The Anniston Star

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December 20, 2014

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Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
This sign welcomes visitors to Oxford on Alabama 21, where just a few miles north the highway bogs down with traffic as Calhoun County's main north-south artery.

Friday, Aug. 1, 5:39 p.m. — Except for its difficult transition through Montgomery, Alabama 21 alternates between two-lane and four-lane versions. If you drive the whole thing, Florida to Piedmont, it certainly seems as if you spend more time on two-lane roads with minimal traffic and lots of country scenery.

Then there’s Calhoun County.

The truth is brutal: the most unenjoyable part of driving all of Alabama 21 is the part at the heart of Calhoun County. On Alabama 21, there is traffic in Atmore and Monroeville, Wetumpka and Sylacauga, but nothing like it is in Calhoun County. (Montgomery, being a traffic beast in and of itself, is left out of this discussion.)

Friday morning, just before lunchtime, Alabama 21 through Oxford was its usual congested mess. Traffic snarled around Walmart and Interstate 20. It stayed heavy crossing the bridge into Anniston, and the bottleneck on Alabama 21 (Quintard Avenue) where it narrows to two lanes from three lanes heading up toward McClellan brought traffic to a crawl.

Clearly, Alabama 21 is vital to Calhoun County transportation; it is the main north-south artery we have. It remains to be seen how the traffic on that road changes, if it does, when Veterans Memorial Parkway is finished. While Annistonians rave about the beauty of the trees on Quintard, it’s nonetheless common to hear people in Calhoun County complain about 21’s traffic, especially during peak hours.

That’s a rarity for most of Alabama 21.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
This memorial in Talladega reminds visitors that the city was the site of an 1813 battle in which forces under Andrew Jackson fought Creek Indians.

Friday, Aug. 1, 9:55 a.m. — TALLADEGA — Alabama 21’s 279 miles have a few commonalities. One of them is the abundance of war memorials scattered around the towns on this highway.

The one here in Talladega is unique, both in its topic and its architecture. Sitting on the east side of 21 just before the main part of downtown, the monument memorializes the Battle of Talladega during the Creek War in 1813 and marks the spot of a spring around which the city’s first settlers lived.

Covering the monuments is an unusual-shaped canopy — that’s the first, and largest, thing that catches your eye as you drive past. Underneath the canopy are different monuments that explain, in words and maps, the battle and the people who fought it. (Andrew Jackson led a group of soldiers from Tennessee against hostile Native Americans, and won.) Another monument in this small, fenced park, over to one side, lists the names of the Jackson soldiers who died in the battle. That monument dates back to 1913, the 100-year anniversary of the battle.

Talladega’s war memorial isn’t the largest on Alabama 21; that honor goes to Anniston’s Centennial Memorial Park. It, however, may be the most eye-catching.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
This sculpture of a sculptor chiseling himself out of Sylacauga marble sits outside Sylacauga's City Hall. 

Friday, Aug. 1, 8:34 a.m. — SYLACAUGA — The global reputation of this Talladega County city is based on rock — marble, to be exact. It’s long been called the Marble City because of the overwhelming amount of pristine, white marble on which it sits. (It’s part of the Murphy Marble Belt, 32 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.)

Visitors who drive through Sylacauga on Alabama 21 can’t miss the obvious.

On Main Street — Alabama 21’s local name — the Marble City Grill does a brisk business downtown. Up the road on the left is the city’s municipal center. A sign out front reads, “Welcome to The Marble City.” Nearby are two prominent marble statues.

One memorializes the Hodges meteorite that fell through the roof of a house here in 1954. The other, named “Sylacauga Emerging,” is an impressive depiction of a shirtless, well-muscled working man wielding a large hammer. It’s the type of public art that gives this Alabama city, population 12,500 or so, a little panache. It wouldn’t work everywhere, but it works here. Unsurprisingly, Sylacauga’s sister city is Pietrasanta, Italy, another marble-carving Mecca.

