Heartbreak from Ashley Street
November 7, 2019
It's a small cemetery unknown to many and forgotten by others. Yet the narrow sidewalk which leads to an old cemetery at the western end of Church Street in Atmore holds history and heartbreak beneath its fading tombstones and grass covered gravesites.
Some of William Station's popular early residents are buried here. Others consist of infants who passed early in life. Unmarked graves for mill workers, farmers, laborers, bankers and merchants lay side by side, each grave marked by depressions in the ground although many also have markers.
Atmore Boy Scout Troop 26 cleaned up the cemetery in the 1984-1985 time period and it was renovated again in 2005 by the Leadership Atmore Class.
The cemetery was established in 1886 and served the town until 1910. Many of the graves were relocated to Oak Hill, but many remain. The tiny cemetery is hard to find for those not knowing where to look. In some ways its location is like looking for the ghostly whispers of an older Atmore. Perhaps no whisper from that past is more heartbreaking than that of Nicholas Stallworth Ashley.
According to census records, Nicholas Ashley had lived at Belleville in Conecuh County Alabama before moving to Williams Station around 1876 to clerk at the Carney Commissary. The post office was in the back of this store and it was among Ashley's duties to handle the incoming mail. Some say he can rightfully be called Atmore's first postmaster, even if only in a de facto manner.
Yet Ashley had bigger ambitions and was well thought of by his fellow towns people. Local newspapers report on Ashley's membership in local organizations and his involvement as a sort of 1800s poll worker in the local elections.
As Ashley entered his 30s he began to suffer from an unknown health aliment. The Pine Belt News of Tuesday, September 18, 1894 reported, "Our genial N.S. Ashley is quite sick."
Ashley's health seemed to rebound and the young man married Miss Eula McDonald in August of 1895. The young couple eloped on a Saturday night, in that Eula McDonald's parents would not give her consent. The two left Williams Station by train and were married in Harrison County, Mississippi. On August 11, 1895, according to Pascagoula's The Chronical Star newspaper:
"The south bound passenger train had on board an eloping couple determined to be made man and wife, and when the train arrived here they embarked and hurriedly made their way to the clerk's office and were soon in possession of the required document that would give any person properly authorized by law authority to tie the knot that would hold fast and hard the aforesaid couple in the bonds of holy matrimony," noted the paper.
The paper goes on to add, "The couple was driven to Moss Point, and going to the residence of Eld. L.N. Brock, pastor of the Baptist church, to whom they made known their desires and the reverend gentleman soon had them spliced after the most approved fashion."
The paper noted the nervousness of the young couple, "The only strange feature about the affair is that the groom on being questioned as to where they were from talked evasively and only stated he was from Escambia county, Alabama, while the bride was a Mississippian. The name of the groom is N.S. Ashley, and that of the bride, as it appeared on the license, was Miss Eula McDonald. They admitted to having eloped. He said she was "just eighteen." He looked as if he was "just thirty-five," and here endeth the first act in the drama of married life."
Ashley, who by all accounts was a man of vision, had began preparations for his pending marriage some time before. Ashley began building a cottage for him and his wife along what is now Ashley Street in Atmore.
According to research in the mapping department office in the Escambia County Alabama Court House, Ashley had purchased a lot from William Carney (Atmore's Founding Father) for $125 and sat about building an ornate cottage on the site. This deed was dated November 29, 1895. In today's dollars this would be about $3700.
On August 6, 1895, The Pine Belt News of Brewton noted, "We understand how to appreciate the good judgment Mr. Ashley is exercising in erecting such a nice residence. His cosy little cottage will be quite an ornament to the town." Two days later, The Brewton Standard noted the cottage was near completion.
It goes without saying that following their return from Mississippi, Nicholas and Eula Ashley took up residence in the fine new cottage in William's Station and so should end this tale of domestic happiness in the late 1890s.
Yet just over a year later, the illness which plagued young Mr. Ashley returned. Brewton's Standard Gauge reported on September 3, 1896: "Mr. W.T. McGowin of Atmore was in town Tuesday and reported the death of Mr. Nick Ashley, which occurred at his home at Atmore last Sunday evening. While Mr. Ashley had been in delicate health for some time, he was sick less than a week. The people of Atmore feel that they have lost one of their best citizens."
A friend wrote a brief memorial in The Pine Belt News on August 31, 1896: "After a life of toil and strife it is sweet to remember there is rest, and I trust that whatever the life eternal holds in prospect for us all, that the soul of Nick Ashley now enjoys sweet rest."
Ashley's bride now found herself alone in the cottage he had built for her. The street on which they lived now took the name Ashely Street, presumably in honor of Nicholas. The ornate little cottage they called home was located around the north entrance to Rotary Village along Ashley Street.
The funeral concluded and the young man's remains were buried at the William's Station Cemetery.
Life moved on for Eula, in January of 1898 she married Mr. W. A. Harold, a merchant from Brewton who owned a mercantile store on Mildred Street. Her marriage to Nick Ashley had produced no children but she had two children with Mr. Harold and the couple planned to reside in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, although it appears they traveled between Brewton and Hattiesburg regularly.
Mr. Harold died around 1908 and Eula found herself widowed yet again. She remarried to a Mr. Evans, who had ties with the Atmore area. The couple lived in the Mobile area and had several children.
Eula remained married to Evans until his death in the 1930s, he is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Atmore and she is buried in Mobile, having passed in the early 1960s.
Today, William's Station Cemetery is a quite place to have lunch and pass the time reflecting on our local history. It also brings to mind that a lot of life can pass between the dates on a headstone but more importantly-every day is a gift.
Vote for and support the Canoe Landmark District referendum on the 2020 ballot. Call for more details.
Shadows and Dust Volume III: Legacies is available for purchase in the amount of $30.00+$5.00 shipping and handling to PO Box 579 Atmore, AL 36502 or visit Lulu Publishing.com; Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles.com OR at the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama or by calling 251 294 0293.
The Canoe Civic Club is proud to announce the date of the upcoming Canoe Homecoming in beautiful downtown Canoe from 8:30am-2:30pm on Saturday November 23, 2019. Call 251 294 0293 for free vendXor spots.