Ed (W.A.) Lewis of the Etowah Historical Society brought a booklet to the Vagabond about someone from the Dwight Cotton Mill Village. It is called, “A USA Mill Town Saga of the 1900’s.”
Eugene Livingston wrote what he remembered about the times, hardships, laughter and love shared between two families, Jim and Ester Livingston and Roy and Betty Emery as they lived in the early 1900’s.
Mr. Livingston’s recollection of the times and events that happened in the mill villages of Alabama City and Lupton City, Tenn., as well as the other places mentioned, will captivate your imagination, make you laugh and cry. It will also take you back in history to the good times and the hard times and perhaps stir the memories you may have of your own families of years gone by.
“In the late 1800’s, two brothers named Mooney, I don’t recall their first names, left the little town of Rutherfordton, N. C., which is located in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains. They each had a horse, a saddle and a pistol. They were very successful, too. They decided to go to a place near Little Rock, Ark. So they staked out their claim which, by today’s standards, would equal the size of an entire county.
They oiled up their guns and ran off all the Indians. In those days, if you were man enough to take a claim and man enough to hold it, it belonged to you. They became very successful, owning a cattle ranch, a horse ranch and a gold mine, which was on their property. One of the Mooney boys married Lilly Roberts. They had three children. The first, a boy named Autie, and two girls, Esther and Betty. Esther, the older was my mother.
Lilly’s husband died from tuberculosis soon after the youngest baby, Betty, was born, Autie died from tuberculosis. I don’t know what age he was when he died, but I think he was in his teens.
A few years later, Lilly married a man named Russell Wooten. Russell and Lilly had two children. They both were born dead.
Russell had a brother named Charlie. A few years later, Charlie was working in Tennessee on a farm. The farm was owned by a man named Tom Galloway. Tom was a cousin of Charlie’s and Russell’s, He was a very successful farmer. His neighbors all said that Tom owned half the farms in that county.
He was also the president of a bank in McMinville. Somehow Charlie found out about the big cotton mill in Alabama and wrote to Russell. He said they were hiring anyone who wanted a job. The pay was good too, four dollars every two weeks. Now Russell Wooten was a man not afraid of work. He could lie down right beside it and not be worn a bit. Now, Charlie had him thinking.
He had two teenage daughters, why not move to Alabama City and put them to work in the mill?
So, he went down to the railway station and bought tickets to Alabama. So that is how they came to be in Alabama City. They moved into a house on Short Forest Street. Their neighbors were the Thompsons, the Emerys and the Livingstons, along with a few Italian families.
I don’t know how the Thompsons came to be in Alabama City. I was only about five years old when I first remembered about the Thompson’s. Grandma Thompson was married first to a man whose last name was Emery. She had four boys by Mr. Emery… Roy, Fred, Ernest and Lonnie. I don’t know much about any of them,
Ernest, the youngest, was never married. He was one of the best men I ever knew. If anyone needed someone to sit up with a sick person, Ernest was always right there to help. Back then, when someone was sick, another person would sit up with them all night to give medicine or, if it were in the summer time, to fan the sick person to keep them from getting too hot.
It got very hot at night in Northeast Alabama, what with no air conditioners or fans. If someone died, Ernest was always right there to help dig the grave.
I can’t recall much about Fred, I do remember that when the First World War was over, Fred came back with his wife. He had married a French girl and brought her home with him. She could not speak English. I don’t know what happened to them. Ernest, Roy and Lonnie all worked in the mill.
After the death of Mr. Emery, his wife married Mr. Thompson. Together, they had three girls, Cora, Mabel and Estelle. I never saw Mr. Thompson and I don’t know anything about him.
Now, all these children were growing up on Short Forest Street. They were now teenagers. There were the Thompson’s, Emerys, Mooneys and Livingstons. The boys started looking at the girls and the girls were looking at the boys, Roy Emery liked the youngest Mooney girl, Betty. Jim Livingston liked the other one, Esther. Roy and Jim both worked in the “Card Room” in the mill and they were courting sisters, so they became friends. This friendship was to last a lifetime. Their families were very close too.
There was a little passenger train that ran from Attalla to Rome, Ga, It passed through Alabama City, At some point in time, nearly all the boys and girls in Alabama City would ride this train to Rome on Saturday evenings and get married there.
The standard way this took place was that the girl would slip her clothes out of her house one item at a time and hide it at a girl friend’s house. The boy would do the same. Then on Saturday, they would slip out of the mill the back way so their dads could not get their money. From that point then they would go to the friend’s house and change clothes then to the train station and on to Rome, Georgia and get married.
By one o’clock, the dad would be waiting and waiting. When their daughter didn’t show up they began to get suspicious. They just knew something was going on. They would then check around and, sure enough, find out the boyfriend would be missing too. Alas, it would be too late by then, the train would already be on its way to Rome with them on it.
The parents would get together; there would be the wiping of tears and blowing of noses, then the dads would start getting mad. ‘The girl was not good enough for the boy – the boy was not good enough for the girl.’ The dads would want to fight, but didn’t.
By Sunday afternoon, the parents were resigned to the fact that they were in-laws. There would be the moving around of furniture and getting a place for the newlyweds. When they arrived on Sunday afternoon, there would be more wiping tears and blowing noses. The newlyweds would live with the parents of one for a short time, then they would find a house or rooms and move in. That’s how it was done in those days.
One day Esther and Jim made their trip to Rome. I am not sure, but I suppose Roy and Betty did the same.
Jim and Esther’s married life started off fairly good. They only had one problem, Jim was very jealous. Mama worked in the ‘Spool Room,’ which was downstairs, and Jim would have to run down several times each day to check on Mama.
My mother was very beautiful. Every time he would go down, she would be talking to some man. Then they would have a big fight that sight. One day Jim had a great idea. He would get her transferred upstairs to the ‘Card Room’ where he could keep an eye on her, which he did. After that, it was smooth sailing,
Jim and Esther had 11 children over the next 25 years. I, Eugene, was the first one. Then came Jesse, Mary, Maggie, Frances, Ruth, Estelle, Helen, June, Kenneth and Jimmy. Jesse died from the smallpox, Mary died from the flu, Frances from the measles and Kenneth from crib death.
Roy and Betty didn’t do very well. Their married life started off very stormy. Since they had no radio, television, telephone or car, they did not have much to do in their spare time.
They would fuss and fight like all other couples. Betty would get mad and go back to her mother, who lived two houses down the street. Roy would stay home by himself a couple of nights then go down to Grandma Wooten’s house and cry and beg Betty to come back. They would kiss and make up and she would go back with him.
This went on for some time. Then one day they found out about babies and how to make them. After this, things went along very smoothly.”
NOTE: Check again next week as we continue the story of Eugene Livingston and the Mill Village.