Alabama 21 in Sylacauga (incorporated in 1838) passes through a collection of stately, Southern homes shaded by large trees — think Quintard Avenue in Anniston — the library, several banks, churches and businesses, and Sylacauga High’s stadium. U.S. 280, to the west, contains newer developments and businesses like a Home Depot, a Zaxby’s and a Holiday Inn. But to a visitor, Alabama 21 seems to rest near Sylacauga’s heart.

— Phillip Tutor  

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
A sign marks the site of a future center for visitors to the Wetumpka impact crater site.

Friday, Aug. 1, 7:46 a.m. — WETUMPKA — The age of the planet is a controversial topic for those who’d rather not tussle with scientists and those who believe the literal story of the Bible. Here in Wetumpka, that could be a flashpoint.

The reason is Wetumpka’s crater — a marine impact crater, to be exact, that Auburn University professor David King says is 85 million years old. Wetumpka is rapidly taking advantage of this geologic discovery with a host of tourism and learning opportunities.

After King’s research proved the crater’s existence and age in 1998, the Coosa County Commission established the Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission, an eight-member body whose job it is to preserve the crater and educate people about it. For what it’s worth, commission chairwoman Marilee Tankersley said there’s been no uproar in the community from those who may disagree with King saying the crater is 85 million years old, or that the city is so actively pushing that scientific find.

“We have had no people with any local religious (affiliation) say anything,” Tankersley said Thursday. She said she has received two letters from people during her time as chairwoman who said King was wrong and the Bible was correct about the Earth’s age. One of the letters was sent to the Wetumpka police chief, she said.

“I understand their fervor,” Tankersley said. “But I believe it’s scientifically possible and evangelically possible because our years aren’t God’s years.”

On a related note, Wetumpka’s crater commission is planning for next year’s Crater Days. On March 5, Auburn’s King will deliver a lecture that’s free to the public. On March 6, the commission will organize crater tours for schools. On March 7, public tours will be held. There’s a small fee for the tours, and space is limited. If you’re interested, call Tiffany Robinson, the city of Wetumpka’s events/tourism manager, at 334-567-1384, or email trobinson@cityofwetumpka.com.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
This script "A" in a homeowner's yard in Rockford is composed of pebbles.

Thursday, July 31, 6:49 p.m. — ROCKFORD — Legend has it that the biggest thing in the modern history of this small Alabama 21 town is Fred the Dog.

Fred is indeed legendary in Rockford. Sometime in the 1990s, Fred wandered into town and became Rockford's unofficial mascot. He died in 2002 and is buried behind the town's old jail.

But Fred isn't the biggest thing here.

That designation goes to a Rockford man who has had a giant "A" — as in Alabama football — installed in his front yard. It's white and made of pebbles. Media outlets in Alabama have identified him as Sid Turner, 88.

Besides Turner's yard art on Alabama 21, Rockford is a quintessential small Alabama town of about 400 people. The Coosa County Courthouse is in the center of town on 21, which locals call Main Street. The town's first name was Lexington, but that didn't stick long. It was changed to Rockford in 1835, well before the Civil War.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
Signs in Montgomery direct motorists along a variety of routes that for a time share the same stretch of asphalt.

Thursday, July 31, 9:46 a.m. – MONTGOMERY – From the Florida state line to the Alabama state capital, Alabama 21 is essentially an idiot-free road. You have to try to get lost, miss a turn, end up going east or west when you should be going north.

That changes when you get to Montgomery, which, as anyone who’s not wholly familiar with the city’s interstates and highways knows, isn’t as intuitive as you’d think. Visitors can get turned around here without trying.

Here, Alabama 21 no longer owns its own road. It shares them – with U.S. 80, for example, as you enter town from the southwest and pass by Montgomery’s airport, for example. The visuals of country roads in Lowndes and Wilcox counties are long gone.

If you trust Google maps – usually a fairly accurate source – Alabama 21 combines with virtually every other road in the capital, passes the First White House of the Confederacy, the Alabama State Capitol, Crampton Bowl and other notable spots before exiting on the north side on the way to Wetumpka.

On this, Google is wrong. The roads themselves haven’t changed, but the way the state routes drivers through this city on Alabama 21 has changed. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up lost and asking for directions.

