honey. He places the racks in an extractor, a large steel centrifuge that literally spins the honey out of the racks. From there, it is poured out of a spout through the filters and into a container to be bottled. And, though they will sell jars with the wax comb in them by special order, gener-

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Lori, left, smokes one of the hives she and Nick are preparing to harvest.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

ally the combs stay in the racks, which are taken back out to the hives to be refilled by the bees. It takes a lot of work and energy for the bees to rebuild the combs if they are removed, so leaving them in means more productive hives and healthier bees. And Lori and Nick both point out that, like any other animal they keep, the health of their bees is important to them. The honey is bottled and sold, either in small parcels or in bulk, to their customers. The wax caps are melted in a double boiler and poured into molds, made into candles or just as bars of wax, and sold. So far, they sell out to their customers and don’t have enough to put in stores, but Nick says they would like one day to have their products sold off of shelves next to other brands. “Right now, many of our customers buy in bulk. We have one lady who bakes with it, so she buys a lot,” Nick said.

Beyond their backyard Admittedly, Nick and Lori have almost the ideal location for beekeeping — they originally bought enough land for their horses — and have taken time to learn about the process, using that knowledge to continually improve their techniques. Lori said one thing they had to do was dig a pond on the property. They have a fountain out in front of the house, and bees, like everything else, need water. The fountain became their favorite source. “It was like a bee highway between the hives and the fountain. Every time you would walk out there, you were getting bumped by bees going back and forth.” It was time for Nick to dig a pond in the back, she said. In addition to their land and the pond, Nick says they are surrounded by about a hundred acres of diverse woodland, which is the perfect environment for the bees to forage in. Lori has a degree in chemistry, which comes in handy with the business, and Nick is continually working to broaden his knowledge — and they both want to share their knowledge and experience with others. About a year ago, Nick and Lori formed the St. Clair County Beekeepers Association, a new organization for the county. An affiliate of the Alabama Beekeepers Association, they meet with other beekeepers from around the area to share their knowledge and experience. And that process is a two-way street. Nick, who is the president of the association, prepares presentations for the meetings, often expanding his own information resources in the process. In return, they learn additional trade secrets from veteran beekeepers. And, like their beekeeping operation, the association has been a success. In operation since last August, the St. Clair Beekeepers Association now boasts around 30 members. l Nick and Lori also raise and show exotic animals — everything from snakes to African pygmy hedgehogs. To learn more about the Thomas’ operation, visit their website, To learn more about the St. Clair County Beekeepers Association, And don’t forget to check out video of the Thomas’ beekeeping operation online at Editor’s note: Michael Callahan gets a special nod for shooting these photos without a bee suit or netting.

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Return of a Classic Argo Drive-In introducing a new generation to an American movie tradition Story by Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Michael Callahan

As a child growing up in north Alabama, Faye Riggs, 65, often went to the drive-in with her parents and sisters. They paid by the carload, with some money left over for snacks and drinks. “We’d drive around until we found a speaker that worked, then Mom and Dad would sit on the hood of the car, while we girls played on the swings in front of the screen,” recalls Riggs, who now lives in Tallahassee, Florida. “They watched the movie and kept an eye on us at the same time. We kids loved being outdoors where we could run around and not get bored.”


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Natalie Dalton, 16, a junior at Springville High School, and Megan Willingham, 18, a Springville graduate and UAB freshman, work the concession stand together.

Don’t Forget Concessions Christina Bell,17, and Austin Little,18, of Pinson

Michael Yonosko and Candace Crews came from Hoover for their first drive-in experience, buying popcorn and nachos to munch.

C.J., Paris and Myles Gandy brought neighbor Khamaiah Wright and talked dad, Marcus Gandy, into some refreshments when they came from Adamsville to see “Epic” for their first time at a drive-in.

Return of a Classic

Those were simpler times, before shopping malls and multiplex screens, before you had to sign away your birthright to pay for a night at the movies. It was this affordability factor that motivated Brian Skinner to build the Argo Drive-In. At a church meeting, he and friends talked about the expense of going to the movies, and how much cheaper it had been to go to a drive-in. “That’s when the idea was born,” says Skinner, 51, owner of the Crawford and Skinner Insurance agency in Springville. He tracked down a newspaper article he had read about a new drive-in on the West Coast, contacted the owner, and asked a lot of questions. He found 3 acres of undeveloped land on Angus Street, just off U.S. 11 in Argo. He got help from an elderly gentleman in Trussville who used to build billboards. “The screen is nothing but a giant billboard anyway,” Skinner says. His first feature, “Titanic,” drew 171 cars opening night, May 22, 1998. Back then, he showed movies seven nights a week, all year round, charging $10 per carload, except on Wednesdays, when the price dropped to $5. He was very successful. “We’d have mini-vans with five or six people in them,” Skinner recalls. “The public loved it.” The distributors didn’t. They said the carload pricing cheapened their product. So three years ago, Skinner was forced to transition to individual pricing to get the first-run movies he shows. Now open Fridays and Saturdays only, “the nights we can make some money,” he charges $5 per adult, $2 for children under 12, and nothing for children in car seats. He operates from early May through September, plus Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, weather permitting. Sometimes, on a Thursday or Sunday night, someone will rent the theater for a church group, office party, birthday party or customer appreciation night. Drive-ins were born 80 years ago in Camden, N.J., invented by Richard Hollingshead Jr., who capitalized on the success of drive-in restaurants. They became immensely popular because parents could take children in their pajamas and moms could leave their hair in curlers. Later, they became a hangout for teenagers, who could make out in cars without parental interference. Their popularity peaked in 1958 with almost 5,000 across the United States. Then televisions began popping up in every household, and shopping malls became teenage hangouts, throwing drive-ins into a slow, steady decline. As of March 13, 2013, there were 357 drive-ins with 604 screens (many are twinplexes) in the U.S., according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association (UDITOA). The industry has seen several signs of growth over the past decade as families rediscover their affordable concessions and doublefeature admissions. Alabama has 10 drive-in sites with 16 screens, according to the UDITOA, including the three that Skinner owns — Argo, the Starlite in Anniston and a twinplex in Harpersville. The Starlite closed indefinitely when a storm flattened the screen last spring. That same storm twisted Argo’s marquee, but didn’t damage the 26-foot-by-60-foot screen. Made up of some 66 sheets of corrugated tin covered in a flat-enamel paint, it’s built tough, Skinner says. Looking like a giant, gravel parking lot dotted with orange cones, Argo’s capacity is 175 cars if all are parked correctly, i.e., two between each set of cones. More can be accommodated if parked fender-to-fender, as they were for the theater’s 208-car viewing of “Dr. Doolittle,” starring Eddie Murphy.

