Mary Harrison Lister, Etowah Historical Society Founder, Part Two


The Vagabond recently traveled to Montgomery to the state archives, where he discovered several photos Mary Harrison Lister, the founder of the Etowah Historical Society.

The following piece is a continuation of a book written by Elbert L. Watson about Mary Harrison Lister:

“My next direct contact with the society was at its Christmas gathering held at Mrs. Lister’s beloved Aloha Lodge on Harts Avenue. It was bracing cold outside that night, but inside there was a blazing fire in her log-filled fireplace.

“By a pre-determined plan of Mrs. Lister, I am sure, Ramona and I were quickly separated and oriented to various groups, whose purpose it was to help us overcome our inhibitions. 

“There was a brief business meeting that night, but no paper. It was a gay and relaxing evening in keeping with the season of the year. This was as [Mary] wanted it.

“I was overwhelmed with the friendliness of the people. Mrs. Russell Hooks, in her sweet little manner, provided me with a long and delightful visit. 

“Mr. George Floyd sat with me throughout the latter part of the meeting, his hand on my leg and patting me occasionally as he talked. When we took our places with the others for the group picture, Mr. Floyd was by my side with his hand on my arm.”

Building a friendship

“The opportunity to know Mrs. Lister better was not long delayed. One Sunday afternoon in January 1955, she called on us in the unpretentious parsonage in which we lived at that time. She possessed an innate ability to identify herself with people and their inner needs. This is what she did with us on that brisk, sunny afternoon. 

“By that time things were looking up for us in our church work. I even had people to preach to on both sides of the aisle, which ran down the middle of the sanctuary.

“But the task ahead still seemed extremely difficult. Mrs. Lister, to lift my spirits, told us of the struggle through which her own congregation, the First Christian Church, had gone, since it began in a tent meeting at Eighth and Forrest in July, 1917.

“She herself was a charter member and the first teacher of the Young 8 People’s Sunday School Class. She knew and understood what we were up against, but she was confident that, in time, tangible results would become apparent.

“Through her visit, Mrs. Lister had opened wide the door of friendship, so a few weeks later I made an afternoon call on her. Mrs. Tom Sansom was leaving just as I stepped upon the porch, and I was afraid that I had interrupted an important committee meeting.

“Mrs. Lister quickly put my mind at ease, and a long and rewarding visit ensued with her and Margaret in front of their imposing fireplace.

“As you know, Mrs. Lister loved to talk, and on this day she found an avid listener as she told me of the exhaustive research she had done into the life of Emma Samson. She enthralled me as she recounted her quest to locate Mary Blair, the little girl who was with Emma on that memorable day when the young heroine guided General Forrest across Black Creek in pursuit of the Federal raider, [Col. Abel] Streight. 

“When I departed almost two hours later, I went directly to Black Creek to see the marker erected by the society in 1953 in front of Samson High School. I then visited the Sansom family burial site, upon which years earlier the United Daughters of the Confederacy had erected an impressive monument. 

“As the evening shadows chased away the receding sunset, I left for home, my thoughts completely interwoven with the brilliant history of a wonderful community.

“I was with Mrs. Lister on many happy occasions during 1955. I well remember the time when we located the long-forgotten gravesites of Judge and Mrs. Lemuel Standifer, who came to Gadsden shortly after the Civil War. We then visited another ancient cemetery overlooking the Coosa River near the Holy Name of Jesus Hospital. Through excursions such as these, I acquired a depth of historical knowledge about Gadsden and Etowah County. 

“Although Mrs. Lister was careful not to reveal her age, I surmised that some of the information I was getting came from firsthand experiences.

“I also learned that she was no novice when it came to understanding politics and politicians. Here, too, she spoke from personal experiences, and her convictions and prejudices were well defined and easily understood.

“One never had much trouble finding out where Miss Mary (as many people affectionately called her) stood on either the issues or personalities, and astute office-seekers rarely failed to consider her influence during a campaign.

In April, Mrs. Lister attended one of our services during a youth revival meeting held by a young man, who in 1947 had been a star pitcher for the Gadsden Pilots of the old Class B Southeastern League.

“As a speaker, he was not particularly effective, but he was obviously a person of deep sincerity and Mrs. Lister recognized this characteristic in him. She seemed to be as greatly impressed with him as though his tongue were sending forth golden orations, and often inquired of him following that one visit. 

“This was another mark of Mrs. Lister’s gracious life. She could detect insincerity as have few people I have known. I would never have dared been anything less than completely honest and forthright with her, knowing full well that another course would have incurred her enmity and lost for me a friendship of priceless treasure.”

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