Sunday, June 14, 2015

Brantley's 'Early History of the Alabama Baptist Orphanage' - Part 3

(In October 1978, The Evergreen Courant newspaper in Evergreen, Ala. published a lengthy, three-part series of historical articles called the “Early History of the Alabama Baptist Orphanage.” Written by Mary E. Brantley, the first installment of these articles appeared in the Oct. 12, 1978 edition of The Courant. The other two installments appeared in the Oct. 19, 1978 and Oct. 26, 1978 editions of The Courant, respectively. What follows is Part 3 in its entirety. Enjoy.)

[The last of a series of articles.]


Former Members-Matrons-Teachers-Friends in Evergreen

I have written many letters to former members of the Home and have had personal interviews with some citizens who lived in Evergreen when the Orphanage was there. I shall present a few of their comments in this last installment.

Helen Overstreet (Mrs. B.W. Purvis) lives in Atmore and she was a member of the Home family from 1916-1922. She has many fond memories:

“It was one of my greatest joys to be able to do something nice for the Andrews sisters – ‘Miss Hattie’ and ‘Miss Rosa.’ Sometimes I had the opportunity of cleaning their room and placing a few fresh flowers on their table. I also had the honor of escorting visitors through the Home on many occasions.

“The dining room was located in the main building and all children ate there. The chief cook was a Negro man called Buster Stokes. I can still see those large tins he used for baking biscuits. Chicken was served only about three times a year.

“Times were hard during World War I. Money did not come in from the churches, and regular donors had none to send. Dried beans with cornbread was served one day and dried peas, the next. Sometimes fruit was brought in by the good farmers in the neighborhood and this was used for cobbler pies so each child could have a taste. The milk had to be saved for the babies and young children.

“All the washing and ironing was done in the laundry room. We only had old fashioned flatirons; sometimes the handles were broken but we had to use them. During the war there was no soap and we had to make lye soap from the grease saved from cooking.

“Girls wore lisle stockings and after many washings, the turned green-looking but they had to be worn to church regardless of color.

“The ‘flu’ epidemic was one of the worst experiences for the children and staff members. All the girls were in one large ward. One girl, Ida Beethescom, died one night about three o’clock. We were all asleep and her body was removed without anyone knowing it. It was three weeks later before we knew she had died; we all thought she had been taken to a hospital. Ida was buried in the Old Evergreen Cemetery. I remember while we were all so ill, Mr. Robert Long Sr. visiting the Home, bringing boxes of oranges to us. The orange juice tasted so good to our feverish throats.

“When Rev. Spinks was superintendent, some of the older boys and girls would accompany him on visits to other churches and we presented programs of songs and scripture. Many long passages of scripture were memorized for these special programs. We thought the money placed in the collection plate would be ours, but to our disappointment, it always went to Rev. Spinks, who turned it in to the finance committee. There were so few opportunities for us to earn any spending money. We were allowed to go to the picture show (movies) on Saturday afternoons if we could pay our way. Once in a while, my grandmother sent me and my two sisters, Lillian and Georgia, a little money.

“With all the hard times endured while living in the Home, I think it was a wonderful haven for children without a home and I thank God for all the blessings which were mine during those six years spent in the Home.”

The Finch home was located on the same street in Evergreen as the Orphanage. Mrs. Finch always invited the older girls to her scuppernong arbor when the grapes were in season. Her little daughter, Louie (Mrs. Guy Sharpless) loved to play with a little crippled girl, Cora Beatty, who lived in the Home. Mrs. Sharpless says, “My mother went after Cora Beatty every Saturday morning and she spent the day with me. I loved to walk on her crutches and we would take turns walking on them. We were friends for several years and were always together on Saturdays.”

The Robert Long Sr. family lived in Evergreen when the Orphanage was there. While Mrs. Long was living, she often repeated this little story:

“Many times I visited the Baptist Orphanage. One time, before Christmas, I escorted a group of small boys to town. On the way back, we passed a corner grocery store, and I told the children that each might go in and select one piece of fruit to carry home. After we were in the store, one little boy spied a barrel of coconuts and went over to pick out one. All the others decided that was what they wanted too. It was amusing to see these children trudging that long mile home with their coconuts. I hope they were rewarded with some ambrosia or coconut cake that Christmas.”

One of the teachers in the Home for two months in the spring of 1919 was Hattie Pate (Mrs. H.H. Rodgers Sr.). Mrs. Rodgers says, “I have only happy memories of working with the children. I loved everyone of them, and I can’t recall any discipline problems. Father Stewart had returned to the Home as superintendent. The Andrews sisters were there and a Mrs. Haroldson was the nurse. I have treasured these friendships through the years.”

Rev. Hudson Hicks, a retired pastor, now living in Morristown, Tenn., tells of his stay in the Home:

“My mother died in the fall of 1914. I, along with my three brothers and a sister, entered the Children’s Home at Evergreen on Dec. 29, 1914. I moved to Troy with the others, when the Home was relocated there. I graduated from high school in 1926; graduated from Howard College in 1930. I served as pastor in several churches in Tennessee and retired after a 20-year ministry at First Church, Morristown.

“As a product of the Home, it was my honor to have known every superintendent of the Home, including Father Stewart and Rev. A.G. Spinks. I have been successful because of what Alabama Baptists did for me.”