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Brian Skinner, owner of Argo, shows off his movie projector.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Return of a Classic

“That was a record-breaking night,” says Alex Bosworth, the 19-year-old Jefferson State Community College freshman who works the gate at Argo. “People were parked all along Angus Drive, up Highway 11, in the fields, everywhere. They were walking in carrying lawn chairs.” Noticeably absent are the stands mounted with speakers that movie-goers used to pull into their cars — and often pulled off with. Gone, too, are their scratchy sounds, now that car radios and boom boxes pick up the movie’s audio from the small FM transmitter in the projection booth. “Today’s sound is as good as your radio,” says Skinner, who uses 89.1 on the FM dial. A small, two-story cinderblock building at the back of the parking lot houses the concession stand on the first level, the projection booth on the second. Popcorn sells for $3 and $4 a bag, hot dogs for $2, soft drinks for $2 and $3. “A family of four can come in and have a good time on $20,” Skinner says. In the projection booth, the 35 mm film whirs through the Cinemascope projector, which sends its beam through a tiny, stationary window pane toward the giant screen 275 feet away. The whirring sound comes from the fans that blow antifreeze over the 4,000-watt bulb to keep it cool. Three giant metal platters hold up to three hours of film, which comes in via UPS in 20-minute reels that must be spliced together, then taken apart before shipping out again. “One of the funniest things was when we spliced a movie out of sequence,” says Skinner. “Very few people knew it. My biggest worry was whether the credits were at the end!” Argo caters to families, which make up 75 percent of its patrons. Looking through movie choices on his order form, perusing trade papers for ticket grosses, Skinner knows not to select anything intense. “Cartoons, comedies and actionadventure do best at a drive-in,” he says. Saturday nights draw the most cars, he adds, but people buy more food on Friday nights, when they come straight from work without dinner. Showtime starts at dusk, usually around 8 p.m. One warm Friday night last summer, cars were backed up to Highway 11 when the gate opened at 7:30. More than 50 vehicles spread out across the lot, most parked with their rear-ends facing the screen, their tailgates down or their rear hatches propped up. Dressed in shorts and flip-flops, jeans and hospital scrubs, patrons set up lawn chairs in truck beds and on the ground, then tossed Frisbees and softballs before the movie started. These “ozoners,” as drive-in patrons were once called, came from St. Clair, Etowah, Jefferson and Shelby counties for the al-fresco viewing experience. Nine-year-old Ashton Hutcherson, son of Cynthia and Robert Hutcherson of Argo and a student at Springville Elementary, loves propping up on pillows in the back of his family’s SUV, where he doesn’t have to peer over people’s heads to see the screen. Karla Lowery and Kathy Arrington, sisters from Gadsden, have been to the Argo several times. They park close to the concession building to be near the bathrooms and so their smoking doesn’t bother anyone. This night, they brought along Karla’s kids,11-year-old Austin and 7-year-old Heather. “We love it,” says Kathy. “You can have a conversation about the movie without disturbing the person next to you.” She doesn’t mind the trains that rumble through several times each night, passing so close behind the concession stand you can almost touch the box cars and tankers.

Argo Drive-In Etiquette & Tips Alec Bosworth, 19, Springville High School graduate and Jefferson State Community College freshman, is the ticket man.

If you’re planning an outing at the Argo, keep this advice in mind: Arrive early and park near the front, so raised car hatches don’t block your view of the screen. Take plenty of bug repellant. Take a boom box if you’re worried about your car’s battery life. Don’t take alcohol. Argo has a rule against it. Be sure to crank your engine three or four times during the movie. This will help avoid your car battery dying. If, however, it does die, contact management for a jump-start. If you are parked facing away from the screen, be sure your headlights are off when you crank up, so you won’t blind the folks behind you. Pay no attention to the trains that go through. They pass quickly.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Amy Roy of Argo brought her son, Axel, 3, and daughter Chloe, 10, plus some friends from Hoover. “I had never been to a drive-in until we moved to Argo from Atlanta nine years ago,” she says. “My mom has been with us, and she went many times as a child and teen.” After his 60-40 gate split with distributors, Skinner barely keeps his head above water at Argo. The industry is moving toward a digital format, and he prays that 35 mm film will be available for a few more years because the switch is expensive. He makes money at Harpersville, though, and reasons that Argo gives teenagers jobs and families a good time. “It’s fun, and it gives me pleasure to see families here,” he says. “It’s very entertaining.” l


Robert and Cynthia Hutcherson and 9-year-old Ashton, of Argo, get comfortable in the back of their SUV.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Traveling the

BACKROADS Vicki Davis on pier at swimming area, Avondale Lake




DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Story by Jerry C. Smith Historical images courtesy of the Vicki Davis Mize Collection When the waters of Logan Martin reservoir began to rise in 1963, they slowly covered the remaining foundation walls of Easonville, Alabama, committing a once-bustling little country village to the whims of history and nostalgia. This impoundment also engulfed two smaller lakes that were part of the Easonville environs — Harmon Lake and Avondale Lake. Both lakes had been built by damming a stream of running water, same as Logan Martin and all other Alabama lakes (there are no natural lakes anywhere in the state). Avondale Lake, originally known as Waites’ Lake, was created from the outflow of a cluster of ice-cold springs near old U.S. 231 South, in the area now known as River Oaks and Harmon Island. Using slip scrapes and mules, the Waites family built their lake in the early 1900s on farm property adjacent to the nowsubmerged Old U.S. 231 highway. It was 5 miles south of Pell City, just right to escape the bustle, noise and smoke of its main industry, Avondale Mills, and became a very popular hangout for that company’s employees and guests. The lake’s excess flow was routed through two spillways, one at each end of the dam. These waters melded in a swamp just north of the lake, forming a stream that was later used to fill privately-owned Harmon Lake, whose runoff, in turn, joined Easonville Creek as it made its way to the Coosa River. In the 1940s, the lake property was bought by the mill as a pure water source for its plant in Pell City and also to provide free outdoor recreation for everyone connected with Avondale, which included the majority of Pell City folks as well as lots of Sylacaugans. Conversely, Harmon Lake, which sported a dance hall and better fishing, was open to the general public, but the owners charged for everything. Sylacauga resident Doug Dickey, who was raised in Pell City and learned to swim in Waites’ Lake, speaks of this purchase: “It was a wonderful thing, like all the other things Avondale provided for its workers and their families.” Dickey adds that, in addition to good working conditions (at least for that era), the mill complex included company housing, on-site schools, an activity center with pool tables, etc, tennis courts, a football field and a baseball field. Before company-sponsored transportation was set up, mill workers usually hitchhiked, bicycled or rode ‘shank’s mare’ (walked) the whole 5 miles from the Mill Village to the lake on weekends and during the summer months. Gerald Ensley, who often walked this trek, relates a story of a local man who drove it in a 1931 Ford. One day this man headed for Pell City, nattily decked out in clean bib overalls and a necktie. Ensley and a group of boys also set out at the same time, in the same direction. He said they passed that man five times on the side of the road, changing flat tires. The man would never offer anyone a ride, partly because he kept the car’s back seat full of spare tires. Dickey tells of Forrest Finch, who used his personal truck to transport mill workers from Coal City. After Finch had taken his neighbors home at the end of their shift, he would often return and drive another load of kids to Avondale Lake, where he served as a volunteer lifeguard while they swam. One of these lucky kids was Pete Rich, who later worked as a lifeguard after Avondale bought the lake. Rich went on to

Avondale Lake seen from old U.S. 231

achieve sports fame while playing for Southern Miss. In fact, the stadium at Pell City High School, where he was head football coach, is named after him. In later years, the company ran a school bus on a regular hourly schedule to and from the lake, entirely without charge, but limited to mill people, their families and guests. These runs were driven for a number of years by “Jellybean” Clemons, who also transported vacationers on longer journeys to Avondale’s Camp Helen, a nicely-appointed private resort area in the Florida panhandle. Avondale Mills’ owners, the Comer family, were very supportive of youth groups such as the Boy Scouts. There was a smaller recreation area adjacent to the lake property in what is now River Oaks, where the mill hosted Scout outings and other community and company functions. Most mill-sponsored activities were presided over by their plant personnel manager, Norman Smith, who also held various local civic positions. Avondale Lake had it all, it would seem. There was a bathhouse for changing into swim clothes, a large pavilion for parties and gatherings, a few flat-bottomed boats, a duck-pin bowling alley, swimming area, boat dock, a pump house for the mill’s water supply and various other water resort amenities. “Chick” Moore, a gentle giant of a man, was caretaker and director of activities. He wore a pistol (for snakes, of course), and could easily handle most any sort of occasion or problem that arose. According to renowned local artist, Wayne Spradley, Moore was well-known for his ability to kill a swimming snake from a distance with his small-caliber revolver. Vicki Davis Mize, a Pell Citian, tells that Chick and his wife were warm, friendly people who loved to cater to mill family crowds. Both were excellent cooks who knew how to prepare food in great quantity. Mize says everyone’s favorite was their strawberry shortcake. The Moores also hosted fish fries and barbecues.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Traveling the

