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The Skill of Estate Selling • Wadsworth Blueberry Farm • Hunting John Lonergan & Wayne Spradley • The Ponderosa

October - November 2011

Traveling the Backroads:

Ten Islands A tale of two campaigns that marked the most historic area of St. Clair County

Unique Storefronts

Local business owners have utilized unusual shopping environments to give customers a special experience

Features and Articles D iscover The Essence of St. Clair

October - November 2011

Hummingbird Heaven

So many hummingbirds stop off for a meal at one Chandler Mountain location that it has become an international training ground for banding and tracking these tiny winged marvels.

Page 32 Cover photo by Jerry Martin

The School Teachers

St. Clair educators turn estate sale hobby into big business

Big Bucks Page 25

Ten Islands

A tale of two campaigns mark county’s most historic spot

Business Briefing Page 28

Take a look inside some of the unique specialty stores in St. Clair Page 10

Living Legacy

Shoal Creek area stands together in aftermath of storm Page 16

Enjoy these great blueberry recipes from Wadsworth Farm Page 22

Page 46

Valley Coming Back to Life

Wadsworth Farm

• From the farm kitchen

Page 44

Two nationally known artists, John Lonergan & Wayne Spradley, are proof teachers make a difference Page 48

Hidden Treasures

A family tradition 100 years in the making

In deer and dollars during hunting season

Old Haunts

The Ponderosa

Get a tour of St. Clair’s hidden secret retreat

Page 56

Page 38

Get ready for Halloween — some of St. Clair’s scariest places Page 60

online @

The New St. Vincent’s St. Clair Opening December 10

This new state-of-the-art facility is designed to meet the healthcare needs of our community now and into the future. The new hospital will include all private rooms, an expanded emergency department, and the latest diagnostic equipment. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the St. Clair County Health Care Authority, St. Clair County Commission, City of Pell City, St. Clair County Economic Development Council and St. Vincent’s Health System, the new hospital will soon be a reality. Join us on December 6 for the dedication and tours. Check the website at in the weeks ahead for details of upcoming activities.

Writers AND Photographers

Carol Pappas • editor & publisher

Mike Bolton

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.

Mike Bolton, 55, was a senior reporter for the Birmingham News for 25 years covering mainly outdoors and NASCAR. He was an eight-time winner of the Associated Press Sweepstakes Award for best sports story of the year. He retired from the News in 2009 but still contributes stories. He has lived in St. Clair county for 22 years.

Amanda Pritchard Beginning her writing career by auditioning to be a VJ on MTV, Amanda E.H. Pritchard has been writing for the past 10 years. Throughout her career Pritchard has been featured in national, regional and local publications. She lives in Leeds.

GiGi Hood GiGi Hood, a Samford University graduate, lives in Birmingham. A Nashville Tenn., native and avid sports enthusiast, she was the first woman sportswriter for The Nashville Tennessean. She has also written for The Birmingham News as well as contributed to numerous publications as a freelance writer. Currently she is working on U-Turn, a non-fiction book.

Loyd McIntosh Loyd McIntosh is a freelance writer and former news reporter and sports writer for several newspapers throughout the Southeast, including The Daily Home. In over 10 years as a freelance writer, he has published work in a variety of magazines. He is native of Trussville and now lives in Pell City with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughters Emily Grace and Lily. Loyd is currently the marketing manager for the Birmingham YMCA.

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.

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, including American Profile, Woman’s World, The Dallas Morning News and The Birmingham News. She is the author of two non-fiction books, Myths, Mysteries & Legends of Alabama and Nat King Cole: Unforgettable Musician. She is a member of Alabama Media Professionals and NFPW (the National Federation of Press Women). Originally from Birmingham, she lives in a log house in the middle of the woods in Ashville, surrounded by two horses, four barns cats, two dogs and a rapidly diminishing population of ducks.

Jerry Martin Jerry Martin is chief freelance photographer for Partners by Design, a multimedia group based in Pell City. He is a veteran newspaper photographer, whose work earned numerous state awards. His photographs have appeared in many magazines, publications and online.

6 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011



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.

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 7

Discovering the ‘Wow factor’ From the Editor

Wow! Since I am a writer, you probably think I could come up with a better way to describe the reaction to our first issue of Discover, The Essence of St. Clair, than a single exclamation. But across St. Clair County, from Shoal Creek to Moody, from Cropwell to Chandler Mountain and countless points in between, the response from readers and advertisers has been nothing short of ‘Wow!’ for us here at Discover. We do not take that positive reaction for granted. Never will. We believe that there is a story worth telling lurking around every corner of St. Clair County, and we want to tell it in fine fashion — stories about people, places and things designed to pique interest and keep you turning the pages of this new magazine. We want to bring you stories that give you pause for reflection, like the one in this issue about Shoal Creek Valley slowly coming back to life. Or stories about people you know but what you may not know about them — like the couple on Chandler Mountain who lend their property to train hummingbird banders from around the world. It may be the story of ghosts in Ashville or how two nationally known artists from the same hometown drew their early inspiration from their elementary school teachers. This fastest-growing county in Alabama with a history older than the state as the centerpiece lends itself well to stories of life, business and historical pieces, and we intend to tell those stories in the pages of our magazine in this month’s issue and in the issues to come. If you happen to miss the print version, remember to go online at, where you will find the entire magazine in a page-turning magazine reader. You also will find extras, like photos and videos. And we will continue to add to it to give you the full multimedia experience. We humbly thank you for your support, and we pledge to put you, our readers and advertisers, first in every issue of this magazine. — Carol Pappas Editor and Publisher

Discover The Essence of St. Clair

October - November 2011 • Vol. 2 •

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

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

Printed at Russell Printing, Alexander City, AL.

8 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

YOU CAN’T ALWAYS BE THERE FOR A LOVED ONE. ALWAYS THERE CAN. Always There offers everything from basic care— like bathing, grooming and dressing—to skilled nursing care. Not to mention the comfort of trusted companionship. Always There means dependable support for you: We take care of all the administrative hassles— from managing and scheduling care providers to payroll and W2s. Nobody can care for your loved ones like family, but we come surprisingly close. Always There does more than thoroughly screen care providers’ backgrounds. We look for the kind of positive, compassionate attitude that comes with a caring nature. We know we’re caring for someone who’s an important part of your family. We’ll make them feel like part of ours. Call us, and we’ll handle it all. Including your worries.


Christy Baynes, MSHA, MBA, CMC Vice President, Client Care and Education

Dee Harrell, RN President and Founder

COMPREHENSIVE, C O M PA S S I O N AT E C A R E A passion for working with seniors and a vision for what they needed to retain their independence drove a registered nurse in the health care industry to become a company president in the corporate world and provide those services to seniors and their families across the state. Dee Harrell, RN, founded Always There In-Home Care, Inc. 12 years ago to meet a need for elderly and disabled, helping them retain independence and live at home for as long as possible. “After working in hospitals with patients of all ages, I found caring for seniors to be where my heart was most satisfied,” she said. “I enjoyed listening to the life stories about their families, jobs, trials and tribulations.” She was serving as nurse manager for an adult day care center, when she realized “a real need for a quality, private-duty home care service for seniors.” She opened the first office in Birmingham in 1999, one in Huntsville four years ago, and another in Pell City in 2010. The company now has 350 employees, serving 15 counties in Alabama, and there are aggressive plans for expanding throughout the state. Always There provides medical and nonmedical services. “Our caregivers take care of all basic needs to help our clients remain independent. Our nurses are available when our clients need skilled care and advice,” Harrell said. “Some of our clients just need assistance for appointments or errands, while others need 24-hour supervision.” Always There is a comprehensive model of care -- providing a scope of services seniors need when they need it. “The Baby Boom Generation has changed the course of

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how care is delivered in America,” she said. Families do not always live nearby, seniors’ children work, and the health system can be hard to navigate alone. Knowing those all-too-familiar situations led her to expand the company this past year to include professional geriatric care management. “We were thrilled to introduce care management to our company through the leadership of Christy Baynes,” Harrell said. Baynes, MSHA, MBA, CMC, has been a geriatric care professional for more than 12 years with experience in living administration, community councils on aging, Alzheimer’s and aging research, long-term care insurance, elder care coordination, geriatric health education and caregiver support groups. She is certified in geriatric care management from the National Academy of Certified Care Managers. Care management is a holistic approach to addressing the needs of seniors and their families, and what sets Always There apart from other services is that it can provide care management as well as in-home care. “Our comprehensive approach and consultative services are so valuable to families. Our goal is to become a member of the family’s team. We have an opportunity to address every aspect of our clients’ lives. From open communication with their physician to finding social activities for our seniors, we can provide continuity of care and make a difference in the quality of their lives while bringing peace of mind to their families,” Baynes said. That is a critical component of senior care as the Baby Boom Generation -- 77 million people -- began retiring this year. The number will only grow as America ages, and Always There is ready with experience, compassion and a guiding principle that defines this company on the move: “We care…For You. And For Them.”

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October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 9

Hidden Treasures Storefronts uniquely St. Clair By Elaine Hobson Miller Photos by Jerry Martin When it comes to storefronts in St. Clair County, appearances can be deceiving. A turn-of-the century Victorian house in Ashville actually is a quilt shop. A log house in Pell City once was a barn in Virginia. A shed used to brood ducks and turkeys serves as a second-hand shop in Odenville. A historic feed store in Springville has become an antique mall. A tack shop in Ashville is in a landmark rock building that once held cotton waiting to be ginned. These not-so-modern structures have been transformed under the careful guidance of ingenious owners who make the most of odd-shaped rooms and limited spaces. Some have been restored to their former glory, some modernized, but each offers an unusual shopping experience.

Historic shop

On the outside, the Ashville House Quilt Shop looks much like it did when the Queen Anne-style house was completed in 1894. Listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Historical Places, its turrets and towers, gables and arches, wrap-around porches and gingerbread ornamentation showcase seven different historical paint colors. Inside, the high ceilings, heart-of-pine floors and original wood trim surround hundreds of bolts of gaily-printed fabric, cases and counters of colorful threads and a few quilts for sample and for sale. “My husband, Lavon, and I bought the house in the early 1990s and spent three years restoring it, then lived here for three years before turning it into a tea room in 2000,” says Pat Drake, who operates the shop with her sister and partner, Loretta Horton. “We closed the tea room in 2007 and opened the quilt shop in 2010.” Lavon did “most of the hard stuff” during the restoration, such as rebuilding the interior walls. But it was Pat who painted the ceiling frieze in the music room, using a cake decorator, caulking, paint and “about 200 trips up a 15-foot ladder.” Pat’s mom, Alline Hill, pins customers’ assembled quilts to a long-arm quilting machine. Pat does the quilting. Loretta teaches most of the quilting classes, which cover basic skills such as binding, piecing and color combinations. The shop, at the corner of U.S. Highway 231 South and Third Street, Ashville, is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Call 205-594-7046 or visit for more information.

