Fly High: Thorsby holding presentation of 1898 war flag

Published 10:05 am Monday, May 29, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

This fourth of July Thorsby High School is going to give residents a glimpse at one of the most prized possessions of one of its founding families, the Thorsons. Rally Around the Flag will be a presentation in the Helen Jenkins Auditorium that will be centered around an 1898 Spanish-American War flag that was gifted to one of Thorsby’s first settlers, Theodore T. Thorson.

Thorsby High School assistant principal Darren Denney spearheaded the program planning and researched the community and background of how the high school came into possession of the flag. Denney was first made aware of the flag and had to dig it out of the extensive archives that the high school has.

The flag had a short, five-page memoir from both T.T. Thorson and Milton Hannibal Smith explaining how their friendship grew in the earliest days of Thorsby, and how the flag was a gift from one close friend to another. Denney read through the memoir and formulated an idea to have a program on July 4, as well as use the program as an opportunity to raise funds for improvements around the school. The fundraiser portion will raise funds to help with items needing upgrades such as security hardware and software, educational software, building maintenance and classroom renovations.

T.T. Thorson was an important person in the early days of Thorsby. He purchased 2,200 acres of land and viewed Chilton County as a utopia based upon the “climate, soil, and communication with the outside world,” according to the memoir.

The Concordia Land and Improvement Association was created and the land was offered for sale “in 10 acres plots for $400.” For the Thorsby community, “the organization donated land for two churches — one Swedish Lutheran and the other for the Norwegians,” the memoir said.

T.T. Thorson continued to develop Thorsby by working toward educational growth. An advertisement in The Union-Banner in 1905 that Denney found during his research read “such parents who wish to come to Thorsby to educate their children we will give special rates on choice building lots within short distance of dormitory and college building.”

“From Smith and Thorson’s memoires we find reports of his father’s ‘assiduous enthusiasm; who spoke, in a then strange tongue, about the diversification of crops, enrichment of soil through legumes and the establishment of markets for agricultural crops,’” Denney said. “A well-educated and successful man, T.T. Thorson roused the interest of other magnates of the early turn of the century.”

T.T. Thorson met Smith, who worked with the L&N Railroad, and the two became close friends. The friendship helped fast track Thorsby to early success and development. The railroad selected areas to stop at and was strategically positioned to places with coal and iron. However, T.T. Thorson planted 10,000 peach trees and shortly after they would become additional cargo transported by the railroad because of how close it was to Thorsby, and the friendship between the two men.

The two were so close that T.T. Thorson named his youngest son after Smith. Milton Thorson followed in his father’s footsteps of caring about the Thorsby community and left his own positive impression on the area.

Smith gave the Thorson family The Spanish-American War flag as a gesture for their friendship over the years. Milton Thorson recalls in the memoir the moment Smith gave T.T. Thorson “the American Flag from the war in Cuba,” the memoir read.

“This American Flag, given so long ago in brotherly affection, still resides in Thorsby High School. The Spanish-American War flag, as it is now known, reminds us of the generations of American volunteers that came before us, answered the call of our nation and aided liberty on foreign shores,” Denney said. “We honor the gifts given to us, the Spanish-American War flag given to Thorsby and the freedom paid for by the service of our veterans. It is with our symbol of American freedom and friendship we will continue in the footsteps of our ancestors.”

Rally Around the Flag will be inside Helen Jenkins Auditorium at 11 a.m. on July 4 and will feature other items from the Thorsby High School archives. Other items that will be on display is a book of poetry that is signed by author Robert Frost and a 2007 To Kill a Mockingbird essay that won a national award written by Adrianne Farris. A photo of Farris with author Harper Lee will be with the essay.

A QR code to make a donation to the THS general fund is also available.