BACKROADS H L Davis Genl Mdse store on old U.S.231 at Avondale Lake; Davis home in background

Interior of H.L. Davis General Merchandise Store, Rebecca and Harvey L. Davis 38

Spradley, who frequented both lakes and worked as a lifeguard at Harmon Lake, says Avondale’s waters were crystal clear and very cold — so cold, in fact, there was a shower head near the swimming area, not to keep the lake clean, but to accustom bathers to its icy chill. The more than 30-acre lake was stocked with bream and bass. Its clear water made it easy to see fish of all sizes, including some gigantic drum and carp, as they leisurely prowled their domain and accepted food from visitors, often coming into the swimming area itself. According to several local folks, the lake also hosted a prodigious number of snakes. Spradley recalls when a sunken boat was being removed near the swimming area. As they turned it over to drain the water, more than a dozen copperheads slithered out from underneath. But, according to Gerald Ensley, this never seemed to stop anybody from running around bare-foot all over the place. The springs that formed Avondale Lake had sufficient flow to power a grist mill, built adjacent to one of the spillways. It used what’s known as a turbine wheel, rather than the more familiar overshot wooden wheel of older mills. Ensley recalls his family hauling wagonloads of corn and wheat to this mill for grinding into meal and flour. Ensley explained that the two grains were ground on different days of the week, because each required different stones and gap settings. But you could drop off your load any time, and

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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Traveling the


they would keep it in a storage area until the day for grinding that particular grain. The gristmill continued to operate after Avondale purchased the property. Several churches used Avondale Lake for baptisms. Vicki Mize was baptized in the lake’s swimming area by her father, the Rev. Harvey L. Davis, pastor of Coosa Valley Baptist Church, then at its original location in Easonville. The Davises also owned a general merchandise store on Old U.S. 231 South, adjacent to the gate that entered the lake property. Their store was a natural stop-and-shop place for lake visitors as well as highway travelers and local citizens. Other merchants with similar stores nearby were the Harmons, Fraims, and Wadsworths. The Harmons also owned a cotton gin next to their store in the middle of Easonville. All these merchants served the mercantile needs of many local pioneer families, such as Lee, Abbott, Gholson, Ingram, Hurst, Cosper, Smith and Watson. Wayne Spradley tells of a huge bass he caught in the spillway below the grist mill. He ran all the way to Harmon’s store, some 3 miles away, to have it officially weighed. The fish topped out at only three-quarters of a pound, but in young Wayne’s eyes it was a real whopper. Several 10-pound bass and other near-record fish have been


caught from the lake and its environs. Spradley relates that his older brother, Jimmy, caught a dinner-plate-size bream that came within a few ounces of a new world record. A devious ‘friend’ traded him two fishing rods and a boxful of tackle for this fish, then proceeded to win a local fishing contest with it, stealing a prize worth many times the cost of the gear he had traded to Jimmy. Today, Avondale and Harmon Lakes exist mainly among the cherished memories of mill folks and other local seniors. Since the Coosa began to engulf them in 1963, these once-popular lakes have been relegated to blue-shaded underwater locations on fishing maps. There’s little written material about them, anywhere. Indeed, this entire narrative comes from fond recollections of the good people mentioned herein. But even today, Mr. Waites’ ageless springs keep bubbling, adding their generous share of clean, cold water to Alabama Power’s huge Logan Martin reservoir. If the fish you catch between Harmon Island and River Oaks Point taste a little fresher, you’ve probably found Avondale Lake. l Editor’s note: For more on Easonville, see DISCOVER’s June & July issue at

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Early painting by Wayne Spradley, Avondale Lake entrance, courtesy of the Vicki Davis Mize Collection





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Renovations by the water Wow factor comes to life in Junkins’ lakeside home Story by Carol Pappas Photos by Michael Callahan Step inside the lakeside home of Lori and John Junkins, and you immediately come face to face with the ‘Wow!’ factor. Actually, there is plenty more than one of those factors. The three-story A-frame towers above the shoreline of Logan Martin Lake, angled toward its main channel with a wall of windows and glass doors that frame a breathtaking view. But take a look around inside, and that same awe seems to envelop friends, family and visitors alike. It wasn’t always this way. One thing led to another, they say. It began with the enclosure of the loft to enable a more private master suite. But no worries. The view is still there with a large picture window overlooking the main level below and a bird’s-eye vantage point of the lake just beyond. Satin curtains, warm colors and a mix of antique and contemporary furniture are the perfect complement. For most, that would have been a major renovation. Little did the Junkins know then, that would be their ‘small’ project. At Thanksgiving, 20 people made their way through the narrow, galley kitchen, which served as a main entrance to the house. And John said they knew it was time to re-imagine their home. Originally, they had an architect come up with a plan to give them more usable space and design an entrance. But bedrooms for children Jake and Amelia on the main level would have been lost. Time for Plan B, they said. Their appraiser, Jeff Jones, suggested an eat-in island for the kitchen, and Lori took the idea to the next level from there with the skill and craftsmanship of Dennis Smothers and Pell City-based Benchmark Construction. Open space replaced a galley kitchen that was separated by a single bar with dining area on the other side. Wideplank hardwood floors enlarged the look of the room and


Renovations by the water

From left, builder Dennis Smothers, Lori and John Junkins in the ‘dream’ kitchen gave it a richer feel. Custom cabinets designed by Lee Kerr in Anniston, running along the interior wall as well as built into a sloping exterior wall of the A-frame, are a rich, dark wood. Granite countertops, brushed-nickel fixtures, a gas range and a pendant with three lights that took Smother’s crew with a 36-foot ladder to hang from the house’s tallest point are just a few of the amenities that make this space so special. The 6-foot, 8-inch-by-5-foot island with granite top features a rounded edge that makes seating more suitable to dinnertime conversation. Leather and wood stools fit perfectly with the décor. The main-level guest bathroom and a master bathroom underwent a major makeover as well. The original, small master bath was a formidable challenge, but Lori knew what she wanted and designed it by doing away with an original wall that separated the bath from closets. It now has a much more open space. Renee Lily of Lily Designs of Pell City consulted on the renovation of the main level bath. The master bath is greige — a warm and inviting color cross between grey and beige. Lori designed the vanity herself with arched doors and varying counter heights to give more flat space between two basins made of green, crystalline bowls with brushed nickel fixtures. Three 1879 lithographs of birds nests and an egg — “my favorite,” said Lori — hang above a soaking tub surrounded by greige marble back-


Amelia and Jake feed Chloe at the specially designed feeding station.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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Renovations by the water

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Picture window from enclosed loft offers lake view

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

It took a crew and a 36-foot ladder to hang pendant lights over island.