The Cabin on Cedar Lane

Beverly Crumpton, manager (left), and Charlotte Vincent, a vendor, discuss some of the items for sale at The Ole Antique Mall.

10 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

Judy Potter arranges some of the pottery she sells at The Cabin on Cedar Lane in Pell City. October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 11

The historic Box-Drake House is home to the Ashville House of Quilts.

Alline Hill (left) and Pat Drake work at a long-arm quilting machine at the Ashville House of Quilts.

Jodie Isbell (right) helps customer Herrison Gulledge with a pair of riding chaps at Jodie’s Harness & Tack in Ashville.

12 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

Hidden Treasures

Henrietta Goodman displays many of The Hen House’s vintage goods on the shop’s front porch in Odenville.

‘The Cabin’

Judy and Richard Potter love antiques, so when their nest became empty and Judy started looking for a way to use her retailing degree, the Pell City couple decided to open an antique shop in a log cabin. Never mind that they didn’t own a log cabin. “We found a two-story log barn in Mendota, Virginia, that was built around 1830,” Judy says. “We disassembled it, then reassembled it here in our front yard on Cedar Lane.” Opened 15 years ago, The Cabin on Cedar Lane bears little resemblance to its former self. Stone steps lead to a small porch that the Potters added. The second floor of the 20-by24-foot structure is where the hay loft used to be. The Potters gave it a new floor from old wood and made a window out of the loft door, then added two windows in the front on the first floor. Original walls are made of hand-hewn oak, poplar and pine. “The poplar were the smooth logs, but they used some oak for strength,” Judy explains. Judy doesn’t have as many antiques as when she started, but stocks “some really good reproduction furniture pieces, lamps and home accessories,” she says. Many of the items she sells are by local artists, including Ron Sims pottery and Peggy Turner watercolors. Other items include fused glass jewelry, decorator balls made of sea shells, pickled vegetables, dip mixes and Trapp candles. The Cabin on Cedar Lane, 5014 Cedar Lane, Pell City, is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Call Judy at 205-338-3866 for more information.

Landmark building

Anyone giving directions to a street off U.S. 411 between Ashville and Leeds invariably says, “Go past (or to) the rock stores. …” The three rock buildings near the intersection of 411 and County Road 31 have been landmarks in the area since Will Dollar built them between 1927 and 1929. Today, one of those buildings houses Jodie’s Harness and Tack, a place to buy equine goods, get your tack repaired and shoot the bull about anything from the weather to President Obama’s health care plan. “We bought the two buildings on this side of the Highway 25 years ago from a man who had an auction house here,” says Jodie Isbell, the “we” being she and husband Bobby. “The tack shop was where Will Dollar stored cotton to be ginned, and the building next door, where we live, was a feed store. The mercantile was across the street. There was a cotton gin and grist mill behind our two buildings, close to a creek.” Dollar’s first store burned down in 1926, and he rebuilt using field stones from his own property. His mercantile was where everybody came to buy sugar and flour, fabric and thread, pots and pans, and to get their corn and wheat ground. “People spent the night here in their wagons to get their wheat and corn ground the next day,” Jodie says. Sixteen years ago, Jodie and Bobby bought a sewing machine and tools from the estate of a late friend who had a leather shop. They simply wanted to repair the harnesses for their own horses, but people started asking them to repair

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 13

Hidden Treasures The Ole Springville Antique Mall

Jodie’s Harness & Tack in Ashville Peacocks living on the grounds donate their feathers for sale at The Hen House in Odenville. 14 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

their harnesses and halters, too. “Then they started asking us for other tack and horse supplies,” Jodie says. “It just grew.” They’ve added saddles, horse shoes, bridles, tack to fit large horses like their Percherons, equine grooming supplies, feed supplements and more. They still do tack repairs and sell yard eggs from the 200 chickens running around the property. Jodie’s Harness & Tack, located at 22326 Highway 411, Ashville, is open Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. until Noon. Jodie can be reached at 205-629-5891.

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No eggs in this hen house

Despite the vintage jewelry, the primitives and the cobalt blue and green feathers from an India Blue peacock, it’s the property surrounding The Hen House in Odenville that makes Henrietta T. Goodman’s second-hand shop so interesting. She sells “affordable treasures and boutique items at thrift-store from Let Our CD prices” Special a nondescript, one-room, pre-fabWork building formerly used by For You.her husband to store feed and brood his ducks and turkeys. But the shop sits next to Henrietta’s orchard, with its blueberry, blackberry and strawberry bushes; it’s pear, plum and persimmon trees; and muscadine vines. Both are near the front edge of a 17-acre property that includes house; barn and swimming pool; two ponds; pens for their rare Lady Amherst and Red Golden pheasants, and their peacocks, guineas, quail and chickens; and the pastures for their Zebus (miniature Brahma cattle). “I’m trying to get my husband to plant me a pumpkin patch, and he wants to add goats to our petting zoo,” says Henrietta, a vivacious woman with a ready laugh. She has been running second-hand shops since she retired from her job with Bell South Cellular in 2004. She opened The Hen House in 2010. “Everybody stops when they see my Hen House sign, thinking we sell chickens and eggs,” she says, laughing. “So we’re going to start that soon.” The Hen House, 11934 Hwy 411, Odenville, is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. 4 p.m. For more information contact Henrietta Goodman at 205-531-0443.

Century old, new life

Just a few years ago, Springville’s Main Street was lined with antique shops. Today, there’s only one, the Ole Springville Antique Mall, but it boasts 37 vendors, including most of the owners of the former Main Street shops. Located in the old Washington Feed building, which operated as a feed store for more than 100 years, the antique mall is owned by Curt Deason and managed by Beverly Crumpton. The latter used to own the House of Quilts antique shop down the street. “I bought Washington Feed in 1994 and operated it until Wo kin F ointo r Yforeclosure. ou. 2003,” says Curt. “I sold it,rbut it gwent I bought it back in 2007, remodeled it and turned it into an antique mall.” Each vendor has a separate booth, and Deason is pleased with his dealers and their merchandise. “We’ve got some really nice stuff in here,” he says. “We don’t allow any yard-sale items, they have to be antiques. That’s one of our main policies.” The 8,000-square-foot building actually is two buildings combined. The first was built in 1905 by the grandfather of Frank Rutland. The second was added by Rutland, who ran the feed store for many years. “You can see where the two are joined together, because the walls and doorway are very thick there,” Deason says. “Those were outside walls at one time.” The Ole Springville Antique Mall, 6364 U.S. Highway 11, Springville, is open Mondays and Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Thursdays hours are 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Sundays it’s 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. The telephone number is 205-467-0612.

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October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 15

Wadsworth Farm A family tradition 100 years in the making By Carol Pappas Photo by Jerry Martin Born and raised near a town now under the waters of Logan Martin Lake, Mike Wadsworth went out to make his way in the world as a commercial artist. But the family farm eventually drew him back, continuing a legacy that has been 100 years in the making. Wadsworth Farm, in the same family for 100 years, reached a milestone in 2011, earning both Heritage Farm and Century Farm designations from the State of Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Located just off US 231, south of Pell City, Wadsworth Farm is a remnant of an era gone by in an area known as Easonville before the Coosa River was dammed to create Logan Martin Lake in 1965. Most of what remains of the town now lies underneath Logan Martin, including part of the old highway. As a boy growing up there, Wadsworth said, the family farm was surrounded by other farms — low-lying pasture land that enabled him to see all the way to presentday Voncile Lane, a road off Alabama 34 several miles away. The farm started as a peach orchard in 1911 by his grandfather, William Lee Wadsworth. He and Wadsworth’s grandmother, Ella Ritch Wad-

16 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 17

Wadsworth Farm

The honor box holds the day’s sales.

The corn crib is an original structure on the property.

sworth, had all their children in the house, and as the years passed, the family clan thrived. It was more than a half century earlier that the original Wadsworth family first settled the area around Treasure Island on the Coosa River. Some were tanners and trappers, and they traveled the Coosa all the way to Wetumpka, trapping along the way and selling their pelts. The story goes, said the modern day Wadsworth, that on one trip, the dealer would not pay what the group thought the pelts were worth. They pooled their money and could only buy one train ticket. One man returned home on the train with the pelts while the rest of the group walked back to Easonville from Wetumpka. Another story handed down is the purchase of the first “store bought” match, when his grandfather sent for the children to witness a match struck for the first time. It was a time when his grandfather and a great uncle operated two syrup mills, and 630 gallons of syrup could buy his great uncle, George Ritch, a brand-new, 1930 Chevrolet. Wadsworth also recounted hard times, where families knew they could “always go see Mr. Lee” for the basics, like corn, syrup and eggs. “It’s hard to believe people lived on that,” his wife, Jeanette, said. But they were able to get their iron and protein in those basics from ‘Mr. Lee.’ Excess milk from their cows was sold to local stores and to the Southside Birmingham landmark, Waites Bakery. Today, the Wadsworth place earns a different kind of fame near and far as a blueberry farm, where thousands of gallons of blueberries are picked each year. Originally an 80-acre piece of property, it has grown to more than 330 acres under his and his father’s time as owners. The Wadsworths have been operating the farm as a ‘U Pick, We Pick’ farm since their first planting in 1987, and it goes by an honor system, where people from all over come to pick this seasonal favorite and take it with them. The only thing they leave behind is the payment — in an “honor box.” The farm has done quite well under the Wadsworths’ careful nurturing and continues to grow in numbers of plants and types of blueberries. Wadsworth didn’t set out to be a successful farmer. In early adulthood, he pursued a career in art — a gift for drawing and painting he shared with his mother. Wadsworth graduated from art school in Birmingham and did architectural illustrations for more than 10 years. “I thought there must be a better way to make a living,” Wadsworth said. So when the Wadsworths visited a blueberry picking farm in Golden Springs, an idea that was new and expensive in the South, “I thought it was pretty neat.” The Wadsworths decided to turn part of the acreage into a blueberry farm, and they became involved with a group in Clay County. They learned the intricacies of what to do through Auburn University’s small fruits program. “I learned real quick they need a lot of water,” Wadsworth said. But as his crop grew, so did his knowledge, and he and his wife became active

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 19

A peach canning label from the original farm

Mike Wadsworth watches over washed blueberries as they head down conveyor belt.

