Tri-City Ledger -

By Kevin McKinley
Guest Writer 

Railroads helped shape communities


May 16, 2019

By the late 1800s, the L&N Railroad had become one of the major economic engines in the area. Not only did industry thrive on the ability of railroads to convey goods, but the railroads also provided rapid movement of travelers as well as news along its steel rails which cut through the rapidly disappearing virgin pine forests of the area.

Salesmen, coming from Pensacola, often took the rails to Flomaton and other locations where they would depart and go door to door plying their trade which sometimes would be elaborate goods and other times would be as simple as sharpening scissors and other cutting devices around the home for a small fee.

People who provided support and who worked for the railroads were known up and down the lines. Keziah Lowery of Canoe chopped wood for the railroads, cut cross ties and rode the L&N to Montgomery to get the local pay-roll. She was a widow whose husband had been killed in a dispute over a dog. Her son, Andrew Monroe Lowery, went on to become pastor at Canoe Baptist Church and later helped found Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola.

Another railroad employee, Andy Driskell, worked up and down the lines supervising men who maintained the rails.

Railroad employees were often held in high esteem and men such as Mr. C.P. Atmore, the general passenger agent for the L&N, soon found the town of Williams Station renamed in his honor.

To the east, after the War Between the States, the railroad barons decided the rail connections should be located about 7 miles south of the old Pollard terminus. This move created the catalyst for present day Flomaton.

When the new line was surveyed, the residents began to move to the juncture and in the early days named the town Reuterville for Major Reuter, the contractor who drove the last spike joining the railroads of the Mobile and Great Northern, which by then was known as the Mobile and Montgomery. The rails were now connected to the railroad going south to Pensacola.

Yet many people continued to call the little community “The Junction.” For a time the town was called Whiting but this created confusion with the postal service. Eventually, Dr. James A. Wilkerson called a town meeting with the result being that the first three letters of Florida and the last two letters of Alabama would be joined to make the town’s name, the postal service added “ton,” for town and thereby Flomaton was born. This result would have seemed unlikely had their not been a railroad connecting the two states and centered at the state line.

As mentioned above, railroad workers were held in high regard by the local populous and usually considered prominent citizens in their home towns. When one of the employees died, it was big news. Below is a portion of the obituary, printed in another town, of a prominent Flomaton resident:

“JOHN W. BAILEY DIES IN SELMA HOSPITAL-August 12, 1922, John Wesley Bailey, a well-known and highly esteemed citizen of Flomaton, Ala, who was brought to a Selma hospital for treatment a week ago suffering from serious heart trouble, died at 9 o’clock this Saturday morning. The remains were taken in charge by the Breslin Funeral Directors, of this city, and prepared for shipment on the Pensacola southbound train Sunday morning, that leaves at 9:30. Funeral services will be held on the arrival of the train at Flomaton, conducted by Dr. D.W. Bosdell, Baptist minister, followed by interment at the local cemetery…..His was a gentle, fine personality that won for him many friends among all the classes of people. Always considerate and courteous in his position as agent at the Flomaton station, his friends are numbered by the score, and are at almost every point in the country. Not many passing through Flomaton but retain pleasant memories of Mr. Bailey’s unfailing kindness and thoughtfulness to them in some way….”

Adding to the communal nature fostered by the railroad was the passenger train. Never before in world history had transportation proceeded across so much geography so quickly.

Locally it was no different. It has been said that men could hail the train as it passed in the early days and men such as Burgess Miles at Wawbeek, at that time called Miles Crossing, would often stop the train and catch a ride to Mobile or Pensacola.

Trains would carry doctors, attorneys, teachers and others to employment from where they lived, to other communities. Stories exist of local attorneys having coffee together at the old Flomaton depot while awaiting a connecting train to the old court house in Brewton.

By the mid-1900s, rail service was a common scene in the area but the days of hailing a train along the railroad was over. Trains like the L&N’s Humming Bird would zip through places like Canoe Station and snatch the mail bag from a hook at the station while throwing out another mail bag for the local post office to disseminate.

In June, 1947, the Humming Bird, made its morning stop in Flomaton at 3:09 AM. Later, the northbound Humming Bird came through at 3:55 PM. This was a time of great passenger travel on the rails. Dinning on the rails was elegant and a grand affair. For those who departed the train for a quick sandwich at Flomaton’s Depot, it was a rapid fire meal.

Helen McKinley, who worked at the depot’s sandwich counter in the early 1950s, remembers servicemen, heading home on Christmas leave, and other travelers waiting in long lines which stretched down the unloading dock. “Sometimes at Christmas we’d run out of eggs or meat, the demand was so great. The serviceman, in his military uniform would just say something like, ‘give me the bread,’ and disappear back towards the train,” she said.

The Humming Bird operated from 1947 until January 9, 1969.

The Gulf Wind was another passenger train which ran the rails in this era. It operated July 31, 1949 until April 30, 1971, thus ending the classic period of local rail travel. For a time, Amtrak operated a passenger route in the area throughout much of the 1990s, but that has fallen by the wayside as well.

Today, the mega trains, which rumbled down the CSX lines at approximately 20 minute intervals and howl their shrill cries of caution at the rail crossings, show little resemblance to the elegant passenger trains of old, yet their cargos are just as important.

With all the history that has crossed the tracks, it makes those who think of spiritual matters ponder, if along some isolated stretch of track somewhere deep in the remotest corner of our area if the ghostly whistle of a long forgotten train might still plow through the dead of night while trying to make up for lost time on its fatal last run.

The William Carney Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans meet the first Tuesday of every month at 6pm at the Canoe Civic Center in historic downtown Canoe, Alabama.


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