If you travel Alabama 21 through Montgomery on the way north – say, to Calhoun County – you don’t pass any of those sites. Instead, it’s fairly simple.

From Hayneville south of Montgomery, 21 connects to 80 and they share the divided highway into the city. A large sign directs 21 travelers to an exit ramp on the right, a shared ramp with U.S. 31. You drive about a mile until signs show that 31 and 21 split left and right; you go right on 21.

That puts you on what Montgomery residents call South Boulevard. On it, you drive … and drive … and drive … for miles and miles around Montgomery’s southern and eastern sides. If you look at the map, you’ll get a headache: South Boulevard is a shared roadway with umpteen different state, county and U.S. roads. Alabama 21 is just one of them, and it’s hardly the most prominent on the signage.

Eventually, as you get to the northeast part of the city, you see a sign for the 231/21 split toward Wetumpka. That puts you on the Wetumpka Highway, which is what U.S. 231/Alabama 21 is called at that point.

Confused?

Just remember. Google isn’t always right.

— Phillip Tutor

 

Related Video

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
Alabama 21 south of Hayneville on a clear morning.

Thursday, July 31, 7:51 a.m. — HAYNEVILLE — The barrenness of Alabama 21 as it makes its way north and east toward the state capital is immense. Through Wilcox County and into Lowndes County, this two-lane state highway can be as quiet as a library.

South of Hayneville, a small town of about 1,200 people not that far from Montgomery, the Alabama 21 landscape turns from the prime timber land of Monroe and Wilcox counties into farm land worthy of Ansel Adams’ lens. Here, Alabama 21 can be the type of road where a traveler can pull over, sit cross-legged astraddle the yellow dividing lines and not have to move for 10 minutes.

Poverty is mixed with wealth, rusting barns of the past not far from the estates of the well-to-do who’ve chosen to live outside of Montgomery’s suburbs. Cows and their pastures are common sights. This stretch of 21 calls out for Sunday drives, top down.

Hayneville is Lowndes County’s county seat; its mid-sized courthouse is the first thing of substance you see when you enter the town on Alabama 21 North. A Confederate monument sits in a pleasant grassy courtyard that faces the courthouse’s outdoor staircases. The monument reads: “The soldier dead of Lowndes. To devotion and valor.” Names of former CSA soldiers adorn the monument’s base. Nearby is a small monument to local law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

Relatively speaking, Hayneville is a new town along Alabama 21. Its history dates back to its time as a cotton and rail center south of Montgomery, but it wasn’t incorporated until 1968. It has a public high school, Central High. Its name comes from Robert Y. Hayne, a former South Carolina governor and U.S. senator. (Hayneville was settled by South Carolinians who headed west.)

When you leave Hayneville, Alabama 21 turns back into its former self — a two-lane, rural highway that eventually takes you to U.S. 80, your entryway to the state capital.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
This sign welcomes travelers to Beatrice, population 301.

Wednesday, July 30, 2:15 p.m. – BEATRICE – Anniston isn’t the only town along Alabama 21 that carries a woman’s first name.

Anniston’s founders wanted to call the city Woodstock, but that was already taken. So they chose Anniston, a version of “Annie’s town,” for the wife of one of the sons of city co-founder Gen. Daniel Tyler.

Here in northern Monroe County, the town of Beatrice owns a similar story. It’s named for Beatrice Seymour, the granddaughter of an influential railroad supervisor back in the day. Beatrice, incorporated in 1901 and with a population of 301, isn’t as large as Anniston – by a long shot – but it’s one of the more interesting places in this part of Alabama 21’s south-of-Montgomery route.

Beatrice started, like many others in these parts, as a railroad town. At one point it was the railroad link between Selma and Pensacola. It is surrounded by timber lands that dominate part of Monroe County and points north and west in Alabama’s Black Belt region. Logging trucks are prominent. J.F. Shields High School, home of the Panthers, sits on the east side of 21 right in the middle of town. (J.F. Shields is home to only 270 students, K4 through 12th grade.)