Mike and Jeanette Wadsworth

20 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

Wadsworth Farm well beyond their Easonville farm. Wadsworth served as president of the Alabama Blueberry Association, and Mrs. Wadsworth served on the Gulf South Blueberry Board as the U Pick representative. Back home at the farm this season, they raised a bumper crop of almost 6,500 pounds of blueberries and more than 1,000 gallons picked from their 3,200 bushes. People have come from all over the country to pick Wadsworth blueberries. “We have met a lot of interesting people,” he said, noting one friendship he struck with “an author, geologist and archeologist all rolled into one. He has been all over the world working with oil companies.” And as another season came to a close this summer, the Wadsworths looked back on 100 years as a family farm while looking ahead to a fourth generation continuing the legacy begun a century ago. The way Wadsworth looks at it, “I only have the land for a short time, and I want to leave it in better condition than when I received it — better with my timber, better conservation practices.” When he hands the land to his children he hopes they will heed their parents’ teachings about the land. “We have tried to instill good conservation and heritage values in them. Hopefully, the land will go down through generations and not into subdivisions. “People move out in the country, and then the subdivisions come, and there’s no more country.”

From the kitchen of…

Wadsworth Blueberry Farm Jeanette Wadsworth takes the fruits of her and her husband’s labor and turns them into palate-pleasing masterpieces. She is sharing some of those recipes with our readers:

Blueberry Bars

3 Cups Flour 3 Eggs, well beaten 1 teaspoon Salt 1 1/4 Cups Cooking Oil 1 teaspoon Baking Soda 4 Cups frozen Blueberries 1 tablespoon Ground Cinnamon 1 1/4 Cups chopped Pecans 2 Cups Sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, salt, soda, cinnamon and sugar. Combine eggs and cooking oil. Stir blueberries and pecans into flour mixture. Gently combine flour mixture with eggs and oil. Spread batter into greased 10 1/2-inch by 15 1/2-inch baking pan. The batter

is quite thick, but spreads during baking. Bake approximately 45 minutes until browned and a tester comes out dry. After cooled, cut into 48 bars. Note: Fresh berries may be used but care must be taken to prevent crushing during mixing and spreading into pan.

Easy Blueberry Cobbler

1 Cup Flour 2 Cups Sugar 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder 2 Cups Blueberries 1 Cup Water 5 Tablespoons Butter

Melt butter in baking pan. Mix together flour, baking powder, water and sugar. Pour over butter in pan. Pour

22 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

berries over batter. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 - 45 minutes, until browned. Fresh or frozen berries may be used in this recipe.

Blueberry Bars

Very Berry Salad

1/4 Cup Honey 4 Cups Fresh Blueberries, washed and dried 2 Tablespoons Orange Liqueur 3 Cups thinly sliced Strawberries 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice 1 Cup fresh Basil, finely slivered 1 1/2 Cups chopped toasted Pecans Freshly cracked Black Pepper Baby Salad Greens Feta Cheese, Optional Combine honey, orange liqueur and lemon juice. One hour before serving, combine blueberries, strawberries and honey mixture. Refrigerate. To serve as a side salad, line eight salad plates with baby greens and divide berry mixture evenly between the plates. Top with basil, toasted pecans, black pepper, crumbled Feta cheese. This recipe serves two as a dinner salad, topped with crumbled Feta cheese.

Blueberry Crisp

6 Cups Blueberries, fresh or frozen 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar, packed 2 teaspoons Lemon Juice 1 Cup all-purpose Flour 1/2 Cup Butter 1 Cup quick cooking Oats 1 teaspoons Cinnamon 1/2 Cup chopped Pecans

Place blueberries in buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Stir together brown sugar, flour, oats and cinnamon. Stir 1/4 cup of flour mixture into blueberries. Cut butter into remaining flour mixture until it becomes crumbly. Stir pecans into flour mixture. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over blueberry mixture. Bake at 375 degrees 30 to 40 minutes until bubbly and browned on top. Serve warm or at room temperature, plain or with ice cream.

Very Berry Salad

Blueberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

1 Quart Buttermilk 1/2 Pint Whipping Cream 4 Cups Sugar 1 Pint Half and Half 1 Quart Blueberries 1 Teaspoon Vanilla

Blend buttermilk, sugar and berries in batches in blender. Combine with other ingredients in 1-gallon ice cream freezer container. Add whole milk to bring mixture to fill line. Freeze according to freezer instructions. October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 23

People line up outside an estate sale. 24 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

The School Teachers St. Clair educators turn estate sale hobby into thriving business

Kari Wadsworth, Sis Sanders, Diane Davis and Deb Watson

By Amanda Pritchard Photos by Jerry Martin Staging, pricing and checking out customers is all in a Saturday’s work for the four-person team known as The School Teachers. Organizing homes of retirees who are downsizing, going to assisted living or have moved on to heaven, The School Teachers have turned their hobby into a business called Southern Classic Estates, LLC. All teachers and employees of the St. Clair County School System, The School Teachers is made up of Kari Wadsworth, Sis Sanders, Diane Davis and Deb Watson. Sanders and Davis are retired teachers who still volunteer at the kindergarten computer lab in Ashville, while Watson teaches physical education. Wadsworth is the receptionist at Ashville Elementary. Producing their first estate sale nine years ago, the ladies began their company with a sale in Ragland. When they first started, it was an experiment of trial and error. But by reading

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 25

The School Teachers

Diane Davis prices items to ready her team for the Picht estate sale.

Items were tagged and ready for customers to purchase.

Deb Watson and Sis Sanders stage the front room of the Picht estate sale.

a number of books, getting advice from area consultants who are experts in coins, clocks and jewelry, The School Teachers proceeded with confidence in their ability to put on a top-notch sale. Through word of mouth, local papers and their website,, people found out about area estate sales done by Southern Classic Estates. Currently booked through October with the remainder of the year quickly filling up, the ladies recently helped Gadsden homeowner Billie Faye Picht, who moved to Naples, Florida, with selling items from her estate. “They have been wonderful. Very dependable. I highly recommend them,” exclaimed an enthusiastic Picht. Readying her home for a Gadsden ear, nose and throat doctor and his family (wife and two kids), The School Teachers have already had one sale at the Picht estate. “We had a great turnout at the sale in October,” noted Wadsworth. Traveling as far away as Hartselle and Vestavia Hills, this quartet enjoys helping these families out. “The reason an estate sale is appealing is because there are unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that people can’t buy at retail stores. These pieces are character builders,” Davis and Watson agreed. Word of mouth is definitely Southern Classic Estates’ best form of advertising, evident from a fan base of 200 to 300 who they send their email blast to when sales are approaching. Orchestrating more than 100 estate sales, Wadsworth said, their love of antique auctions and estate sales led to The School Teachers developing their own business. “Doing what we love and working with people you enjoy being with while seeing customers purchase things that they really need and couldn’t buy retail makes us smile.” Explaining how an estate sale differs from a yard sale, Wadsworth said, “An estate sale is usually the sale of the entire contents of the property, including property, vehicles, watercrafts, farming equipment, and the sale is conducted in and outside the home.” Honored for jobs well done, The School Teachers receive letters from their growing fan base, complimenting their efforts. “We have received numerous letters from clients thanking us for the wonderful job we have done. Many clients refer us to others. Most of our business comes from client referrals,” Wadsworth said. Another thing these entrepreneurs take as a huge compliment is continued business, which constantly has these four gals on their toes. Taking anywhere from two days to two weeks to complete and put just the right touches on a sale, their efforts continue to pay off. Up next for The School Teachers turned estate sellers is their plan to “continue to work together. We are excited about our upcoming estate sales. We’ve also started helping clients who are in the process of downsizing/relocating to organize, de-clutter or clean to get ready for their property to be put on the market.” Summing up the experience they have from start to finish of an estate sale in one word, Wadsworth commented with pride, “Rewarding.” Glad to have the opportunity to help families who might be having a hard time, Wadsworth concluded, “We all feel blessed to have such a large client base and feel that we have made many friends in this business endeavor.”

26 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011



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October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 27

Traveling the


Ten Islands ...

A Tale of Two Campaigns By Carolyn Stern Photos by Jerry Martin It’s been called “The County’s most historic site” by many. Fort Strother, which would be almost 200 years old today, was an important stepping stone for President Andrew Jackson in his campaign against the Creeks. But where is it? The answer is, you just can’t get there from here. In the early 1800s, the new country of America was a mass of movement. Opening new land to settlement was never expected to be simple. In Alabama, it meant that the native Creeks would lose land they had long considered their own, and they began to fight back. “Legend has it that late in the year 1812, Chief Cataula called a council of war at Littafatchee, a village on Canoe Creek, several miles from present-day Ashville,” writes Mattie Lou Teague Crow in her “History of St. Clair County.” Several skirmishes and a bloody battle at Burnt Corn Creek showed that the hostile Creeks (called the Red Sticks) had declared all-out war. On Oct. 7, 1813, Gen. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee took command of a small company of infantry troops and headed toward the trouble spots in what is now Alabama. Many volunteers joined Jackson because they felt their homes and families wouldn’t be safe as long as the Indians were on the war path. One of those volunteers was Davy Crockett, who was well known for being a troublemaker. An example is shown in a biography called “In the Footsteps of Davy Crockett” by Randall Jones. After 60 days with Jackson’s army, he and his volunteers began to get restless and were ready to go home. In one camp situation, Crockett said he and the volunteers loaded and primed their rifles and walked across a bridge to leave, despite Jackson’s order that a cannon be aimed and readied for firing at anyone who crossed. They weren’t fired on, he declared, but Jackson said they were “the damned’st volunteers he had ever seen in his life: that we would volunteer and go out and fight, and then at our pleasure would volunteer and go home again in spite of the devil.” Jackson marched his army to Fort Deposit on Oct. 11 and established a supply depot. From there he headed directly south from the Tennessee River toward Ten Islands. Part of his army went ahead to cut a road that eventually stretched about 50 miles. This route became known as Jackson’s Trace and was still used after Alabama became a state. No written evidence has surfaced that Jackson ordered a fort to be built at Ten Islands, but the indications are that his plan was to establish this second step in his supply system and work south. Some historians think Jackson gave the fort the name of Strother to honor Gen. George Strother Gaines, Indian factor to the Choctaws. Others say Jackson named it for his topographer, John Strother. An excerpt from one of Strother’s letters infers that was a dubious honor. “The evil spirits, stated by the natives to reside in a deep hole in the Ten Islands, have surely employed all their mischievous machinations to prevent

28 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

Davy Crockett

Andrew Jackson

Archivist Charlene Simpson shares historical materials.

