The Vagabond – Grocers who relished a good argument


By Danny Crownover

Persons who traveled in this section during the 1870s were told to stay away from Walnut Grove that if they wanted to win an argument, no matter what the subject night be. Apparently, country storekeepers Dean and Whaley knew everything about everything in western Etowah County.

Major L.W. Dean, a Baptist, was largely a self-educated man. He read the classics, was steeped in history and could read the Bible in the original Greek. Whaley was a Methodist minister and was a member of the North Alabama Conference. Neither man carried a chip on his shoulder nor was ever spoiling for an argument. They were quiet and unobtrusive but would accept a challenge to debate any subject.

A country store located in a place like Walnut Grove was an educational center. Dean and Whaley had time for study and for argument when the occasion arose to discuss religious, political and business subjects. It was a fact that no two men in the county were better informed. Curiously enough, nobody ever heard of them getting into an argument between themselves.

In the late 1800s, very few people who went to Walnut Grove failed to call upon the general merchants, as their store served as a news center and public forum and wherein both men and women talked over the issues of the day.

Dean and Whaley eventually moved to Gadsden and established a general store in a wooden building on the north side of Broad Street between Fourth and Fifth streets. They later moved into the Kyle Opera house building, which later became the Woolworth building.

Dean resided at the southwest corner of Broad and Sixth streets. His children later sold part of the place for the site of the Gadsden’s post office building.

Whaley resided for years in a house that occupied the site on which the seven-story Phillipson building was built on the 500 block of Chestnut Street. Some years later, he moved to Attalla where he established a store and eventually became mayor. Whaley also did a great deal of preaching in the area.

Dean’s son Bobo was owner of The Miami, Fla., News newspaper when it was purchased by Florida’s governor at the time.

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