What’s Beatrice’s calling card? It may be the Beatrice Meat Co., which operates a plant on the town’s southern side. Sausage is so important to the town’s economy and history that it holds a sausage festival each year.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
A railway near its crossing with Alabama 21 in Peterman.

Wednesday, July 30, 9:56 a.m. — PETERMAN — Up and down Alabama 21 are small towns, some built after the Civil War, others before. Nearly all of them owe part of their history to the railroad.

Peterman sits about 5 miles north of Monroeville, just off Alabama 21 down Old Peterman Road. Census data say 89 people live here — roughly the number of scholarship football players at Alabama or Auburn.

Peterman exists today because the trains existed here yesterday, the familiar Alabama story. Alabama didn't become a state until 1819, but the first settlers arrived in these parts  four years earlier. Families moved in, homes and stores were built, and business grew. A rail line came through at the turn of the century.

The name was chosen in honor of Addison Peterman, a popular rail agent.

Today, Peterman seems far less than what it was a century ago. There's a Methodist church, a post office, a (seemingly vacant) bank building, a water department office, and a small collection of ranch-style homes. In the distance you can hear the truck traffic of Alabama 21.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
This caboose in Frisco City is a remnant of the days when railways were important to many Alabama towns.

Tuesday, July 29, 3:11 p.m. – FRISCO CITY – Folks here like trains.

Alabama 21, a main north-south artery through Monroe County, takes visitors down Bowden Street – that’s what Alabama 21 is called in Frisco City. About halfway through the place is a bright red caboose still sitting on a small set of railroad tracks.

It’s not a fake caboose or an unused caboose. It’s old, been here for decades upon decades, and bears the scars of use and weather. On its sides are advertisements for the old St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Co., known as "the Frisco," which virtually built this place back in the day. “Ship it on the Frisco!” one says. “Southeast ... Southwest.” “Radio equipped” – with a lightning bolt underneath.

Frisco City dates to 1888 when the Rev. James Jones and his wife moved here. This part of the state was built around timber and sawmills, and Jones had one of those facilities. Originally, this small Alabama settlement was called Jones Mill and featured an assortment of sawmills, gristmills and cotton gins.

In 1928, community leaders changed the name from Jones Mill to Frisco City to honor that railroad company’s importance to the local history. Trains were important to many Alabama towns – even in Calhoun County – but not all of them have their own caboose on display.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
A memorial park in Uriah along Alabama 21 has stones like this one bearing the names of locals who died in America's wars.

Tuesday, July 29, 12:01 p.m. — URIAH — Turns out that Centennial Memorial Park in Anniston isn't the only war memorial sitting squarely on Alabama 21.

Another one is here in this little place — it's not incorporated — called Uriah Memorial Park. It is a few blocks north of J.U. Blacksher High School and, frankly, it may be the most beautiful spot in these parts.

The park is shaped like the Pentagon and it flies the flags of all branches of military service. Benches greet visitors.

Inside the park are memorials to the different U.S. wars in which Uriah men served and died. The World War II one is quite large. (Eight Uriah men died in that war.) The Gulf War memorial isn't.

On a nearby telephone pole is a donation box. The park was built for $70,000 with donations, according to online news accounts.

— Phillip Tutor

P.S. - We're not sure what, if anything, this might have to do with Uriah.

Tuesday, July 29, 9:48 a.m. — ATMORE — Holman Correctional Facility, which houses Alabama’s death-row inmates and its execution chamber, sits just off Alabama 21 a few miles north of Atmore. For Alabamians with only a casual knowledge of this place, the prison — and its death row — is often the only thing people know about it. That issue isn’t lost on Atmore residents.

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians' Wind Creek Casino and Hotel north of Atmore, along Alabama 21.

ATMORE — Small towns being what they are, opportunities there for fame and fortune are few and far between. Once cemented, their reputations are hard to change.

Atmore offers proof.

Holman Correctional Facility, which houses Alabama’s death-row inmates and its execution chamber, sits just off Alabama 21 a few miles north of Atmore. The prison was built in 1969. For Alabamians with only a casual knowledge of this place, the prison — and its death row — is often the only thing people know about it.

