Railroads have important role in Atmore’s past

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Atmore has always been a railroad town. In fact, the first railroad activities occurred in the 1870s. Known as the Mobile and Montgomery Railroad, it went from Pollard to the Tensaw River. Years later, the L&N trains dotted our tracks regularly with cargo and passenger service connections throughout the south.

Those passenger trains provided a means of transportation to many, stopping in all the outlying communities for pickups and deliveries. Because of our geographical location, Atmore became the hub for shipping cargo. The state of Florida found our railroad services most advantageous.

Early railroad road beds did not always lend to the safest travel. It was not uncommon to read about trains “jumping the track” on occasions. But, those were mainly minor incidents. However, a severe train wreck in Perdido during the 1960s resulted in chemical spills and several lawsuits. But, there were no serious injuries.

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During those 1940-1960 “heydays,” the Perdido-Atmore-Canoe areas became known as the melting pot for depot agents. My uncles Bert and Albert McGill were some of the pioneers in this field. The latter, having worked in the Canoe depot for a few years, was transferred to Georgiana, in the late 1940s. Charles Lowery and his brother grew up with his sons.

J. C. Wright, Freddie Centenni from Perdido and Mr. Ryals from the Canoe-Atmore area were popular railroad depot agents. I remember Freddie joking about his becoming the next Gene Autry. Referring to, of course, Autry’s early days as a railroad agent in Oklahoma prior to his becoming famous as a singing cowboy. Freddie often said “the only thing keeping me from becoming another Gene Autry is the fact that I cannot sing.”

Free travel “anywhere the trains went” was one of the perks enjoyed by these depot agents. It wasn’t until he retired that my uncle Bert took advantage of these trips. He could have traveled cross county or anywhere in the USA but he chose to merely take a round trip to Mobile. He said his school teaching wife, Norma, was reluctant to ride on trains.
CSX serves the railroad community today. I think about the many times during the night and early morning I hear the rumbling of these trains coming and going through town. On quiet mornings, these rumblings seem extra loud. When I hear these sounds I am reminded of that “funny” movie My Cousin Vinny. In a hilarious scene from that movie, a man and woman from up north had difficulty sleeping in their motel room located near the railroad tracks. The rumblings were so loud plates and vases tumbled off tables.

For your information, details are still under consideration hopefully to restore Amtrak passenger here.

Back in 1954, Atmore took a big jump in population growth. Prior to that date our population was around six thousand residents but the new census figures elevated us to seven thousand.

Also in 1954, patients of Dr. St. Amant were welcomed by a friendly staff consisting of Ruth McGill Brock (Joe Brock’s wife), Margaret Kennedy (James Kennedy’s mother), Bertha Nelson and Dr. St. Amant’s wife.

Dr. Lisenby led a group of city leaders who replaced the long standing Atmore General Hospital with the Green Lawn Hospital.

And, in 1970, Yancey State College became Faulkner State Junior College.

I am sure many of you watched Bubba Watson win the prestigious Masters Golf Tournament this past weekend. I wonder how many of you know he played his initial college golf in Bay Minette at Faulkner State Community College and finished his college activity at the University of Georgia. His 2000 Bulldogs golf team raked in the Southeastern Conference Championship that year.

Some from here are friends with Bubba, having played golf with him at the Atmore Country Club. He hails from Bagdad, a moss draped community near Milton, Fla.
He married his wife, Angie, in 2004. They met in college where she was a member of the Georgia women’s basketball team. The stately lady also played professionally for the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting.

I think his performance this weekend was simply outstanding. Here lately I have really become a fan of golf. Not only do I enjoy watching the game, but I get a real big kick watching the fans. There was one play where the ball landed in midst of the crowd and one guy came crashing in trying to see where it landed. He seemed over thrilled as he jumped up and down pointing to the ball. It was if he were saying “here it is, here it as, golly, I have found it, I have found it.” I suppose this man could be classified as a “rabid” fan, exceeding that of an avid fan.

It was a real good feeling seeing this golfer from neighboring town cash in on such a remarkable win.

Finally, our friends from Monroeville will be presenting the two-act production of To Kill A Mockingbird, beginning Thursday April 17. Using local and area talent, the show will be staged in the old courthouse museum. This will be the 25th production of this annual play and fans of this production are expected to flock from all 50 states, as well as from several countries. An overflow crowd has already created motel reservations here in Atmore. I am told the play is now a sellout, but more information about tickets can be obtained from the Monroeville Chamber of Commerce.

Next week, I’ll have more news of people, places and events from days gone by.

You can email Lowell McGill at exam@frontiernet.net.