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splash cut in small rectangles, giving it a stacked stone look. The backsplash runs from the bath to the vanity to the shower, bringing the room all together. Across is a large, glass walk-in “rain shower” with oversized shower head to give a rain effect. And the tile floor is a wide-plank, weathered wood look. It is hard to imagine it is made of tile. The guest bath below uses the same color scheme and amenities, enhancing the natural flow from room to room. The Junkins’ dream makeover is now a reality, and the months of work are well behind them. They have enjoyed entertaining friends and family and just hosted a post-wedding party for Lori’s nephew and bride, Clay and Rachel Craft. More than 70 attended, and space to accommodate was never a problem with the new design. With an older home, “you have to be creative,” said Smothers. “I just followed Lori’s lead. She was great to work with.” Lori returned the compliment. “He is a great builder and designer.” All you have to do is take a look around at the finished product, and you know they both are right. l

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


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Global Company Picks Moody

SKF USA Inc. announced plans to begin construction on a new 30,000-square-foot SKF Solution Factory in Moody near the Brompton interchange of Interstate 20. This facility is SKF’s fifth Solution Factory in North America. Others are located in Houston and Cleveland in the United States, Edmonton and Toronto (winter 2013) in Canada, and Monterey in Mexico. Jon Stevens, responsible for SKF Solution Factories in North America, explains the concept as “a gateway to a world of SKF Knowledge, conveniently located close to key customers in order to collaborate and combine SKF’s technical knowledge, industry application know-how and manufacturing capabilities. It allows us to deliver integrated solutions that address previously ‘unsolvable’ productivity problems.” “We are proud to have a company like SKF, with their extensive technology expertise, locating in our community,” said Moody Mayor Joe Lee. “This location will allow regional access to the company’s global network of solutions and is a good addition to our technology-based business sector.” This facility will provide service to SKF’s growing base

of more than 400 original equipment manufacturers in the region, including those in the metal, food and beverage, mining, and pulp and paper industries. It also supports more than 130 distributor accounts, which serve more than 900 customers within a three-hour drive. Capabilities will include bearing remanufacturing, precision assembly, driveline services, custom-machined seals, root-cause failure analysis, seminars and training. The grand opening is planned for the first quarter of 2014. The facility will be designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold specifications for reduced environmental impact. Located in the city limits of Moody, it will employee 25 people and joins two other projects in a growing Brompton business district. Love’s Travel Center and Valero are under construction on both sides of the interstate. Birmingham-based Graham & Company is developing the SKF property with architect Designform, Inc. and general contractor Cooper Construction Company. SKF’s commitment to the global SKF Solution Factory Network includes having a total of 15 locations throughout North America over the next several years.

48 • DISCOVER The EssenceDISCOVER of St. Clair The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Birmingham Heart Clinic opens second St. Clair satellite Birmingham Heart Clinic (BHC) has opened an additional satellite clinic at St. Vincent’s St. Clair, located at 7063 Veterans Parkway in Pell City. BHC currently has three locations, one at 100 Pilot Medical Drive, Suite 300 in Trussville, and satellite clinics at Northside Medical Associates in Pell City as well as St. Vincent’s Blount in Oneonta. Birmingham Heart Clinic is a cardiology practice specializing in the detection, management and treatment of adult coronary, peripheral (PAD) and carotid diseases. We also offer treatment and management of comprehensive cardiac arrhythmia disorders. BHC is committed to providing patients with high quality, compassionate health care. Officials with the practice say physicians and staff accomplish this by putting the patient first. “We utilize optimal diagnostic equipment, procedures and techniques, while working closely with primary care physicians to make informed decisions about patient care,” officials said in making the announcement. For more information about BHC, call 205-856-2284 or visit

BHC announces new cardiologist Parallel to announcing opening of a second satellite clinic in Pell City, Birmingham Heart Clinic announced the addition of cardiologist Dr. Brian Flowers to its practice. Flowers will be seeing patients at the BHC locations in Trussville, Pell City and Oneonta. Originally from Tupelo, Mississippi, Flowers completed his medical degree at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in Jackson. During medical school, he served as president of his class and was named Medical Student of the Year his senior year. Flowers continued his training with a residency in internal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he served as chief medical resident. Following his residency, he completed his cardiology fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina and received the First Year Fellow Award. Flowers is board certified in internal medicine. He is a member of the American College of Cardiology, American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Society of Nuclear Cardiology, and the Christian Medical and Dental Association.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013 The Essence of St. Clair • 49 DISCOVER



DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Business News

St. Clair EDC launches capital campaign, unveils new strategic plan

On the heels of a successful five-year run on the St. Clair County Economic Development Council’s strategic plan, Executive Director Don Smith unveiled a new one officials predict will take its efforts to the next level. Smith disclosed the new plan at the official launch of a $1 million, 5-year capital campaign called Partnership for Tomorrow that will provide public and private sector funding for 27 goals outlined in the plan. Speaking to a group of nearly 100 business and civic leaders from the St. Clair County region in Moody in July, Smith talked of the EDC’s early years under former executive directors Ed Gardner Sr. and Ed Gardner Jr. When the EDC formed its countywide effort in 1988, the focus was on recruitment. Establishing a strong base, the EDC followed up with an emphasis on retail, commercial development and workforce development. St. Clair County has grown 30 percent a decade for the past four decades — 10 time faster than the state. Now, the EDC will continue the growth through a strategy of identifying, marketing and building upon its assets.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

In the past five years, EDC has announced: • 2,510 new jobs created • $73,159,000 in new payrolls • $466,350,000 in commercial and industrial capital investment • $3.3 million in grants awarded locally • $1.2 million new annual property taxes for education • $364,000 in new annual sales tax revenues for education Its new plan over the next five years calls for: • $150 million in new capital investments • $50 million in additional payroll from new jobs created • $3 million in additional tax revenue for schools • 1,500 new jobs throughout the county Among the goals to achieve those numbers are identifying and marketing 500 acres of sites throughout St. Clair County for economic development. Smith pointed out, “You can’t market what you don’t have,” underscoring the need for site and infrastructure development as the foundation for future successes. He hopes to have properties identified in almost every municipality in the county. Many of the goals center on marketing, workforce development and educating partners so they are prepared to grow. The EDC also will study the feasibility of a business incubator for start-up businesses. A brand is to be developed for the county to market its “business-friendly assets, tourism and recreation.” And support will be provided in business, civic and governmental areas to meet the needs of the community. Smith admitted that the plan is an aggressive one, noting that it will take a team effort to achieve, but it is within reach if all entities work together. “We cannot do it without you all.” The ultimate aim is to provide opportunities for good-paying jobs throughout the county. “If everybody has a good-paying job,” Smith said, “it helps out with everything else.” Editor’s Note: For more about the Partnership for Tomorrow campaign, go to

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013



Birding St. Clair Growing hobby & tourism boon Story by Tina Tidmore Photos by Michael Callahan Just below Logan Martin Dam, people gather beside the water, casting their lines into spots they hope will catch a fish. Likewise, long-legged birds stand on the water’s edge or fly over it in search of just the right spot to catch a fish. But just above the scene in a nearby parking lot, people with binoculars have their eyes on a different kind of catch, hoping to get a glimpse of unusual birds. Logan Martin Dam is one of four St. Clair County spots now listed on the Alabama Birding Trails, a project launched in May 2012 and sponsored by the Alabama Tourism Department with assistance from other organizations. The other sites in the county are Horse Pens 40, H. Neely Henry Dam and Ten Islands Historic Park. According to the website for the trails,, the goal is to advertise the birding sites as connected by road trails for easily planned tourism.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Birding St. Clair


Brown thrasher Photo by Roger White Jr.