That issue isn’t lost on Atmore residents.

Bed and breakfast owner Foster Kizer, who The Star profiled Tuesday, comes from a longtime Escambia County family. His business and home sits right on Alabama 21. Of Holman, he says, “That was what Atmore was known for. Now it’s the casino.”

“The casino” is the Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, another Alabama 21 landmark. The complex, operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, is now an overwhelming presence in Atmore and the surrounding region. The relationship between Wind Creek and Holman is striking — they sit about 2 miles from each other, just off Interstate 65. One inviting, the other certainly not.

“I don’t know if it bothers us. I think we’re glad it’s not the prison anymore (that defines us),” Kizer said. “But we want Atmore to be more than that.”

Revenue from the Poarch Creek tribe’s casinos in Alabama is making an impact in this part of the state. In March 2013, the tribe donated more than $2 million to schools in Escambia, Monroe and Baldwin counties in Alabama, as well as several schools in Escambia County, Fla.

— Phillip Tutor

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
Holman Correctional Facility just north of Atmore.

Monday, July 28, 12:20 p.m. – ESCAMBIA COUNTY – Holman Correctional Facility – home to Alabama’s death row — isn’t on Alabama 21, and it isn’t in Atmore. So much for general opinions.

In truth, Holman is a few miles north of Atmore, even though people (including the media, ahem) often consider them one and the same. It’s in an unincorporated part of Escambia County. Its entrance, however, is on Alabama 21. You just can’t see the prison from the highway.

In fact, the entrance to this foreboding place is somewhat peaceful. Row crops surround the entrance, which has a nice sign and a guard house, but no one was in the house Monday morning. It takes about three-quarters of a mile drive down a small road surrounded by crops before you top a hill and catch your first glimpse of Holman: the guard towers, the barbed wire fencing, the numerous buildings, and the signage. Holman opened in 1969, and quite frankly, doesn’t look from the outside like it’s changed much in four decades.

Clearly, Alabama 21’s relationship to Holman isn’t like it is with Julia Tutwiler Prison for women in Wetumpka. There, the prison sits right on the road, in plain view.

To see Holman, you have to get off Alabama 21 and go to Holman, and even for a visitor, that’s not much fun.

- Phillip Tutor

Related Video

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
The First Baptist Church in Atmore, on Main Street.

Monday, July 28, 12:08 p.m. – ATMORE Calhoun Countians know well that a multitude of churches and houses of worship call Alabama 21 home through the county. In Anniston, with Parker Memorial and Temple Beth El and Trinity Lutheran, for example, it’s easy to consider that part of Quintard Avenue the Road of Religion. (And Grace Episcopal and others are nearby.)

Well, come to Atmore, folks.

Alabama 21 runs right through town, and churches dominate part of the road.

The First Assembly of God church is the first one you meet as you head north from the Florida state line.

Then there’s Saint Robert’s Bellarmine Catholic Church.

And First Baptist Atmore.

And First Assembly of God Church.

And United Pentecostal Church.

And Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.

And just off of Alabama 21, a block or so, are Methodist churches, and Church of Christ churches, and Episcopalian churches, and Mennonite churches.

Church is a big deal on this stretch of Alabama 21.

— Phillip Tutor

 

Photo By Phillip Tutor/The Anniston Star
The public art breezeway on Main Street in downtown Atmore.

Monday, July 28, 11:18 a.m. — ATMORE — Residents here don't call Alabama 21 by that name. It's Main Street, and it runs right through the center of town like it does in Anniston and Jacksonville.

You wouldn't think that public art wood be a big deal in such a small town, but Atmore proves that wrong. On the west side of Main Street, smack dab in the middle of the heart of downtown, is a quaint breezeway with several pieces of art.

Three paintings tell the story of Atmore. Two of the paintings deal with Alabama 21 (Main Street). Another piece of art is a BBQ grill meant to look like a train, since the railroad essentially built this place.

Remember when Betsy Bean, the former Spirit of Anniston director, wanted to erect public art of bicycles in downtown Anniston? Well, Atmore beat Anniston on this one.

— Phillip Tutor

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