Charlie Brannon

this post from being supplied with provisions. ...” Through the beginning days of General Jackson’s campaign in Alabama, his men had to forage en route because a supply system hadn’t yet been set up. Eventually four forts were established: Fort Deposit, Fort Strother, Fort Williams and Fort Jackson (built on top of Ft. Toulouse) close to Dadeville. As soon as he reached Ten Islands, Jackson sent men to cut trees for the stockade. Fort Strother was used by the general during 1813 and 1814 as his headquarters throughout the conflict with the Creek Indians. Charlie Brannon, who has researched the fort’s history for 40 years and has known about it longer than that, has the facts at his fingertips. “I grew up not far from where the fort was, and I used to wander around and find arrowheads and other such stuff there.” Brannon says the fort was about 300 feet by 350 feet. “Jackson’s men cut down trees, split them, carved picket posts and stood them in post ports with the flat sides to the inside.” Jackson and some of his officers stayed inside the stockade while most of his men camped outside in mud huts, he adds. Records show that the fort included three large parade grounds, four separate camps — militia, infantry, calvary and at least 300 friendly Indians, mostly Cherokees but some Creeks. They wore white feathers and white deer tails to distinguish them from the hostile Native-Americans. Food was of primary importance since the army numbered 3,000 men when it reached Fort Strother on Nov. 1, 1813. (Crockett and his friends were in and out.) A hundred to a hundred and fifty cattle and hogs were maintained, and cribs and storage bins were built to keep the grain dry. The whiskey

supply (for medicinal purposes) required a building measuring 144 square feet. It was always kept under lock and key and was well guarded. After all the forts were established, wagons with supplies moved continually down the line of forts because Jackson wanted to have at least three weeks’ supply of everything needed to support his army when they met the Indians in their final battle. On March 27, 1814, Jackson’s army defeated the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend. In 2000, a joint project by University of Alabama archeologist Carey Oakley, Charlie Brannon, Richard Perry and community volunteers, as well as students from Jacksonville State University and Troy University, examined the land. Perry has written a detailed report of the fort’s history, “The Historical Significance of the Creek Indian War of 1813-14, Land Use and Archaeology of Fort Strother in St. Clair County, Ala.” A cemetery had already been identified, and a groundpenetrating radar device found anomalies in the soil. Some were confirmed as being human remains. Some post ports and evidence of the moat that surrounded the fort also have been found. Brannon says that 187 artifacts from that project are in the Alabama Archives at Tuscaloosa. “Also, 57 graves of those soldiers who served under General Jackson have been identified. Some of them were killed in battle, and others probably died of malnutrition, disease or injury.” He adds that other items found in the area, hand-wrought horseshoes and chains, rings and belt buckles, testify to the presence of early travelers. “Some of the articles have a Spanish connection, leading me to believe that Ferdinand De Soto or his men came this way.”

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 29

Traveling the

BACKROADS Andrew Jackson had a very personal reason to remember our county, writes Mrs. Crow. “It was in St. Clair County that he found a Creek baby without family. He sent him to a friend in Huntsville and later took him home to his wife, Rachel, in Tennessee. This Creek Indian boy, Lincoya, grew to manhood in the home of the Jacksons.” Brannon says the Coosa below the dam “is pretty much as it was naturally.” Researchers have determined that the fort was located on the west side of the Coosa just below the present Neely Henry Dam, and the land has had a variety of owners. Slated once for a residential community, it also was mined for sand and gravel. The only marker that memorializes its presence is beside Highway 144 near the Ten Islands Recreation Area. Unfortunately, there isn’t an 1814 fort at Ten Islands that we could visit today. No glass cases of artifacts or armaments. No replicas of the stockade with the corner blockhouses, no designated cemetery area with markers yielding the names of those soldiers who died at Fort Strother. Instead, we have the connection between Ten Islands and Fort Strother, each a story on its own. Blue and Gray Clash at the Coosa In July of this year, shouts of summer fun echoed from the sandy beach along the Coosa River. Families picnicked within view of a cool swimming spot on a hot day. Most had passed a historical marker in a parking lot above the recreation area, but probably few had stopped to read it. The plaque tells of a very different scene on a July day. Battle of Ten Islands “On July 14, 1864, a small group of brave Confederate Cavalry under Gen. James H. Clanton, approximately 300 strong, were overwhelmed by a vastly superior Union Cavalry force under Gen. L.H. Rousseau. The Confederates were attempting to protect the Janney Iron Works near Ohatchee and Crowe Iron Works near Alexandria. The superior Union force destroyed both iron works and proceeded to Talladega.” If you had stopped to read the sign (at the urging of an avid historian in the vehicle, like your grandmother), you might immediately train your eyes on the lake and on the opposite shore trying to count the islands. (I know this from personal experience.) The intriguing name is that of an Indian village that existed before the settlers moved in. It was called Otipalin, a Creek word meaning Ten Islands. The islands may no longer be visible, but the location and the story of the 1864 battle live on. Events leading to the battle began on July 12 when Union Gen. Rousseau and his “Raiders” invaded the small town of Ashville. Their intent was to load up on supplies that “the enemy might have stored there,” according to Rousseau’s Aug. 10, 1864, official report to the War Department of his actions. After securing feed for the animals and food and clothing for his 2,500 men, the general and his raiders moved on. Rousseau continued in his report, “On the morning of the 14th, I proceeded with the main body of the command to cross at a ford at Ten Islands, four miles below Greensport.” The ford allowed crossing of the river, and here the Union soldiers met the Sixth and Eighth Alabama Cavalry. “The advance was met by severe fire from the enemy posted

Ten Island Park

on the east bank sheltered behind rocks and trees,” Rousseau wrote. However, heavy fire that was returned by his Fifth Iowa and Fourth Tennessee Cavalries allowed the Union troops to prevail. Rousseau reported 15 Confederate solders were killed, 40 wounded and eight taken prisoner. His army continued on its way south. Tom Cooper, Alabama Power supervisor of H. Neely Henry, Logan Martin and Weiss dams for many years, says the area was the perfect place to cross the river. “The ford used by travelers and troops to cross the Coosa was at Wood Island, where a slough came up. Wagons and horses could get across there.” The crossing was natural limestone, he explains. The 1864 battle of Ten Islands between Union and Confederate soldiers was fierce, but now the marauders are just everyday folks looking to have lots of fun. With a little imagination, they might just see Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett crossing the river here to reach Fort Strother in the early days of the Indian wars. Or hear the guns and see the action of those long-ago events that are part of this county’s history. Park attendant Alton Griffith has spent the past five summers watching over the recreation area at Ten Islands. “People don’t know about all this,” he says. “We have a boat-launching area and a fishing pier, a sandy beach and shallow water access, as well as picnic tables and restrooms,” he adds. “And it’s all free.” After he retired from Goodyear in Gadsden, Griffith looked for something to do that he would enjoy. “On weekends in the summer we might have close to 1,000 people, and the license plates on the cars aren’t all from Alabama. I like to meet and talk with people, so I like it here.” So do a lot of others. Directions • The revived Janney Iron Works (Calhoun County) sits on Janney Road (Hwy. 77 north of 144, right on Spring Road and left to Janney Road.) • To get to H. Neely Henry Dam directly from I-20, take Ala. Hwy. 77 north and turn left/west onto Ala. Hwy. 144. • From the Ashville area, take U.S. Hwy. 231 south to County 26 and turn left. Continue to Ragland, pick up Ala. Hwy. 144. The recreation area is a left turn just before the bridge.

30 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011


St. Clair County’s growth

hotspot We are a melting pot of industries that represent companies from around the world and close to home, offering an unrivaled business climate. A progressive city with progressive leadership, Steele continues to keep pace with Alabama’s fastest growing county. The quality of life is outstanding, and Steele’s proximity to larger metro areas makes Steele an ideal location for home or business. Come home to Steele, Alabama. We have it all!

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 31

Hummingbird Heaven By Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin

Every year, some of the smallest birds alive flock to St. Clair County

32 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

Close your eyes a minute, and you might think you’re at LaGuardia or some other heavily traveled airport as the whir of the air traffic heads in and out. But this isn’t LaGuardia, not by a long shot. And that whir you hear? It’s just the yearly flight of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird — hundreds of them — heading in for a good meal at a familiar St. Clair County landing strip. From the road, there’s not much to distinguish it from other residences in this Chandler Mountain neck of the woods. But step around back, and Bill and Jody Gilliland have quite a surprise in store.

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 33

Hummingbird Heaven Hanging from the backyard rooftop and dangling from clothes lines are rows and rows of hummingbird feeders, enticing these tiny creatures back year after year like regular customers to a local diner at lunch rush. And they have been back every year for more than a decade. “They’re fairly loyal if they’re breeding,” Bill Gilliland said. A lot of times, they’ll come on the same date. They’re loyal to their route. “We just furnish the yard and the birdfeeders is basically what we do,” he said, noting that he dedicates this time of year to keeping dozens of feeders stocked on a daily basis for his winged travelers. It takes about 200 gallons of sugar water a year to feed the thousands of birds in his yard. “I buy the sugar,” Jody Gilliland said, downplaying her role in the process. Her husband handles the rest. The Gillilands’ place has now become a hummingbird banding training station, where trackers from across the country and as far away as South America have come to train how to band a bird smaller than a person’s little finger. According to Brandee Moore, who is a licensed bander living on Chandler Mountain, the tiny, aluminum band with a letter and five identification numbers is slipped onto the bird after a momentary capture, and the number is registered in a computer system so that wherever they travel, their frequent flyer miles can be logged. The band on the leg corresponds to measurements, like their bill, their age and sex. The number will never be given to any other bird, so the recapture can tell the history of that particular bird. A hummingbird bander is not all that common — only 250 in the U.S.; not much more worldwide — because the bird is so small and has to be handled differently than other birds. To be certified requires a separate designation. And that’s why the Gillilands lend their property each year as a training ground. “They like them to band 100 birds here” to ensure that they can build speed and precision during the capture process, Gilliland said. And tracking their travels helps those who have an interest to learn about the habits of these fascinating birds. “We probably know about 10 percent,” Gilliland said. “We have lots to learn. But we know a lot more now than we did 30 years ago.” They first start appearing at the Gillilands each March when migration begins. The male comes first, and the females follow. In late March, they are in full breeding plumage — “iridescent green, like jewels,” Gilliland said. Thousands will make their way there each year through the end of October. “After Nov. 1, it’s likely not the Ruby Throated Hummingbird,” but some other species, like Rufous, Gilliland said.

Bander Brandee Moore teaches daughter Kallie about the use of feeders.

34 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

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October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 35

Hummingbird Heaven

Jody and Bill Gilliland tend to one of the feeders at their home.

A letter and five numbers are exclusive to the banded bird.

