Long ago Saturdays in Clanton (community correspondent)

Published 5:13 pm Thursday, April 7, 2016

Looking back: Downtown Clanton was known to be busiest on Saturdays. (Contributed photo)

Looking back: Downtown Clanton was known to be busiest on Saturdays. (Contributed photo)

By Scarlett Teel 

It used to be that Saturday in Clanton was the busiest day of the week.

The streets and sidewalks of Clanton would be teeming with families that lived in the outlying areas of Chilton County. The merchants had been preparing all week for the onslaught of people on Saturdays. The fathers had worked all week at their jobs and came into Clanton perhaps to be paid.



Those with automobiles or trucks had to use them during the week to get back and forth to work so the mothers and children had to stay home during the week to maintain the farm and gardens. Usually only the fathers and teenage sons had the skill to drive, but often the entire family came to town if to do nothing else than to visit the V.J. Elmore 5 &10 Store on the south side of Second Avenue after the father had been paid near the two banks, the Peoples Saving Bank and First National Bank.

Many of the cars also carried neighbors and walkers if there were any empty seats available. The roads leading into Clanton were also filled with walkers and mules and wagons. The hardware stores and the “dime” store had the few things that supplemented the handmade items that ran the farms and homes.

Often a loud clanging could be heard from a large metal box attached to a power pole standing near the corner of U. S. Highway 31 North and Second Avenue North. A policeman would get out of a police car parked there on U.S. Highway 31 North.

The policeman answered the telephone in the box and might drive slowly away to check on a situation that he had been called about. Soon he and his car would drive slowly back to the parking place, where he may get out and mingle with the crowds on the sidewalks for a while.

If it was during election times, there may be a rally on the courthouse steps. A car with bell shaped attachments sitting on top (loud speakers) may be going up and down the streets with someone telling about a planned rally. The rally might feature James (Big Jim) Folsom along with musicians with vocals and guitars as he ran for Alabama governor.

Other times, gospel evangelists may preach along with the musicians.

The courthouse was a popular place for it was in the center of town and had water fountains and public bathrooms, but sadly was still not open at that time to African-Americans.

Many times nuns in their habits and the father from the Catholic Nunnery and Church at Marbury could be seen on the sidewalks mixing with the crowds.

At different times of the year, Santa Claus in his red suit and maybe a lady selling small blue crepe paper flowers as a donation to veterans mixed with the people.

In the spring and fall, the sidewalks in front of the seed and feed stores were covered with vegetables and flowers to start gardens. The chitter chatter of small chickens to sell could be heard from the sidewalk, and if they could not be heard there, the deddies certainly could be heard from the back of the post office if you visited there for the rural mailman delivered some deedies to the farms.

Just before school started back in the fall, families could be in town to buy shoes for the children. The mother would be leading two or three children as she held one that was perhaps nursing at her breast as she guided them to the shoe store.

The proud children may have come from the shoe store after seeing their feet on X-ray through their new shoes—long before the dangers of exposure to X-rays were known!

Many times, the trains would slow down and pick up several passengers or let them off here. Soon the coal-powered train would ease out of the Clanton Station as it huffed and puffed out black acrid smoke to go on down the tracks to a watering station and another passenger station.

Soon you might see the hand-powered wagon from the post office come to pick up the mail that was left for Clanton. Many times I would ride in the pickup truck with my daddy, Mr. Lee Ray, and my maternal uncle, Mr. Fonza Cunningham, to bring Uncle Fonza to catch the train to ride back to Birmingham after a visit with the family and his mother, Mrs. Eula Cunningham Brown. Many times he would ride the Hummingbird, a well-known passenger train. I was fascinated by the sounds and sites of the fireman stoking the furnace that drove the train.

Along Second Avenue there also were drug stores, Wright’s and Upchurch’s, that opened directly onto the sidewalk. These were our drug stores in which prescriptions were bought.

The stores were not open on Sundays, but they were open until 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Each one had very busy soda fountains and grills that served wonderful treats from the fountain and perhaps a sandwich from the grill.

Other stores had freshly popped popcorn or peanut roasters with small bags of peanuts for sale. These locations served as the first employment opportunity for young men as soda jerks and the young women as sales clerks in the 5 &10 store.

As I fondly remember Clanton, my hometown in the 1940s, 50s and 60s was a busy place on Saturdays. I think more fond memories will follow.

Scarlett Teel is a community correspondent. Look for the next installment of her column in a future edition of The Clanton Advertiser.