Northern mockingbird

Photo by Roger White Jr.


“The sites that were chosen are generally on public land, accessible and have a long-term plan in place for sustainability,” said Joe Watts, project manager for the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development Birding Trails. Private property can be included, but it must be nominated by the property owner or have the owner’s consent and be maintained. The site must also be where visitors can see one or more species in at least one season or be where visitors can view a single species of special interest. That is certainly true of the four sites in St. Clair County. Possibly the species with the greatest interest to locals is the national bird, the bald eagle. In 1963, the country’s national symbol was threatened with extinction because only 487 nesting pairs were left, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This eagle species had totally disappeared from Alabama. Due to a law banning a poisonous insecticide and the work of conservationists, St. Clair County residents and visitors can now see these birds soaring overhead, particularly around the lakes. And since 1991, the bald eagle has been nesting in Alabama with numbers growing every year. “When you see the eagle soar down the slough, it takes my breath away,” said Cropwell’s Cheryl Kittinger, explaining why she appreciates birds. In addition to the iconic bird of freedom, birders at St. Clair County’s lakes have seen osprey, historically rare in northern Alabama, but also being seen more around Logan Martin Lake and Dam. Being able to spot a rare species gives the birder the feeling of accomplishment and a special experience. “There’s some barn swallows,” Kittinger said excitedly early one July morning while bringing her $2,000pair of binoculars to her eyes. Often seen flying above the lake catching insects or perched on telephone lines, the forked tail gives them away. “Stop the car,” she tells her husband a little later while trying to figure out what species she hears singing from a tree. Between the species guidebooks, mobile-phone apps, equipment and travel costs, birding has become an industry. In 2011, $55 billion were spent on wildlife watching in the United States, with $734 million of that in Alabama, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “With four very interesting sites in St. Clair County, the Alabama Birding Trails will attract out-of-state visitors, as well as a steady supply of birders from Birmingham and other urban centers who visit the county on field trips and individual outings on a regular basis,” said Anne Miller, Birding Trails Committee chairwoman. “In addition to attracting birders and interested wildlife watchers to these sites, birding trail visitors will enjoy dining in St. Clair County, filling their cars up with gas, perhaps spending the night and in general, discovering the special places in Alabama.” Howard Schultz, grandfather of the Schultz family who owns Horse Pens 40, is hoping some of that money will help pay the park’s electric bill. Even before it was on the Alabama Birding Trails list, groups of birders occasionally made day trips to the park to see what species they might find.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Birding St. Clair

Male eastern bluebird Photo by Roger White Jr.

The birding trail draws people from all over, many of who spend thousands of dollars on equipment for their hobby.


In addition to common backyard birds, Horse Pens 40 and other higher elevations have species that prefer that habitat. Blue-headed vireo and black-throated green warblers can be found with a concerted effort at Horse Pens 40, said Miller. The higher elevation makes the site good for watching migratory songbirds and migratory raptors on their way north or south. At Ten Islands Park, “one of Alabama’s more overlooked birding destinations,” according to birding trail officials, look for ring-billed, Bonaparte and herring gulls, and on the rarer side, glaucous, lesser black-backed and Thayer’s gulls. Pacific loons, eared or red-necked grebes can also be seen there. Across Alabama 144 at H. Neely Henry Dam, you might spot belted kingfishers, especially in colder months. Ospreys are there regularly from late March to early November. From late March to September, expect to see swallows of all kinds: barn, cliff, roughwinged, tree and purple martins. And of course, the usuals: great blue herons, great egrets, green herons, little blue herons, white ibis, snowy egrets and yellowcrowned night herons. In addition to the traveling and bird watching, some have taken birding to the scientific level. Clay resident Bob Sargent does an annual bird count in St. Clair County. He starts the census just north of Trussville and ends very close to Horse Pens 40. During the mating season, he and his wife use their tape recorder and binoculars at 50 different locations along the route that

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Northern cardinal male

Birding, St. Clair County style To learn more about birding in Alabama and St. Clair County, go to Here is a small sampling of what the site says about St. Clair County’s trails: Neely Henry Dam This small dam frequently hosts gulls, some deep-water waterfowl, and bald eagles in winter. Swallows and songbirds visit from spring through fall. The dam is best birded in conjunction with the nearby Ten Islands Park. Ten Islands Historical Park Though the park itself is small, there is a vast amount of excellent habitat here — the entrance road provides shoreline access to deep water, pullout areas to check grassy edges and early secondgrowth pines. There is a good wooded trail from the parking lot along a finger of the lake. The park is good for songbirds, swallows, waterfowl, raptors and more. A better all-around birding site than the more conspicuous dam across Highway 144. Horse Pens 40 The rock fields of Horse Pens 40 are a fascinating place to visit. The best times to visit are surely spring and fall migration, when the elevation of the site turns the mountain into a notable migrant trap. The ridges are productive for hawk migration from September through November. Do not neglect to bird the farm and field habitat along U.S. 231 and St. Clair County 35 while in the area. Logan Martin Dam The dam is notable for being one of the premier locations in the state for viewing wading birds, particularly black-crowned night herons. It is also reliable for year round sightings of bald eagles.

Photo by Roger White Jr.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Birding St. Clair A great blue heron in flight

are a half-mile apart. The recording is only for three minutes at each spot. “It’s a moving picture of what the birds are doing,” said Sargent. Their information, along with that gathered from other census takers, is turned in to scientists, who map out the range of bird sightings, or hearings, and how human activity is increasing or decreasing species range and activity. The recording not only captures the sounds of the birds, but it captures the sounds of traffic, which helps to inform the scientists. That particular route has a variety of habitat, said Sargent, including grasslands, farmlands, lakes and mountains. Because of its diversity in habitats, Miller added, “Birding in St. Clair County offers a wide variety of birding opportunities, with the added benefit of beautiful scenery.” Why do birders do what they do? Ashville resident and bird photographer Roger White Jr. has his own personal take on it. “I’m a Christian, and there’s something about being with birds and nature,” he said. “I get close to nature and get close to God. God shows me something new every day.” l

A pair of eagles stand watch near Logan Martin. Photo by Mike Wadsworth

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013



DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

OHV park exceeds creators’ wildest dreams Story by Graham Hadley Photos by Michael Callahan Like many other teens in St. Clair County, Jason White and his friends loved riding motorcycles and ATVs through the abundant trails and woods in this region of Alabama. But after they finished up school, places to ride became harder and harder to find. As often as not, they would pack up their bikes and four-wheelers and head out to a designated riding area, only to find it wasn’t open. The other option was to find places to ride that were not necessarily designated for off-highway-vehicles or open to the public. “We would drive all the way out there just to find the place closed. We could not find places to ride where we would not get into trouble,” he said. That’s when he got the idea to create an area dedicated to OHV riding that would always be open. He discussed the idea with the other people who rode, and they started an effort to make it a reality. The process took about a year. “We were looking for a place, trying to make it happen. People would drop in and out of it. Then this property came up for sale behind my grandfather’s land — it’s actually some property we rode on growing up,” Jason said. The land was purchased, and the outdoor park, The Ridge, was born along the mountain ridge overlooking Springville. Originally opening with just a few miles of trails and some practice tracks, the park has grown beyond Jason’s greatest expectations. And true to his original idea, The Ridge is always open, barring severe weather. “We wanted a place that was guaranteed to be open,” he said. Jason, his brother Josh White, and their dad, Greg, run The Ridge. After they purchased the land, they spent six months getting it ready to open, with 15 miles of trails and one track. Josh also put a website together for the new park. “We had around 200 people show up opening day,” Jason said. That was seven years ago. “We started off in an RV up by the road, just nice and simple. Then we got a singlewide donated for us to use. We were getting around 100 riders a day.” Jason admits that, since the economy slowed, so has the volume of riders, down to about half what they were seeing then, but that has not kept them from expanding The Ridge, not only with new places to ride and different riding experiences, but with other features as well.