Miss Bess McCann, registrar for Troy University, has written a beautiful paper on her “Memories.” I shall use only some excerpts from her article:

“I spent eight very normal, busy, healthy years at the Children’s Home in Evergreen and my memories, as I look back, are pleasant.

“I was always in the main building and in the parlor there was a big, black, square-shaped piano, on which I was given music lessons.

“We did work in shifts and I seem to remember dining room and dairy shifts vividly. I did lots of churning in a big barrel churn. We slept dormitory style – long rows of beds. Some of the older girls slept in the private bedrooms of the old Rabb mansion.

“The boys’ building was known as the Bush building, and it was located across the campus from ours; my two big brothers lived there. My older brother soon joined my sister in Mississippi.

“There was another cottage called the Scott building, I never knew the reasons for these names. We had school on the third floor of the boys’ building until the New Building (it was always known as this) was completed. (This building was never completed.) There was a brick kiln on the place which had been used in plantation days. The dairy house was definitely of the plantation days construction, out of native brick.

“In the early days, some canning and preserving was done by the older girls and helpers. I remember the little girls helped pick tomatoes, strawberries, peas and beans. Much of our food came to us from our church congregations. Many of them paid their pledges from farm produce. At one time someone gave us bakery equipment and we baked bread for our own us, and sold some to our Evergreen neighbors. We delivered the bread in push carts, and I was one of the girls who pushed a cart.

“The Home was about a mile from town, and the carloads of produce had to be hauled this distance. My very resourceful brother, Tom, raised two steers and rigged up an ox-cart and did most of the hauling. The management paid him a little. Old Buck and Ball, as he called his team, became quite an institution on the place and in town.

“Some of my happy memories came from these excursions of my brother and those noble steers. Tom would come through town on Saturday, after his job was done, and buy a box of crackers, a can of sardines, and a can of condensed milk; the three of us would have a picnic. Some of those wonderful family gatherings took place in the cemetery which was on his route, a level vault served as our table, and this was the best food I can ever remember eating in my life. These little three-party picnics were looked forward to with long anticipation.

“The various missionary societies sent clothing to us. For dress-up clothes, we wore uniforms, frequently the sailor type of dress, or pink or blue chambray in summer and blue serge in winter.

“Personalities to be remembered include our matrons and teachers. My favorite teacher was Miss Jessie Stitt, her influence on my life was good and strong. Mr. and Mrs. Pittman had charge of the boys’ cottage. The never-to-be-forgotten matron of our house was a Mrs. Garrett of Scottsboro. Mrs. Garrett could-and-did-make other kinds of impressions! She was our ‘spanking’ matron, and misdemeanors never escaped her vigilant eyes. Usually we worked in groups, played in groups, got into trouble in groups and were disciplined in like manner. We ‘lined-up’ for everything. We lined up to go to school, to go to church, to go anywhere and we ever lined up for disciplinary purposes! The troubled line soon became two lines – the spanked and the unspanked, it was not long before we learned to drift over to the proper line and start wailing, and in this way escaped a painful experience. She was never severe, that is not often and we knew she loved us and we even loved her a little!

“Dr. Hagood and Dr. Stallworth made frequent visits to the campus for health duties, and we were devoted to them. I do not have happy memories of the dentist visits.

“Many Sunday afternoons, Mr. Sinquefield came after our Sunday School was over and took us hiking. We learned to find and distinguish wild flowers, birds and little woods animals. We had fun on these hikes.

“We attended regular services at the Baptist Church. Mr. Black, a music teacher in the high school next door to us, played the pipe organ. Dr. Dickinson was the last pastor I recall and he was the one I remember best. We had funs picking up pecans as we passed Mr. Crumpton’s home.

“There were several annual festivities. We always celebrated ‘The Twentieth of May,’ we never knew why, except it marked the closing of school and the day we could take off our shoes and go barefoot. We always had big commencement doings and I played either a duet or a piano solo. On the Fourth of July, Father Stewart packed us all in the farm wagons, with a fried chicken lunch, and we would go to an old swimming hole for a picnic. On one of our picnic trips, a man gave us a crippled lamb, which we raised as a pet. All went well, until he became a big sheep, and took pleasure in butting us down. The inevitable happened; he was served to us for dinner one day – but on that day we fasted!

“It was always a happy time for the three of us, when our older sister came for a visit. She had been left with a member of the family when we were placed in the Home. When I was a teenager, my sister married and moved to Mississippi. It was not long before she found homes for us in the little town in which she lived, in order to have us near her.

“The heart and soul of the Home was Father Stewart. He had a knowledge of each of us. When his day’s work in the office was over, we would walk home with him. During those walks, he talked to us of our achievements, our ambitions and our gripes. He knew each of us by names and by history. He was truly a great man, and has been a wonderful influence on my life and philosophy.

“After I was graduated from high school, I went to Hattiesburg’s Normal School. From there I entered George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, from which I graduated. I became a part of the administrative staff at Peabody, and remained there until I came to Troy as Registrar in the College.

“I have always been grateful to the Home in Evergreen for taking me in and for giving me such a good start in life.”

Another former citizen of Evergreen, Annie Ruth Hagood (Mrs. T.P. Whitten) says she remembers her grandfather, T.S. Hagood, taking baskets of peaches from his farm to the Home during peach season. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees. She remembers when the last group of children left on the train for their new home in Troy. Many Evergreen citizens were at the depot to tell the children goodbye.

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