By mid-July, traffic starts “picking up,” and in general, they’re all gone by mid to late October. People who see hummingbirds in their yards generally think it is the same bird over and over again. In reality, though, if a feeder is feeding five birds, it probably is really feeding 25. “There’s a lot more you don’t see. What you see in the yard is four to five times more. “That’s what we learn from banding.” Gilliland, a retired State of Alabama engineer, and his wife, who also retired from the state, have always had an interest in birds. They were members of the Ornithological Society and the Audubon Society. They took continuing education classes at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and even taught some through the Audubon Society. They met Bob and Martha Sargent of Clay, Alabama, who founded The Hummer/Bird Study Group. The group is nonprofit organization founded to study and preserve hummingbirds and other Neo-tropical songbirds. And they have been heavily involved ever since. HBSG operates banding stations in Clay and Fort Morgan, Alabama. At Fort Morgan in the spring and fall, volunteers capture and band hummingbirds and other species because this coastal area is the first landfall and the last departure point for thousands of migrating birds. “We are in the hummingbird path, passing through from the north,” said Sargent. From the westernmost point, they come from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta Prov-

36 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

Myths and Facts about hummingbirds

A hummingbird nest built in a tree at the Gillilands is no larger than a green walnut. Two babies were hatched there.

ince and southern Canada. From the east, they come from the maritime provinces like Nova Scotia and Labrador, Sargent said. After their “nesting duties, they head south” en route to southern Mexico and northern Panama “and everywhere in between.” They are not cold-hardy birds, so when temperatures begin their descent, they in essence, “get out of town,” Sargent said. Over land, they stream southward through the Dakotas, Oklahoma and Texas. The eastern part of the population are transgulf migrants on their way to Mexico and Central America this time of year. He likened them to a broad river, spreading out. “They are not flocking birds. They are independent, ornery, aggressive and mean. They just don’t like each other, but it works for them. That’s the neat thing.” And that seasonal flight is something they have been doing for uncountable generations, Sargent said, “and the hummingbirds were doing just what they do now.”

Banding has been a key to tracing the habits and flights of the hummingbird. The process is so intricate that it requires state and federal permits to handle them. Migratory birds like these are protected under federal law, and those who try to handle them without being trained and licensed are subject to federal charges. When licensed banders go through the process of banding, they place feeders in cages — a special trap. When the birds go in, banders remove them by hand. “It doesn’t hurt them,” Sargent said. “It’s very efficient, a good, safe way. We’ve been using it 25 years or so to catch birds.” They are then placed in a cloth, mesh bag, and the “tiny, tiny, tiny” band is slipped onto the bird, Sargent said. It is so tiny, it would take 5,500 of them to equal an ounce. Sensitive scales are used to weigh the bird, which only amounts to a fraction of an ounce. “Let’s put it this way. If you could mail seven or eight hummingbirds, it would only cost you 44 cents,” Sargent said. They weigh only three to four grams, and there are 28 grams in an ounce. That’s the facts. Now for the myths: Myth 1 — Hummingbirds migrate on the backs of Geese. They do not. Geese head south long after hummingbirds have departed. Hummingbirds head south beginning as early as July and ending in November. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are heading farther south to southern Mexico and Central America. Myth 2 — Hummingbirds need more in their feeders than sugar and water. Wrong again. It’s four parts of water to one part of sugar. “That’s it, nothing else. No color, no additives or other mixes,” Sargent said. “If all the feeders were taken down today, it wouldn’t affect them one iota,” Sargent said. It’s a supplement. Their primary food is tiny, soft-bodied insects like gnats, fruit flies, aphids, mosquitoes and small spiders. Myth 3 — Hummingbirds must eat every 15 or 20 minutes or they will starve to death. Wrong. That myth has been around a long time, said Sargent. People are afraid to stop feeding them. “This time of year is southbound migration. The one you see in your yard today will be gone tomorrow and replaced by a new bird. They can do without us. They don’t need us. We feed them because we love to feed them.” Editor’s note: Sargent is soliciting help from Discover readers, asking them to leave a feeder up this winter. If they see a hummingbird after Nov. 15, contact him at 205-681-2888 or email him at This will help as the group studies the winter species of hummingbirds.

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 37

A view of the front lake from the crow’s nest above the roof line of The Ponderosa lodge.

38 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

The early morning summer sunlight bathes the front facade of The Ponderosa.

PONDEROSA St. Clair’s secret retreat By Loyd McIntosh Photos by Jerry Martin

Jeff Martin, one of The Ponderosa’s five owners, and sons Reed, right, and Miles admire a bass Miles caught in the lake on the property.

In the travel issue of the noted Southern magazine, Oxford American, published about 10 years ago, a few of the pieces focused on tourist towns, quaint little fishing villages and 120 year-old hotels. Most of the magazine focused on the writer’s favorite tranquil spot — a shady grove overlooking a stream here or a hidden coastal inlet there. Almost all of these pieces had one thing in common: secrecy. The pieces didn’t tell you how to get to that shady grove or where exactly they could find that perfect coastal inlet. The reasons varied from the desire to keep it from getting crowded to fear that ruffians would swarm en masse and begin spray-painting “Leroy Was Here” in bright colors all over the walls of their favorite spelunking cave. The Ponderosa, a sprawling estate in St. Clair County,

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 39

PONDEROSA St. Clair’s secret retreat The Ponderosa entrance gate

Deer heads line the walls.

The spiral staircase leading from the second floor of the cabin to the watchtower

follows the same template, not because Discover Magazine wants to keep it a secret, but because the owners want to keep it as big a secret as Bruce Wayne keeps the Bat Cave. In fact, one of the five principal owners of this sportsman’s paradise doesn’t even want to be identified. Henceforth, he will be known by another Ponderosa landowner’s moniker, Ben Cartwright. Although skeptical of the press coverage, Cartwright and fellow owner Jeff Martin are happy — but also a little skittish — about showing off this 711-acre getaway just 15 minutes from Pell City. To be honest, the five men who use the Ponderosa as a place to hunt, fish and relax, have legitimate reasons to want to keep their ranch a secret. The group used to hold weddings, church outings and other events at the ranch, usually as a favor to a friend rather than as a business model. Cartwright said they discontinued that after a particularly rowdy wedding party ended the night doing doughnuts in the grass. “When (Ben) told me you wanted to do an article, I said, “ ‘Dude. You realize what’s going to happen, don’t you,’ ” said Martin. But they agreed to let readers inside their paradise anyway. Visiting immediately puts the mind at a different place and time. The entrance features a Southwestern-themed formation of giant stones and a wide, iron gate with the name of the ranch emblazoned on the front. As you follow the dirt road to the poplar lodge, you may find turkeys wandering through the grass or maybe even a deer or two in the fall and winter.

40 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

Jeff Martin, one of five owners of The Ponderosa, kicks back in this sportsman’s paradise.

As one rounds the corner, the eyes are drawn to another rock formation, this one towering more than 20 feet in height located in the middle of the front lake. The entire ranch is immaculate and, perhaps most importantly, peaceful. It’s a far cry from the state they found it when the group purchased the property 12 years ago. “It’s amazing what we’ve done out there. It was all grown up. You could drive across the dam and hardly see the water,” said Cartwright. “They had let trees grow up all over the dam. The whole back side of the dam was all grown up.” Inside the lodge, the real purpose of the Ponderosa comes into focus: hunting and fishing. Everywhere you look you’ll see fish and other game all over the walls, most of them bagged by the ranch’s owners, friends or family members. There are deer and turkeys killed on the property, as well as other game animals. There is buffalo from Nebraska, a bobcat – stuffed and mounted to look as though it’s in a fight with a rattlesnake discovered on the property – and a pair of caribou from Alaska. Mounted high on the walls on either side of the stone fireplace, the massive caribou heads are always a conversation starter. “A lot of people come up here and ask, ‘Where did they come from.’ I tell them, ‘The Ragland Hunting Club was running some beagles through here and I shot ‘em both,’” said Cartwright. However, the pièce de résistance is a towering, eight-and-a-

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 41

PONDEROSA St. Clair’s secret retreat half-foot giraffe head, a memento from a hunting trip Martin took to Africa a few years ago. Martin had it shipped to a taxidermist in Lincoln before taking ownership of the giant head and displaying it at the base of the lodge’s staircase. As you could imagine, the sight of a enormous giraffe head is bound to bring up a story. Martin, the owner of Vicious Fishing, a highly-rated fishing equipment company with large sponsorships in the B.A.S.S. pro tour and other professional fishing organizations, said he has found a business purpose for the lodge in the fall. Each October, the Ponderosa plays host to a handful of pro anglers as well as writers from such media outlets as ESPN, Field & Stream and FLW Magazine. The week fishing on the lakes stocked full of bass, crappie, bream and catfish as well as the chance to test new equipment lines is a highly anticipated one for the writers and anglers, even if the Ponderosa is smack in the middle of a technological no-man’s land. “We’ll have six or eight of the best writers from around the country come in and five or six pros up here. They stay up here for about a week, and that’s what they get done. They get a lot of articles done for the upcoming season,” said Martin. “They’re always like, ‘Do you have wireless Internet so we can get our stories out on time?’ I always say, ‘Nope. You can get them out Monday when you leave.’” In short, the Ponderosa is the perfect man cave, an ideal place to cast a line or enjoy the smell of gunpowder without anyone telling you to put your feet down or put that cigar out – that is, if you can score an invitation.

A view of The Ponderosa’s great room from above.

The giant rock formation in the middle of the front lake. 42 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

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The bedroom provides plenty of sleeping and sitting space.

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 43


in deer and dollars during hunting season By Mike Bolton The brutal, humid heat that lay over Alabama much of the summer is almost a memory now. Weeks ago the 90-degree temperatures surrendered to refreshing mornings and cool, comfortable evenings. That most-welcome relief in St. Clair County changed idle chat on Friday evenings and Saturdays afternoons from power bills to football. For many residents in this county, the change of seasons also signals that time of the year when they get to play their own games. In a county where much of its 646 square miles remain rural, hunting is a way of life and an economic windfall in St. Clair County. Literally thousands of county residents are licensed hunters and thousands more come here each fall to hunt deer, squirrels, raccoons and rabbits.