The shop at The Ridge has everything from used motorcycles to riding gear and ATV rentals.

The Ridge: Always Open

The Ridge recently added zip lines to the park.

Today, The Ridge boasts around 40 miles of trails, everything from absolute beginner to expert, trails specifically for single-track riding on bikes to paths wide enough to accommodate side-bysides. They have multiple tracks, each one tailored to different riding needs. There is a track for young riders just learning and other tracks, like Area 51, a triangle with different jumps and different faces so riders can practice a variety of competitive skills. Jason says about 60 percent of their visitors are single-track motorcycle riders, and they have a dedicated 14-mile single-track loop that starts out easy and works its way up to an area called The Beast that is expert level.

More than it was

The main office also has a gear shop, restaurant and hotel rooms.


As much as OHV riding is still the focus of The Ridge, the dream of an OHV park that was always open for riders has become a dream of a weekend getaway retreat for families and groups, with a little something for everyone. Jason and his Dad run a custom insulation installation contracting business, White Urethane, as their regular job, but they have brought that construction know-how and work ethic to the park. It now has primitive and RV camping with hookups, cabins and hotel rooms, and meeting facilities for visitors and groups to use. They built most of it themselves, with some help from other family members. During the peak seasons, usually when the weather is cooler in the fall and spring, a restaurant is open, as is a gear store where people can buy everything from used motorcycles to riding equipment and rent ATVs and helmets. Helmets are required for anyone riding in the park unless the vehicle they are in has a roll-cage and the manufacturer requirements don’t include helmets. Jason points out the helmet rule is an absolute, as are the other park rules, mostly about riding safely and respecting other park visitors who are there to enjoy themselves, too. “We want this to be a family-oriented place where people can come and spend a

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


The Ridge: Always Open


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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weekend and get away,” he said. And so far, that has usually been the case. Jason said they have only had to have two people removed from the park for misbehaving since they opened. “Generally, we have a nice group of folks out here.” While people still mostly come to ride, The Ridge also boasts zip-line tours — a mix of the more sedate tours and the faster rides that are growing in popularity. There are five lines in all, culminating in the most exciting run at the end. They also have two stocked fishing ponds and a specially designed competition-level 18-hole disc golf course. Jason and his brother had set up a basic course to just play around with and give visitors something more to do at the park. “Some guys from the Birmingham Disc Golf Club came out and looked at things.” They changed the course around to more official specifications and then held a two-day competition there. They also have some rock-climbing areas and one section where they can do rappelling instruction. In the early days of The Ridge, visitors could come out and enjoy free concerts. Like the riding, when the economy tightened up, the free concerts faded. But the stage and performing areas are still in place, and Jason wants music to one day again be a regular part of their venue. “We just did a three-day concert here,” he said, noting he is working on bringing more of the same to the area in the near future.


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A new focus

“Resort” is the word Jason uses to describe where he sees the park heading. With the hotel rooms, cabins, meeting rooms and multi-use recreational facilities, The Ridge is not only attracting individual riders and families, but also organizations, churches and youth groups looking for a place to hold retreats. “We are starting to look at more online and reservation bookings. That always makes things easier for us, knowing exactly what groups and how many people are coming to the park,” he said. “We did a wedding rehearsal, they stayed the night; and two youth groups; and an adult group, just in the past six months.” He recently got his ropes-course certification at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega and plans to add a cooperative ropes course to The Ridge soon. The Ridge has also hosted Panther Runs, described on the website as: “Mud, ropes, barrels, tires, rocks, wood, water, logs, sand and dirt mixed with a big bowl of adrenalin and spread out into a 5K (Unleashed version is longer) mud run/obstacle challenge.” Even as he looks to find new ways for people to enjoy themselves at The Ridge, their core focus is riding — and a big part of that are OHV events that draw hundreds of enthusiasts here for several days at a time. Whether it is the Southeast Cross Country Association Buddy Hare Scramble or some other competition, The Ridge generally holds six or more major riding events a year, which in part help support the park all year long. And all of it goes to maintaining Jason’s original vision: To have a park where riders have a guaranteed place to ride. l Check out videos and more photos of The Ridge in the online edition of this month’s Discover, For upcoming events and to check on space availability at the park, visit their website at • Pell City – 205.338.3500 2013 Aliant Bank, a division of USAmeriBank.

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013



DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Pieces of History Fort Strother is long gone, but efforts continue to preserve the site and its story Story by Jerry C. Smith Contributed photos George Washington never slept in St. Clair County, at least not as far as we know. But Andrew Jackson did, also Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. And, they all slept at a place that has virtually vanished from memory, Fort Strother. Travelers along Alabama 144 may be familiar with a large stone monument, just west of Neely Henry Dam. It’s inscription reads:


CREEK INDIAN WAR HEADQUARTERS OF GENERAL ANDREW JACKSON 1813-1814 It seems such a brief epitaph to represent Fort Strother, a key site in Alabama’s settlement. Incidentally, 2013 is the fort’s 200th anniversary. Jackson was tasked with solving some rapidly escalating troubles arising from a massacre of Indians by whites at Burnt Corn in south Alabama, and its resulting retaliatory attack by the Red Sticks Creeks. He felt that the only solution was to totally defeat the Creek Nation and remove them from their Southern lands. Established in 1813 as a military supply depot and operations center, Fort Strother headquartered Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee Militia during the Creek Indian Wars, a local theater of the War of 1812. Jackson had sent his head cartographer, Captain John Strother of the 12th U.S. Infantry, to find the best strategic fort site for conducting military operations against the Creek Indians in Alabama. Captain Strother’s choice of locations was perfect for receiving supplies overland from the north, loading them onto flatboats built on-site, and floating them down the Coosa for various military operations. It also secured access to a strategic river crossing nearby. Prior to its construction, the area already hosted a small trading post belonging to Chinnabee, a “friendly” Creek chief. There was also a small Creek village across the river known as Oti Palin (Ten Islands), named for 10 river islands jutting

Artist’s conception of Fort Strother stockade

George Williams and Robert Perry discuss Fort Strother.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Pieces of History Iron spike found on Fort Strother site

