Historic home holds family story

Published 8:58 am Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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Editor’s Note: This article orginally published in the 2021 edition of  Generations. Copies are available at The Clanton Advertiser office.  

By JOYANNA LOVE / Managing Editor

Residents driving on Collum Street will pass a raised-cottage home built in 1895.

Many may have no idea that the home holds significance to Jemison history and to the street itself.

Burton E. Collum had the house built in 1895 and lived there until his death in 1921 at the age of 53.

Today, Elisabeth Altamirano- Smith, husband Domingo Altamirano and baby son Solomon are the fifth and sixth generations of the family to live in her great-great grandfather’s house.

“He was born in 1867, and he was really … really successful for his time,” Altamirano-Smith said.

Collum and his wife Catherine were from the Rocky Mount community, which was a smaller community near Jemison at the time. Today, a church and a cemetery is all that remains of it.

Collum opened a dry goods store on the main street at the time, in what is today referred to as Old Town Jemison.

“He was a justice of the peace, and he was also postmaster, which was in the train station at that time,” Altamirano-Smith said. “He was a Free Mason and there was an organization called the Order of the Odd-Fellows … he was a member of that.”

Many aspects of the home are still original to when it was built. Altamirano-Smith said the windows “are unique because they are poured glass.” This technique puts a slight wavy pattern in the glass.

Many of the original porcelain doorknobs, fireplaces and hardwood floors have also been preserved.

One of the defining features of the house would have been the hallway from the front door to the back door.

“You could just open the doors and let that be like your cross breeze,” Altamirano-Smith said.

A portion of the hallway was closed off in the 1920s when a bathroom was added.

The way the windows are placed in the house still allows for good air circulation.

The interior of the house was constructed using tongue and groove.

“The pieces of wood are fit together like a puzzle,” Altamirano-Smith said. “The whole house is like that.”

This eliminated the need to use nails.

An old smokehouse still stands on the property.

“To keep their meat, make it last a longer time, they would smoke it, like a jerky,” Altamirano-Smith said.

While the house has stayed in the family, there have been times when it was rented out.

This Collum family photo from 1940 shows Collum children, from back left, Zella, my great-grandma Hazel, Lila, Ida, Ruby with, from and sitting, their mother Catherine Thames Collum and son George.

“Papa Collum, after he died, Catherine, his wife, … she was really a savvy business woman, she put in outside doors leading into some of the bedrooms here … and she rented those out to renters during the Depression,” Altamirano-Smith said.

She moved in with her daughter Ruby during that time.

“After my (great-great) Grandma Collum died in the ’50s, they rented this house out again for a few years,” Altamirano-Smith said.

Her great-grandmother later purchased it from the other members of the family. She then did some renovations.

“The house … it is almost like a family member,” Altamirano-Smith said. “There have been people in our family that have been born here, that have died here. We have had funerals here. Our annual Thanksgiving that

used to host 20 people was here, and it is just such a big part of our family for so long.”

As a child, she would come visit her grandmother during the summers. After her grandmother died in 1998, the house was rented out again and was vacant for a while.

“I saw the house slowly depreciate,” Altamirano-Smith said. “I guess in 2015, I started wanting to fix it up, so I started coming here to kind of clean it up.”

Utilities were not working and the house had become unlivable. Altamirano-Smith acquired the house and made it her mission to fix it to the point she could live there. She tried fixing what she could and hired people with expertise.

“It is such a big project … I wrote it all down in phases,” Altamirano- Smith said.

Phase 1 was what was essential to complete before she could move in, including having the water and power work. Phase 1 was complete in 2017. Through these projects, she met her future husband.

She moved into the house a month before her wedding.

There are still projects to complete, but the once empty house continues to be a home for the descendants of those who first lived there.