Until 1972 squirrels were the most hunted game in St. Clair County, but the white-tailed deer is king now. Just 40 years ago, the county had very limited deer numbers, but like the human population, the deer population has exploded. The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources estimates that St. Clair County now has 30 to 45 deer per square mile. The latest census shows the county has 102 residents per square mile, meaning that for about every four or five citizens that live here, a whitetailed deer lives here, too. District wildlife biologist Randy Liles is one of many who has seen St. Clair County go from a place where spotting a deer track was an oddity to a county with a deer population that has exceeded the carrying capacity of the land. Increasing urban sprawl and an ever-increasing deer herd has deer eating in the

44 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

front yards of urban homes in many places in the county. Deer collisions with vehicles are also on the increase. Springville’s Dale Bowen has hunted in St. Clair County for four decades. He remembers how exciting it was when he and a group of others saw their first deer in the county in the early 1970s. Now, he says, seeing a deer here is common. “We don’t have the number of deer here like they do in the Black Belt, but we have plenty of big bucks,” he said. “In the Black Belt you might see 35 to 50 does standing in a food plot, and here you might see 15. But our bucks are just as big as most you’ll find there.” “It has by no means reached the level of a population like they have in west Alabama, but we have reached the point that there are now too many deer in St. Clair County,” Liles said. Although there are no exact numbers, an estimated 45 to 75 deer hunting clubs are believed to exist in the county. Couple that with the 6,397-acre St. Clair County Community Hunting Area located near Pell City, and county residents have no trouble finding hunting land close to home. St. Clair County, like most other counties in the state, has one of the longest deer hunting seasons in the nation. Bow hunters may hunt from Oct. 15 through Jan. 31. Gun hunters may hunt from Nov. 19 through Jan. 31. St. Clair County dove hunters get split seasons that run Sept. 3 through Oct. 2, Oct. 22 through Nov. 5, and Dec. 10 through Jan. 3. Quail hunters may hunt Nov. 12 through Feb. 29 this year, and squirrel and rabbit hunters have Oct. 1 through Feb. 29 seasons. While deer hunting clubs have become cost prohibitive to some during these tough economic times, the St. Clair County Community Hunting Area allows for affordable hunting. Hunting for small game is free on the state-operated management area. A $16 permit is required for deer and turkey hunting. “Parts of the community hunting area have pretty rough terrain, but it offers some of the best deer habitat that I have seen anywhere,” said Liles, one of the state wildlife biologists who oversees the property open to everyone. “It’s tremendously thick in some areas, but some of it is planted in pine plantations and is relatively open. “It has a real good population of both deer and turkey.” Liles says the community hunting area has a surprisingly good quail population and also offers excellent squirrel and rabbit hunting. A state hunting license is required to hunt on the property as well as a free map and WMA permit. Those maps and permits are available at Wal-Mart and Kmart in Pell City and the 231 Quick Stop, the K&N Service Station and the Raceway service station, all located on U.S. 231. The $16 WMA big-game license can be purchased at either of the county’s two courthouses or purchased online at While deer have become a common sight all across the county, many of those who see them see dollar signs rather than a Bambi look-alike. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that hunters in Alabama spend $799.3 million in hunting-related purchases each year on items ranging from guns, gasoline and food purchases to hunting leases and four-wheel drive trucks. While there are no county-by-county numbers, there’s no question that St. Clair County shares in that bonanza. Benefactors range from landowners who lease land to hunters to restaurants and farmer co-ops that sell fertilizers and seeds to hunting club operators. The USFWS reports that hunting creates 61,000 jobs in the state. Alabama’s 422,000 licensed hunters spend 7.6 million days

Springville teenager Courteney McNamee with her first buck and author Mike Bolton. hunting each year. “In the fall, one of the biggest things hunters and landowners purchase is plot mix for deer to forage on,” said Vince Champion at the St. Clair County Farmer’s Co-Op in Pell City. “They also purchase a lot of clover and, of course, fertilizer. “There’s other stuff, too. They also buy deer scents, deer feeders and corn. Deer hunting is a big part of our fall season.” Denis Waldrop, who operates a farm that caters to hunters, says St. Clair County has a lot to offer when it comes to all types of hunting. “St. Clair County is often overlooked when you talk about counties in the state that offer the best hunting,” he said. “I’d say we’re above average. We have a good population of both deer and turkey. We have a lot better population of deer and turkey than all the counties that surround us. “We have everything,” Waldrop said. “We have plenty of deer, gobs of turkeys, squirrel, rabbits, quail, doves and even ducks and geese. St. Clair County offers good hunting for all those species. “The good news is that even though it’s so close to Birmingham, there is plenty of hunting land available, and you can lease land for hunting as cheap or cheaper here than anywhere in the state.”

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 45

Business Briefing Hardee’s and Red Burrito

St. Vincent’s St. Clair

Wynter Byrd photo

Veterans Home

Old Names/New Looks

Fast food is spicing things up by way of Mexico with Leeds’ latest addition, Red Burrito. Sharing space with Hardees on Ashville Road, Red Burrito’s menu will feature favorites like burritos, nachos and enchiladas. Set to open on Oct. 12, 2011 this quick Mexican fix will leave a smile on your face and have you saying “gracias.” The Citgo/Flash Market located in Springville Station also has a new Hardees/Red Burrito that opened earlier this summer. No matter what part of the county you’re in, you stop by the Leeds, Pell City or Springville Red Burrito locations for a yummy treat. Jack’s in Pell City has been redesigned and relocated, complete with a new structure and ample, accessible parking. Moving a few blocks up the street to a more customer-friendly venue, Jack’s lovers can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner in a new restaurant. McDonald’s is updating its look. Constantly invested in the community where restaurants are located, McDonald’s is changing with the sign of the times. Striving to make sure their brand personality of being optimistic, playful and energetic shines through, McDonald’s is focused on making its customers continue to say, “I’m loving it.”

Pell City

The biggest economic news for Pell City and St. Clair County has to be construction dust flying along Interstate 20, where St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital, a new professional office building and Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home are making progress toward completion. First up will be St. Vincent’s St. Clair, which is on schedule to have an open house for the new 40-bed, 80,000 square foot facility Dec. 6. Actual move-in date is Dec. 10. The new state-of-the-art hospital will have the latest in technology traditionally found in larger cities plus new services like sleep lab and wound care. The 40,000-square-foot professional office building located adjacent to the hospital is slated to open shortly after if not at the same time as the hospital, according to Terrell Vick, chief transition officer at St. Vincent’s St. Clair. Half of the facility is being leased by St. Vincent’s and will have time share space for specialists, office space for OB-GYN services and the offices of St. Vincent‘s Family Care-Pell City, formerly known as Medical Center Pell City. The Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home, which is actually more of a community, is on schedule to be completed by the summer of 2012. It will have 254 private rooms and 80 domiciliary living units in neighborhood-type settings. One of the most anticipated ribbon cuttings on the retail front happened Aug. 31, at Publix in Pell City with customers lining up in the pre-dawn hours for the 6:45 a.m. grand opening.


Maximus Metal Roofing has set up shop near Peacocks in the Parlor in Argo. An award-winning roofing contractor, Maximus is a third-generation family business. Receiving the 2010 Angie’s List Superior Service Award, Maximus “takes great pride in every job they do.”


46 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair

Are those few extra pounds pestering you? Or maybe you’re trying to lose that baby weight (and your baby’s now 22)? Not to worry Cindy Dunn & Dr. Buckingham, MD, Weight Loss Clinic opened in mid-May at the Moody Professional Building on Moody Parkway. Dunn has 14 years of experience in the weight loss industry and says, “I want you to be happy and healthy. I want my patients to know you are treated

By Amanda Pritchard Photos by Jerry Martin like family at Cindy Dunn and Dr. Buckingham Weight Loss.” Offering antiques, art, gifts and home décor Moody now has a new unique one-stop shop at The Happy Willow. Grand opening was in midSeptember. As seen on their Facebook page, “The Happy Willow has fun and unusual items you probably won’t see anywhere else.” It is located at 2846 Moody Parkway. Healthcare has a new face in Moody at St. Vincent’s Family Care Center. Officially opening its offices on Aug. 24, the center is part of the St. Vincent’s Health System that is committed to serving local communities. Staffed by Dr. Kurtis W. Eaton and Dr. Ronald L. Bousman, they are dedicated to “providing care you can believe in, close to home.” Conveniently located at 2050 Village Drive, Suite 1, across from restaurant row, St. Vincent’s Family Care Center is ready to assist you with your health care needs. Jack’s is now in full operation at its Moody location. Working on the tagline of “Go With It,” Jack’s is celebrating more than 50 years of business. Its first location in Homewood, Alabama opened in 1960 and caught on fast. Still serving its signatures … fresh burgers, crinkle fries and hand-dipped shakes, Jack’s is all about serving the community. As seen at, “Many things have changed in our world. But one thing has remained the same: Jack’s is still serving up great food with a smile.” Red Diamond is making its final move to bring its full operation to St. Clair County. After more than a century located in Birmingham, the now Moody-based Red Diamond is putting the finishing touches on its food services plant. Known as “The South’s Finest,” Red Diamond began in 1906 under the helm of William Fitz Donovan. Naming the company Red Diamond because of a rare jewel’s unsurpassed quality, Donovan decided to make this his mission in always upholding this standard of quality companywide. Moving to Moody to stay in the greater Birmingham area, its current location at 400 Park Lane is a location Red Diamond could develop going forward. “We’re delighted our third building opening in October will bring all our existing divisions onto one campus,” said Bill Bowron, president of Red Diamond. “We continue to handle our broad line of food service distribution products. Having our company all in one place will allow us to provide a broad selection of products that we currently do not have in stock and have efficiency in our operations.”

Publix Grand Opening

St. Vincent’s Family Care Grand Opening

Red Diamond


Bringing a sense of style to her community, Teresa Downing opened O’Town Boutique. Located on US 411 by Fred’s and Domino’s, O’Town Boutique offers a little bit of everything. From juniors to plus size to dancewear, the latest looks can be found in the heart of Odenville at O’Town Boutique.


Quality hand-cut meats can be found at The Choppin’ Block Meat Shop located at 7790 US Highway 11 in Springville. Opened just in time for football season, The Choppin’ Block can assist with all your tailgating needs. Ground round for burgers or t-bones for a cozy dinner for two, this meat shop is ready to serve its customers.

DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 47

Miss Iola Roberts’ living

LEGACY John Lonergan & Wayne Spradley

John Lonergan and Wayne Spradley pose beside the portrait of their childhood mentor and former principal, Miss Iola Roberts. Facing Page: Lonergan painted the top left and bottom left and bottom right paintings. Spradley Painted the top right and bottom center paintings.