Identifying graves at Fort Strother cemetery site from the river north of the fort site. Ten Islands had become the fording place of choice on that part of the Coosa because of its shallow shoals. Part of the Tennessee Militia cut a 50-mile road through north Alabama’s wilderness from Fort Deposit to Ten Islands in only six days, and began work on the new encampment. At first called Camp Strother, as the settlement grew and a stockade was built, it became known as Fort Strother. On November 1, 1813, Jackson himself arrived from Fort Deposit, and promptly used his Militia to destroy the Creek village of Tallaseehatchee, a few miles across the river. But no sooner had he begun settling in than a call to action came from a most unusual messenger. Fort Leslie, aka Fort Lashley, was a frontier stronghold of the Leslie family in what is now the city of Talladega. It was besieged by a large number of Red Sticks, a warlike faction of the Creek Nation who were waging vengeful raids against friendly Creeks and settlers that had begun with Fort Mims, a similar family fortress in south Alabama. All within Fort Lashley were surely doomed, awaiting an attack at sunrise the next day. Among the friendly Creeks within its walls was Selocta Fixico Chinnabee, son of the chief who had begun the settlement at Ten Islands. Selocta knew of the troops at Fort Strother, and devised a clever plan to get their help. He donned the skin of a freshly-killed hog, snuck out of the gate, pretended to be rooting in the underbrush, broke clear undetected and raced to Fort Strother. The Militia rallied, crossed the Coosa and attacked the unsuspecting Red Sticks at about four in the morning. Jackson’s casualties were minimal, but the Red Sticks were decimated. Jackson returned to Fort Strother two days later, only to find that vital supplies had not arrived from Fort Deposit. Quoting professional archaeologist Robert Perry’s “LOCATING FORT STROTHER” paper, “With a force of 2,000 men and no food, Jackson’s situation at Fort Strother became desperate. By November 17, Jackson was forced to leave a small contingent of troops at Fort Strother, taking the majority of his force back


toward Deposit in search of supplies. “On December 5, 1813, Jackson had returned to Strother, and on December 9th was forced to put down a mutiny of his volunteers, who insisted that their contracted time had expired.” By the middle of January 1814, Jackson had solved most of his supply and manpower problems and proceeded from Strother, intending to attack the Red Sticks stronghold at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. However, he was ambushed and nearly overrun in two separate engagements at Emuckfau Creek and Enitachopco Creek. The mission was a complete failure, and Jackson was forced to retreat to Strother. Perry continues: “The official U.S. Army history of the Creek War characterizes the latter battle as a defeat for Jackson and states, ‘Jackson was compelled to entrench at Fort Strother and remain there for several months.’” Between January and March of 1814, Jackson employed his troops building boats for transportation of supplies down the Coosa. During this period, the Fort Strother area would have steadily grown in size as the 39th Regiment arrived and Jackson began stockpiling supplies for a Spring offensive. The months of January and February 1814 mark the climax in the history of Fort Strother. “... The fort had grown into a small city as supplies came in from Fort Deposit and Fort Armstrong. ... By March 1814, Jackson had nearly 5,000 men, counting the Indian contingent, ... and sufficient supplies for an offensive.” In her History of St. Clair County, AL, Mattie Lou Teague Crow describes the encampment: “The fort, with its blockhouses, three large parade grounds, four separate camps — militia, infantry, cavalry, and at least 300 friendly Indians — was no small enterprise. The Indians — mostly Cherokees, some Creeks — were kept in a group. They wore white feathers and white deer tails to distinguish them from the hostile red men.” Local author Charlotte Hood wrote a book called Jackson’s White Plumes that explores this relationship and the whole Creek campaign. Crow continues: “At times there were as many as five thou-

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


Pieces of History sand men at Fort Strother, ... and as few as a hundred and fifty. But today, all that is left of the great camp that played such a vital part in Jackson’s campaign is the cemetery, the graves unmarked and forgotten. These men were American soldiers, and they deserve to have their last resting place marked and given the same care as other American military cemeteries.” Various other writers have surmised there was a fort, blockhouses, blacksmith shops, cooperage, field hospital, corrals for hundreds of horses, quartermaster store, boat-building yard and several wharves along the riverfront. All these preparations were soon put to use, as described in a National Register of Historic Places application form: “... Jackson had been informed that a large number of Creeks were concentrating at Horseshoe Bend, which they were resolved to defend to the last. Jackson determined to march down the Coosa, establish a new depot, and them march against the Creeks. ... On March 14 he departed, leaving 480 men under Col. Steele to hold Fort Strother and keep open lines of communication. “The subsequent battle ... was the decisive battle of the war, breaking the power of the Creek nation, and opening up ... twofifths of what is now Georgia and three-fifths of Alabama for settlement. ... Strother continued to be part of a strategic line of communications with the Gulf Coast and Florida, serving as a way-station for troops headed south. No mention of the fort has been found after 1815, when Gen. Coffee and several Indian chiefs conferred there.” After Horseshoe Bend, Jackson headed southward to Mobile, thence to New Orleans to fight a more famous battle against the British, albeit a wasted one since they were unaware that the War of 1812 had already ended. And so it also ended for Fort Strother. Folks later traveling the area were totally oblivious to what was there and how important it all was to our lives, and it remains mostly so today. Indeed, walking the overgrown land itself yields no clues of its former usage. But a determined group of St. Clair ladies decided to change all that. Charlotte Hood, wife of Alabama Power Company hydro manager Jerry Hood; Patsy Hanvey, a Cherokee potter; and Gadsden Library archivist Betty Sue McElroy became known as the Ten Island Three. The APCO newsletter, Powergram, reported on their efforts: “... These three self-taught historians have synthesized information from hundreds of sources, including archives, libraries and fellow history buffs.” “This information was jumping out at us from all directions,” Patsy says. “We feel just like someone reached out and took us by the hand and led us.” Their energetic efforts soon bore fruit, and on March 30, 1999, the St. Clair County Commission and the Alabama Historical Commission offered $10,000 each in matching grants for the Fort Strother Survey and Registration Project. In May of that year, a newly formed Fort Strother Restoration Committee met to officially begin work. Retired Alabama Power executive George Williams had been elected chairman. Project archaeologist Robert Perry was vice chairman, and County Commissioner Jimmy Roberts became project director. Both Roberts and then Congressman Bob Riley played vital roles in obtaining the two $10,000 grants. Other committee members and newly elected officers were Charles Brannon, vice chairman, also retired from Alabama Power; Carol Maner, historical writer; Rubye Sisson; Harold Sisson; historian Ben Hestley; Calhoun County Commissioner


Eli Henderson; Kay Perry, secretary; Adm. Dennis Brooks; Realtor Lyman Lovejoy; Randy Jinks; State Rep. Dave Thomas; newspaper reporter Hervey Folsom; Sherry Bowers; and of course, the indomitable Ten Island Three. Much exploration was done in the Ten Island environs, including the cutting of fire lanes to simplify field operations. A University of Alabama team led by Carey Oakley and another from Jacksonville State University led by Dr. Harry Holstein located and identified more than 800 artifacts, including gun parts, rifle and musket balls, and iron grapeshot, all consistent with armaments of that era. Also found were hundreds of wrought-iron spikes and cut nails, assumed to have been used mostly in flatboat-building. Other finds included knife-blade parts, broken iron kettles, various tools, and lots of by-products used in blacksmithing. However, the finds that would be most dear to Mrs. Crow’s heart were disclosed in the old cemetery. Oakley and his crew used ground-penetrating radar and other modern technologies to locate and catalog some 76 graves adjacent to the assumed stockade site. But alas, the restoration project ground to a halt when funds ran out. At one time, it was proposed that the old stockade be recreated and the cemetery restored to proper dignity, all in a park-like setting accessible to the public, but that too has fallen by the wayside. The exact locations of work sites have purposely been left out of this narrative to discourage trespassers and artifact vandals. In fact, all the affected lands are signed and posted. To view the general area, look to the western shore of the Coosa from Alabama 77 near Ohatchee Creek, and let your imagination fill in the rest. One might even visualize Old Hickory himself, on horseback, left arm in a sling from a near-fatal bullet wound suffered in a duel just before coming to Alabama, gazing downriver while making plans for future battles. It is hoped that someone, or some organization, will resume this important restoration project to bring one of Alabama’s most historic sites to light and make the fort a public part of the state’s heritage. Some years ago, the Cropwell Historical Society, after great efforts by Mary Mays, George Williams and other members, installed the impressive marker, made from local marble, that is mentioned at the beginning of this story. Fort Strother has also been honored by a much older, more elaborate marker placed by an Anniston DAR chapter in 1913, on the site’s 100th anniversary. The marker is no longer in sight, but we can still appreciate its words:

Here stood Fort Strother A defense against the Indians Built by General Andrew Jackson And occupied by him and his Brave men During the Creek Campaign, November 3, 1813 Erected by the Frederick Wm. Gray Chapter DAR of Anniston, Alabama To preserve the memorial of Faithful service. November 13, 1913

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


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DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


“Cogsworth and Lumiere assist the Beast in preparing for his dinner with Belle.”


