Footnotes on a little town called Century
October 24, 2019
A little town just south of the state line will soon celebrate its one hundred and twenty year anniversary. In the 1800s this area around the town was called Teaspoon, because early river travelers could identify the shoreline here due to its flood-washed lake in a bend which resembled a spoon. In 1901 a sawmill company came to the community. Employment opportunity at the company soon drew great numbers of workers and for years after the company would be the largest employer in the county. To celebrate the date of the thriving new town’s beginning, the town was named Century. The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society has acquired much information on the history of this town and the people who came here. Here are a couple of short note examples.
Clarence Bryans of the Poplar Dell area was typical of many early family leaders, splitting his labors between farming and working at various local sawmills. Born in 1905, Clarence was raised in Jack Springs, Alabama. He first arrived at Century around 1923 with his friends Archie Huggins, Talton Stuckey and Stanley Willett. He recalled how very impressive the big outfit was, and reveled one way that townsfolk handled rowdy farm boys. Clarence said, “On Saturday nights one of the fellows would get a vehicle and we would all go down to Century to get a haircut and shave at the barbershop behind the drugstore, near the planer, and then we would all go to the show. One time, the barber told Cliff Stuckey to open his mouth wide. When he did, the barber stuck the shaving brush full of soap into it. Cliff came up sputtering while we other fellows just laughed at the barber’s joke. Oh, it was a wonderful thing when we came down here and we still talk about it often.”
In 1924, Clarence married Mamie Creamer. Before they married, Clarence gave Mamie the present of a new type of mechanical pencil that he had purchased from the drug store here. She kept the token her whole life. The Bryans marriage would survive the hard scrabble life of southern farmers for more than seventy years.
One of the most loved members of the African American community was Mrs. Bea Stallworth. Ms. Bea is remembered as the long time house-keeper at the home of the sawmill company president, Mr. Hauss. In 1992 she celebrated her 90th birthday and took time to tell some of her story.
Bea Ewing was born in 1902. She had two sisters and two brothers. Her father worked for The Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company when the family moved to Century, but soon changed over to the L&N Railroad. Her first school was in a two-story building across from the Pilgrim Lodge Church near the south end of the old town, with Mr. Jones as her first teacher and followed by Mrs. Maggie Williams Moor.
As children, she and her girlfriends would read funny books and make grass dolls by going out to a field, pulling up a clump of straw-like grass and washing the roots to braid like hair. Then they would tightly tie strings around the grass at the neckline and at the waistline to form the head and torso. When the doll form suited them they would make clothes out of scraps of cloth from old dresses. At Christmas time, the children would go out into the woods to get a holly bush with red berries. They would tuck these into the tree for decorations. Their parents would add small sacks of cookies or candy to finish the trimming. In school, for Thanksgiving, each child would bring something like 10 cents worth of sugar or rice. They would make up a box to take to some old people. When they delivered a box, they would sing songs and recite pieces. They were all taught to share even though they didn’t have much themselves.
During the summer months, from the time she was 10 to 12 years old, she worked for Willie Nell Huggins in Bluff Springs during the week and spent the weekends at home. When Bea finished the eighth grade, she went to work for Mr. and Mrs. Hall who had a grocery and dry goods store. Later, she worked for Mrs. Houston Jones, wife of a mill supervisor.
In 1923 Bea went to work for Mrs. Hauss. She started as a house cleaner doing things like waxing the floors and washing the windows. She remembered, with fondness, her good friend, Zenobie Adams, who also worked for the Hauss’s. She also recalled that Julie Ann Russell was the cook, Mary Roberson was the laundress, Mattie Fale was the maid, and Charlie “Shine” Smith and Robert Clausel were gardeners. The gardeners only grew flowers, but did have a chicken yard. People out in the community delivered vegetables, berries and other fruit to the house. Ms. Bea went on to serve the Hauss family for forty years, walking between her home to theirs almost daily.
The society continues to collect historical information and items of this area. Among the collections are Century High yearbooks from the 1950s till 1985. The society would like to complete this collection and we would be happy to receive any yearbooks from 1986 thru 1995, as well as artifacts of the old Carver schools. Also, our yearbook collection has recently been converted to digital images and the society is considering making copies available if there is interest. If you are interested in donating or receiving, call Mr. Fischer, 850-256-3980.