By GiGi Hood Photos by Jerry Martin Each beginning life might be compared to the first brush stroke on a simple piece of canvas. Both new, both existing for awhile amidst the unknown. Only time will reveal just what will develop; but time will not work alone. As life’s desires are born and flourish, they will become integrated with talent, patience, determination, imagination and a strong drive to achieve. And the ultimate result will be an evolution of art that will last far beyond any one individual’s lifetime. Such was the case of two St. Clair County boys. Both grew up as friends, products of the Avondale Mills mill village. One daddy was a fixer (a welder) at the village, the other, a weaver. Both boys shared a love of sports. They played together, skipped rocks over ponds, explored the woods and

attended school at Avondale Mills Elementary. They shared tales and created lifetime memories that exist to this day. Having shared much in their young lives, the analogy of life being compared to brushstrokes on a canvas has an enormously significant meaning, as well as an almost unbelievable parallel for Wayne Spradley and John Lonergan. Both mill village boys (who still are in their hearts) grew up to become hugely successful artists. Each man credits the teachers and administrators in Pell City schools for the multi-faceted educations they received. They agreed that their educational experiences were enhanced by the direction and encouragement they received as their talents emerged. John Lonergan fondly remembers Miss Iola Roberts, principal of Avondale Mills Elementrary School. “She loved what she did and she believed

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 49


John Lonergan shows one of his beautiful landcscapes education was not just about books. She was a great lover of the arts — dance, theater, sculpting, painting — all of it,” he said. “Any chance she had to promote the students’ interest in such avenues, she would take. “She was a great presence,” he explained. “Whenever she really wanted to get your attention, she would grab you by the chin to make sure what she was saying was hitting home. There was no doubt about her level of caring for the students.” A prodigious young man, Lonergan’s interest in art was apparent at an early age. “I was drawing by the time I was 3 or 4 years old,” he remembered. “I don’t think anybody thought that much about it because I was just a kid occupying myself and having fun.” Born to a family where hard work was the primary focus to meet the family needs, education seemingly took the back seat. But that was not the case in Lonergan’s life. It was placed in the forefront of his mind by his loving mother who aspired for him

to have opportunities outside the boundaries of a mill village. “From the time I was old enough to remember, my mother told me I was going to college. It was so deeply ingrained in me that I don’t think I ever considered not going,” he said. And, true to his mother’s wishes, he not only went to college, he graduated twice — once with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Alabama and the second time with a master’s degree in education and administration from UAB. Not long after he had begun to read, Lonergan was given a set of Child Craft books that were devoted to painting. “I was young, but I devoured those books,” he said. During his thirdand fourth-grade years, his teacher, Betty Cosper, was so taken with his work that she would cut out mats to go around the drawings and put them on the bulletin board. Upon entering Pell City High School, Mrs. Dorothy Roper Mays (affectionately called “Droper” by her students) picked up where the elementary teachers had left off. She, too, greatly

50 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

encouraged the development of his burgeoning talents. “One day we were talking, and I told her I wanted to be an artist one day. She quickly responded by telling me I already was,” he said. “That was a very proud day of my life. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, or where to begin, but I was determined to figure it out.” Before graduating from high school, Lonergan managed to sell a few of his paintings. His English teacher became his first customer when she purchased a snow scene that he had painted. “To this day, that painting still hangs in her home, and I still believe I painted the moss on the wrong side of the tree.” His science teacher also bought three of his paintings, as well as his aunt, who later he found out did so just to provide continuous encouragement for the young man’s talent. After graduating with his first degree, Lonergan was more determined than ever to make a living as an artist, even though as he put it, “artists made no money.” While still pursuing his dream, Lonergan supported his family by working in an area very near and dear to his heart. “I returned to Pell City High School as art teacher,” he said proudly. “With the profound mark teachers had made on my life, it was only natural that I had a desire to work with young people and sew seeds that might make a difference in their lives, just as teachers had done for me.” During the years he was busily sewing seeds at the school, his professional career took root, blossomed and bore the fruit of his dreams. After retiring from teaching, he was finally able to spend his days as the full time professional artist he had always wanted to be. Today he is considered to be one of Alabama’s finest artists. His ability to paint in different styles sets him apart from many of his colleagues. Many of his beautiful paintings, like one of his favorites, Purple Morning, are scenes from his own stomping grounds in St. Clair County. Others are from places like Pompeii, Italy. His art is known, appreciated, enjoyed and sold at well known topshelf art exhibits throughout the country, in places like Charleston, S.C., and Jackson Hole, Wyo. He also does commissioned pieces and displays and sells his art at The Little House on Linden Gallery in Homewood, Ala. With all his fame and success, Lonergan is living proof that the acorn doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Today he is still teaching classes at Alabama Art Supply in Birmingham. Many, like Mrs. Gene Stallings, have had and still have the opportunity to be taught by the boy from the mill village of Pell City who grew to become a nationally renowned artist. Career blossoms for Spradley Coincidentally, while Lonergan was beginning to arrive at his desired professional destination, Wayne Spradley, his childhood friend from the mill village, was traveling a very similar track. At that time, Spradley, who was a few years older than John, had already begun to make his first marks, as well as his first dollars, as a professional artist. Like Lonergan, he also was a product of both the hard working, close-knit people of the mill village and the influence of Avondale Mills Elementary School and then Pell City High School. He, too, had been privy to the school system that not only afforded a great educational opportunity, but one that nurtured and encouraged a strong interest in the arts. He was the first from his family to receive a high school diploma. “Looking back to my first school experience, I’m not sure how I made it,” he said. “When it was time to start kindergarten, I didn’t want to go. My mother literally had to drag me into school and even resort to sometimes whipping me up the


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October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 51

LEGACY Wayne Spradley holds a couple of pieces of his artwork that are currently displayed at Seibels in Homewood.

steps of the school. I don’t know why I was like that. I just had no interest in being there,” he remembered. Apparently a precocious child, Spradley said that because he was always into something, his mother wasn’t surprised when she was called and told to come to the school. “She wondered what I had done this time,” he said. “And, when she got there, the real surprise was that I had not caused trouble, but that I had sculpted a bird’s nest from clay that caused everyone to marvel at my supposed talent. I do have to admit I enjoyed the attention my creativity had stirred.“ During his fifth-grade year, Wayne was called to the blackboard by his teacher, Mrs. Bryant. His instructions were to draw a president. To his and everyone else’s astonishment, he drew the perfect likeness of George Washington. “Until that point I knew I liked to color, to sketch and mess around with art, but I never thought about whether or not I had any talent or desire in that direction,” he said. “But that’s where the teachers and my principal, Miss Iola Roberts, came in. They recognized my talent, and they did everything they could do to bring it to the forefront.” From the sixth- through the eighth-grades, Miss Roberts would allow Spradley and some of his other talented friends to forego class so they could prepare stage sets for the Thanksgiv-

ing, Christmas and Halloween extravaganzas that would be presented to the whole mill village. “In February, we would begin work on Miss Roberts’ famous Inspection Plays that would be held for the community prior to the end of the school year,” he said. “Even though I was excused from class, I still had to keep up with my school lessons. But the lessons I learned about artistic creativity were invaluable to my life’s work.” Spradley met his first real art teacher, Mrs. Armstrong, in the sixth-grade. She had just graduated from Auburn University, was really into art and could see the talent he possessed. “She would take me during study period, tell me to go outside and sketch, and then we’d talk about my work,” he said. “That was really helpful in my artistic growth. I loved helpful criticism then and I always have.” During his seventh-grade year, a teacher asked Spradley what he was going to do when he grew up. He answered that he was going to play football, be a sailor and an artist. “She got mad at me because all she wanted me to do was be an artist,” he laughingly remembered. True to his word, Spradley did all three. He was captain of the Pell City High School football team, he traveled the world in the Navy, and then he returned to Pell City, where he said he couldn’t buy a job. But the mill that always had been the main-

52 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 53


Top painting by Wayne Spradley, bottom two by John Lonergan

stay of his family’s existence, didn’t let him down and once again provided a way for him to make ends meet. While he was in the Navy, Spradley said, he achieved three things that were life-changing events. “I got an education in life, met and married Pat, my wonderful wife, and had time to paint and develop my artistic desires. I painted, sketched and continued to draw. I knew it was in my heart and soul, and that’s what I wanted to do for a living,” he stated. Finally at age 28, Spradley got really serious about his artwork, and thanks to the advice and direction of Mrs. Dorothy Mays, who had graduated from the Pratt Institute of Art, he used his GI bill to study three years at the Drawing Board School of Art. It was during his first year of art school that he discovered he could make money doing what he loved. He entered five pieces of art in the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Art Show, sold them all very quickly and made $25. Spradley said he was so thrilled by his success he told his wife that they were going to take the opportunity of selling his art as far as it would go. That day was the truly the beginning of his professional art career. No longer did he just hope that one day he could do it. The journey had begun, and he was resolute in his decision to make it a life time career. And make it he did. Invited to the country’s biggest art shows, Spradley has sold hundreds of pieces of his art, received awards too numerous to mention, and gotten to know people like Katie Couric, who commissioned him to paint her ancestral home in Eufaula, Ala. Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan have all been recipients of his work. His loving and supporting wife not long ago passed away. During her sickness, he was not able to paint as much or travel to the shows he loved. “I miss her terribly,” he said. “She was with me every step of my way and she always will be. The best thing I can do to honor her and all of her support is to get busy doing what we loved, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve already started, and hopefully, I won’t quit till my last breath. She may not be beside me, but now I have an angel on my shoulder.” Both men are amazing; both true to the gifts they have been given; both still teaching and encouraging others as they were taught and encouraged. Neither have ever forgotten their St. Clair county roots, steeped in the mill village, the friendships they forged and the teachers who put them on their paths. Both know that the teachers who recognized their talents, gave them their first accolades and always said “yes you can” were the ones who started them on the paths to the successful highways they still travel. • Both men are still St. Clair County residents where they are active in their hometown.

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October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 55

Fire Chief Vernon White points out the area where the tornado deposited the truck he was driving. He is flanked by rebuilding in the inlet hit hard by the storm.

Valley coming to life again Shoal Creek stands together through storm By Carol Pappas Photos by Jerry Martin Monstrous trucks carrying limbs and debris no longer lumber up and down the 17-mile stretch of Shoal Creek Valley Road as frequently as they once did. The air is no longer thick with smoke wafting from towering bonfires of cut trees and remnants from life in the valley before April 27. You might say Shoal Creek Valley is returning to normal. But this is a new normal for the 600 or so who live there — their lives forever changed since that fateful day when a mile-wide tornado swept through their valley, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

56 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

White’s turn out gear, packed in his bag that night, wound up in Ohatchee across the river.