“South Pacific”

“Beauty and the Beast”


Theater group is uniquely Springville

“Annie Get Your Gun”

Story by Jane Newton Henry Photos by Brandie Felice, Judy Shults and Janet McBroom It’s a true story that reads like the opening scene of a classic Broadway musical: June Morgan Mack returns home to Springville in 1976 with her college diploma, only to find that her summer job has fallen through. She talks with her neighbor, Archie Jones, about the problem, and he says, “Why don’t you do a show?” So that’s what she did. She wrote a children’s musical titled, “Circus Magic,” and found about 25 people to produce and appear in the play. They built sets, made costumes, rehearsed and did one performance at Springville High School, now Springville Middle School. “Everybody got a charge out of it, so we decided to do it again the next year,” she said. That production marked the beginning of Springville Children’s Theater. For five summers, Mack wrote and directed children’s musicals. Thirty seven years later, the theater group in the St. Clair County town of about 4,000 people, is still going strong. She credits the “incredibly talented” people of Springville for keeping the effort going. In addition, the group’s unique operating philosophy has played a major role in its success. Extraordinary talent “When we started the theater group, there were so many talented people right here in Springville -- all these incredible people who were singing in church choirs,” Mack said. “Since then, I’ve been in many other states and have done many other things, but I would still say that the talent in Springville is extraordinary.” Mack recalled the performances in “Circus Magic.” Twelve-year old Shawn Cushen worked as the stage manager and played the male lead in the play. Penny Burgess played opposite him. “They were terrific in the play. And they were brilliant kids. They were making all A’s in school, but to memorize all of those pages of the script and then to stand up and spit out their lines with gusto – that was something no one knew they could do.” A unique philosophy Our guiding principle is to cast every person who auditions, she said. “We believe that if it’s fun and interesting for people, and they learn a lot and are proud of themselves, the show takes care of itself.” By 1981, the grown-ups wanted to do larger-scale shows requiring casts of all ages, Mack said. That year,

the group chose “Oklahoma!,” and it became the first in a long line of Broadway musicals that the newly named Springville Community Theater would produce. “’Oklahoma!’ was expandable,” she said. “We could put all the kids in it we could find, which is a big deal for us.” The group has a particular interest in bringing first-timers to the stage – especially children. “We believe that a community theater not only fosters a positive community spirit, but builds confidence and forges lifetime friendships.” The theater also plays an educational role. Mack explained that during the organization’s early years, there wasn’t any other live theater in the area, and children were growing up without it. “They didn’t know the classical musical-theater literature, and that’s one reason I’ve been so dedicated to doing the classics,” she said. “We will do Rogers and Hammerstein forever.” After the production of “Oklahoma!,” the theater has produced classic Broadway musicals every few years. They performed “Oklahoma!” a second time in 2010, which was performed outdoors at nearby Homestead Hollow, and just this month, they performed South Pacific again -- 30 years after their first production of that show.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


37 YEARS Bloody Mary horrifies the sailors with a shrunken head in the recent production of “South Pacific”.

June Mack Mack, who founded the Springville theater group and has directed most of the shows, says that preparing for a production is difficult. “It’s not just for fun. It’s disciplined,” she said. “I’m regimented about people knowing their lines before I even see them. “It’s hard work, but that raises the bar and makes people take it more seriously. People will always step up to the challenge. I expect great things; they surprise themselves -- that’s how it works. So I keep upping the challenge; that’s my job. As long as I can keep doing that, they will keep surpassing their expectations.” She credits the people of Springville with helping her learn her craft. “They taught me to direct,” Mack said. “I am so grateful for the patience and devotion of these people for all of these years. “We’ve hit obstacles and said, ‘That’s it. The show’s gonna be shut down. It’s never gonna work.’ But you give these people 30 minutes to regroup and think, and we’ll move forward again.” Since Mack’s first summer with Springville Children’s Theater, she has worked on more than 50 theater productions and 70 films. In addition to her bachelor’s degree in composition for musical theater from Hollins College, she received master’s degrees in film and education from Florida State and Harvard University. Her films have garnered 22 international awards and have been seen on national television and at screenings here and in other countries. She is a professor of film at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Expect to hear about auditions for another summer musical in Springville in a couple more years. If you would like to get involved in Springville Community Theater, contact Mack at (205) 467-3105 or Editor’s Note: If you have been involved in a production of Springville Children’s Theater or Springville Community Theater and have film or video footage from a show or shows, contact June Mack at (205) 467-3105 or She is collecting footage to have it digitally archived.


“Beauty and the Beast”

“Annie Get Your Gun”

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

Andy Wallace Andy Wallace appears as Emile DeBecque in this summer’s production of South Pacific. A native of Springville and resident of Birmingham, he has appeared in five other productions of the Springville Community Theater. He was Curley in the 1981 performance of” Oklahoma!” and appeared as Lt. Cable in the 1983 production of “South Pacific.” He was a member of the quartet in “The Music Man” (1985), played the role of the king in “The King and I” (1997) and had a walk-on part in “The Sound of Music” (1999).

Springville Shows Springville Children’s Theater

• • • •

Circus Magic, 1976 Tuck, the Magic Elf, 1977 Winnie the Pooh, 1978 Two One-Act Plays: Bo and Stitch and the Treasure Pam, and The Secret of Plenty, 1979 • Tanglewood, 1980 Springville Community Theater

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Oklahoma! 1981 The Music Man, 1982 South Pacific, 1983 Peter Pan, 1984 The Wizard of Oz, 1987 Seven Brides for Seven Brothers/Children’s Workshop: Charlie Brown, 1993 Children’s Show: A Show for You, 1994 Reunion Show: Travelin’ Through Time, 1995 The King and I, 1997 Adult Workshop, 1998 The Sound of Music, 2000 Annie Get your Gun, 2004 Beauty and the Beast, 2007 Oklahoma! 2010 South Pacific, 2013 DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013


The other Springville Theater ...

Red Velvet Cake War at Local Color In addition to the Springville Community Theater, Local Color Cafe, a local eatery and music emporium in Springville offers a venue for small productions with ensemble casts to “trod the boards!” Specializing in Southern Comedy, Local Color has audience up close to interact with the players in the most delightful way. Local Color Cafe will be the site for the upcoming production of “The Red Velvet Cake War”, by Jones, Hope & Wooten. This riotously funny “southern-fried” comedy in two Acts will be performed by The Local Color Players on Aug. 30, 31, and Sept. 1, and the following weekend Sept. 6, 7 and 8. Tickets are $15 and include refreshments during intermission. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 Sunday Matinee. Members of the cast are Jerry Ryan, Vanessa Oakes, Beth Bolton, Brandie Felice, Ann Bailey, Donna Love, John Love, Jeb Burttram, Celeste Adamson, Danny White, Merle Dollar and Peggy Jones. Director is Nell Richardson.


DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • August & September 2013

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Discover St. Clair August 2013  

Discover the Essence of St. Clair Magazine, August 2013, featuring Argo Drive-In, Beekeeping and more.