Probably no one knows the new normal better than Shoal Creek Valley Fire Chief Vernon White. He met the tornado headon that night as he drove the volunteer department’s rescue truck en route to help others trapped by the storm. He and other volunteers had been cutting downed trees since early morning when another tornado wreaked its havoc on neighboring communities. When he heard the weather report late that afternoon predict a fierce tornado heading Shoal Creek’s way, White headed to the house. He wouldn’t stay there long. Radio transmissions of people needing help compelled him to leave his safe space and offer assistance. But as he turned the corner a few hundred yards from his home, he spotted the tornado heading right for him. “I didn’t have time to try to outrun it. It picked the truck up, turned it one time, and I grabbed hold of the steering wheel and laid down in the seat.” In the course of a few terrifying moments, the tornado deposited the truck into a nearby inlet of Neely Henry Lake. It landed about 30 or 40 feet out into the water, upside down. He used a knife to cut his seatbelt, and he swam to safety, suffering a black eye and a single cut to his face. “That about ended the day right there,” he feigned at humor, recalling the events of April 27. But the gravity of it all was not lost on his wife, Linda. “We are so blessed. God saved him because this man’s got more work to do here on Earth.” In the days since, he, along with countless others, have been doing that work, trying to put back together the pieces of their lives left by that day’s fury. Inspiring stories of modern-day Good Samaritans are as plentiful as the trees that once stood sentry over this peaceful valley. For White and others in the valley, one story stands out in particular, and there will be a constant reminder of it to passersby and residents alike at the site of the makeshift command post set up that night to coordinate rescue efforts. It is a sign built by warrant officer cadets at South Alabama’s Ft. Rucker, and how it came to be at Shoal Creek Valley is a story in and of itself. Six weeks earlier, it was time for the cadet class under the instruction of CW2 Brad Carpenter to adopt a mascot and a slogan, a tradition each year for these classes. The class’ mascot became “The Tornadoes” — their motto, “A force to be reckoned with, Sir.” When the actual tornadoes did forge a deadly path through Alabama, Carpenter thought out of respect to victims that they adopt a different mascot. He took emergency leave himself when the tornadoes damaged his own family’s homes, hoping to help. His mother, Elaine, lives near Pell City, and his cousin’s house was “two feet tall after that.” Insurance regulations kept him from helping there, so he turned his attention to Shoal Creek. He bought chainsaws, American flags, ropes and water and headed to north St. Clair County, only to be stopped again. They wouldn’t let him in at first, but his determination to “be effective” eventually opened an opportunity that led him to Armstrong Street. He spent the day helping a man he later found out was an Airborne Ranger and Vietnam veteran. “At the end of the day, he said I can’t thank you enough. I told him, ‘It was an honor to have helped you. We owe it to you, Sir.’” When he returned to Ft. Rucker, the mascot stayed the same, but the motto changed: “Stand Through the Storm.” “Standing through the storm. That’s what we did,” Mrs. White said. “We stood together, and we’re gradually cleaning up.” The men created a 4-foot-by-4-foot sign with the mascot and

CW2 Brad Carpenter dons his Tornadoes T-shirt.

The sign is to be erected near the command post in Shoal Creek Valley.

The back of the tornadoes logo sign tells the sentiment behind the sign.

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 57

Downed trees still remain, but much of the debris has been cleared from this area of Shoal Creek.

Shoal Creek Coming to Life the motto painted on it, and it was dedicated to the community in early September. “We donated it to Shoal Creek as a symbol to provide inspiration that things are turning for the better,” Carpenter said. The men raised money and donated that as well. “It is an awesome sign,” White said. “They are wonderful young men, wonderful family men. And it’s awesome what he has done for our nation,” he said of Carpenter, citing multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. “He is a blessing to me and should be a blessing to this whole great nation for the things he has done.” Here at home, Carpenter served once again, helping neighbors he didn’t even know before. After all, that is what life in the valley is about these days. Only one or two families are not rebuilding in a community that had more damage and destruction than houses standing when the tornado had run its course. “Neighbors helping neighbors,” Mrs. White said. “That’s what it’s all about.

Rebuilding a house at Alpha Ranch

Gary McBrayer marks roof truss for installation on the sawmill building at Alpha Ranch.

58 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

More help still needed in Shoal Creek

For Shoal Creek Valley Fire Department, rebuilding from the tornado is a costly endeavor. Insurance dollars don’t stretch far enough to fully cover the replacement of the department’s fire truck or the repairs and rebuilding of its stations. “We were lucky Gallant donated a truck to us,” said Fire Chief Vernon White, expressing his appreciation. Fundraisers, like a 5K run, are planned. And a biking tour of the valley is set for the April 27 anniversary. But help is needed in other ways. Volunteers are still needed in clean-up. Furniture is needed for people getting back into their homes. Drinks, cleaning supplies and canned goods are on the needs list, too. They can be dropped off between 10 and 5 on Saturdays. “Or call us, and we’ll pick them up,” said Linda White. Financial contributions are welcome and greatly appreciated. Send checks payable to Shoal Creek Valley Fire Department. The address is: Shoal Creek Valley Fire Department, 13370 Shoal Creek Road, Ashville, AL 35953.

1,000 wor d s or 1 p ho t o

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14 Seddon Point Pell City, Al. 35128 Contact at 205-515-1104 Email:

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October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 59

Old Haunts st. clair’s scary side

By Carol Pappas cide, she said. The same holds true in the small town of Ashville, Photos by Jerry Martin where its storied history has given birth to quite a few of

As Halloween approaches with its goblins and ghouls in full regalia, it is only fitting that ghost stories are on the rise this time of year. Oftentimes they are family folklore handed down from generation to generation. A tweak here, an addition there, and whether you believe it or not, it’s still a hair-raising ghost story — a firm foundation in our American culture. Perhaps the best ghost storyteller of our time and our state was the late Kathryn Tucker Windham whose storytelling went well beyond her 13 Alabama Ghosts. In a video interview for Alabama Ghost Trail now on YouTube, Windham admits she’s never seen a ghost but as with countless others, her fascination with the idea of them kept her telling those stories over and over again and adding new ones over her lifetime. “Actually, I have never seen a ghost,” she said in her signature Southern drawl. She has traveled to the origin of every ghost story she has ever told, “… and I have given the ghost every opportunity to meet my acquaintance, but not one of them has.” She’s just the storyteller. It’s up to the listener to de-

them. Whether you believe them or not, it’s up to you.

what’s that in the window? Just across the street from the county courthouse stands the Alemeth Byers House, built in 1825. Today it is home to Kell Realty, some strange sounds and the story of a ghostly image in an upstairs window. The story goes that a young girl went missing and was later found drowned in a well. A portion of the house sits over that well, according to Kell Office Manager Jeannine Farmer, and folks would say they could see the girl’s image in one of the upstairs windows. “Old houses are creaky,” Farmer said. “But we do hear sounds that are not explainable. Old houses are creaky, we tell ourselves as we go out the back door. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do admit to hearing strange noises.” Co-worker Karen Beasley talked of the history of the house, where a formerly paneled area under the staircase served as a secret hiding place for courthouse employees during the Civil War. And there was the time when

60 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

another colleague reported a coldness suddenly filling a room “and making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.” St. Clair County artist Nettie Bean painted the house for Kell as it looks today, a stately painting hanging prominently in the foyer. And if you look closely enough, you might just see the reflection of something you can’t quite make out in an upstairs window.

an eerie drumbeat Gen. Andrew Jackson’s military missions through St. Clair County are well chronicled. But a lesser-known

incident appears in Holly Smith’s book, Alabama Ghosts. She writes in a chapter called “The Haunting of Ashville” that Jackson dispatched groups of soldiers to destroy Indian villages they encountered. One such village was on Big Canoe Creek, and Indians there somehow found out about the troops but needed help from another village to fend them off. As a call for help, they beat war drums to summon the nearby village, she wrote. On a dark night, the sound of the drumbeat arose, alerting not only Indians but the colonel and his troops. When the colonel heard the drumbeat, he knew his men had to attack first or be ambushed, Smith wrote. The colonel and his men killed the chief’s two sons in the

October - November 2011 | DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair • 61

st. clair’s scary side

Jeannine Farmer points out the window where people report seeing a ghostly image.

attack and took prisoners, cattle and food supplies back to Fort Strother. And it is said that on cold, dark, moonless nights, a distant drumbeat can be heard.

courthouse tales And there are many a tale about ghosts in the courthouse, which was built in the early 1800s, where after dark, strange things seem to happen. You might be in the courthouse working late by yourself and an elevator goes up or down, the doors opening with no one inside, said St. Clair Archives Director Charlene Simpson, who used to work late there. Or a tapping sound is traced back to the building of the courthouse, where an Irish bricklayer would bring a jug of moonshine to work and consume it during the course of the day, Smith wrote in another of the book’s stories. As his work progressed, he would move the jug down the wall he was building. One day he was quickly called away while the rest of the crew finished the wall. He returned to find his jug had disappeared, and he frantically tapped up and down the wall, listening for any sign of his jug’s location, tapping well into the night. He never found the jug, the story goes, but courthouse workers and visitors report that on cold, windy nights they can hear a tap, tap, tap on the bricks of the west wall.

a haunted store From the old rock building on the corner of the courthouse square in Ashville, the McBrayer Grocery descendants have stories to tell about the ghost of Mr. Jones. Ashville Librarian Barbara Stewart, granddaughter of

the owner, said her grandfather and a Mr. Jones were partners who had a falling out. Her grandfather bought out Mr. Jones and later went into partnership with her father. As a young girl, she worked at the store with her father, and when they were in the store all alone, “It was very common for things to fall off the shelves. Daddy and I would laugh, and he would say it was just the ghost of Mr. Jones. He never does anything bad, he just knocks a loaf of bread off the shelf.” As her grandfather aged, he lost his sight and would sit in an old Coca-Cola chair at the end of the counter. “He always had the chair in a certain place,” she said. When they would close up for the evening, her father would put the chair back behind the counter and every morning when they returned, the chair would be back where her grandfather left it. It was not uncommon for loaves of bread to be lying on the floor, too. When they sold the store, Stewart said she told the new owners about the ghost. “He’s not a bad person, but that place is haunted,” she said. Quick to say she doesn’t believe in ghosts, Mrs. Stewart added, “It’s just one of those things.”

believe it or not “Nearly everything we encounter, there’s some scientific explanation,” concluded Tucker in that same video interview. “You can explain nearly everything. But ghosts, do they exist or don’t they exist? “That’s something you can decide for yourself, and the good ghost stories do not require that you believe in ghosts. I don’t care whether you believe in ghosts,” she said. “The good ghost stories are traditional tales, stories that have been handed down in families.” … Just like these.

62 • DISCOVER The Essence of St. Clair | October - November 2011

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Discover The Essence of St. Clair Oct. - Nov. 2011  

The October and November edition of Discover The Essence of St. Clair Magazine, serving St. Clair County and central Alabama.

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