Reminiscing at the Meet on the Ridge

2017 Meet on the Ridge. Being real, this is not everybody, but we tried. I took this one.

The Seventh Annual Meet on the Ridge was held on April 1, 2017, at the Pea Ridge Senior Center in Pea Ridge, Alabama. Folks drove in to Pea Ridge from all over the state, and this year from Florida and Georgia as well. I drove down from Huntsville, 65 between Huntsville and Birmingham was bumper to bumper both ways with Spring Break traffic. I made the trip safely and count that a blessing but I was not the only one there talking about what it took to make it to “The Meet” this year.

The official Pea Ridge address is actually Montevallo, but back when I was growing up, it was Marvel, which used to be a bustling coal town. The Roden Coal Company, which operated the mines in Marvel, and if I understand correctly, there were two, closed down years ago and by the time I was coming up, just about the only thing left of Marvel was a few houses, the post office and a water tower. The Marvel Post Office closed in 1973 and the Pea Ridge mail comes through Montevallo now. Thus the Montevallo address, which can make it interesting if you use one of the new-fangled computerized map services to find the place. You can ask my daughter about that adventure.

Marvel water tower.

As far as I know, Pea Ridge never has had its own post office, but it did have a school, Mayberry Elementary, a few stores and there were seven churches there when I was growing up (more on that later).

Anyway, the families in these parts go way back and you can bet that when families with that much history in the area get together, the catching up on old times and family can go back generations. Community runs deep on The Ridge and so do the roots of the families.

Although the first white settlers were said to have come to the area in 1814, the Creek Indians were there long before that. Direct descendants of Abram Holsomback and Abner Pickett, who were among the very earliest group of European settlers to the area, were both at the Meet on the Ridge. I just mention the Holsombacks and Picketts because that is my lineage, and I am a direct descendant of both. Not claiming my ancestry is any different from the other folks in the area though. A whole lot of us are related in some kind of way and whether kin or not, the connections between the families in the area go way back and just about everybody there knows everybody else’s grandparents, and likely as not at least some of the rest of the family too.

As far as I know (meaning I could stand corrected, but as far as I know), the earliest group of White settlers to the area moved together as a group from the Edgefield District in South Carolina. What that boils down to is that, although both the Pea Ridge community and the town of Montevallo started coming together in 1814 or 1815, or there about, here in Alabama, in what was then considered a wilderness area (although from my understanding the Creeks even had a race track, like for running track, nearby, so it could be that the term “wilderness” is arguable), at any rate, the first White folks, of European descent, made it to the area about that time.

Being as the early White settlers came as a group, a lot of the connections in the community and between the families go back even before that. Folks who move into the area sometimes have a hard time understanding how tight knit the community really is, but that should give you some kind of idea. When we say the community and the families go way back, we’re talking generations way back and some before they ever even settled in the area.

For those who have an interest, the following information on the early settlers to the Montevallo and Pea Ridge area, about the group that came in from South Carolina, is from the Montevallo News, August 15, 1895.

This party had in it Abram Holsomback, the father of John Holsomback, who lived for some time near Thompson’s mill. There his son John was born on March 28, 1818. This makes him one of the oldest citizens in this section.

Henry Lolly, the father of Joe and Lewis Lolly, was also of the same party. Jesse Lolly, the father of William Lolly, also came at the same time. The oldest one of these pioneers, however, is Andrew Lolly, who is hale and hearty and is now approaching the ripe old age of 90.

Among the others were Vince Garner, grandfather of Lewis Garner; George Lucas, father of Wm. and John Lucas; John Walker, the father of Elias Walker; Abner Pickett, the father of Braz. Pickett, and John Lolly, the father of Mrs. Fronia Lucus (Montevallo News, August 15, 1895).

Just a side note on that little bit of information, from my understanding (meaning that I could stand corrected), but I believe that Lolly is a different spelling and the same family as the current Lawley spelling. So they were also among the early settlers to the area. Enough on the history for now, but by the time we get to The Meet and before we are done, there is always a lot of talk of local and family history.

The Meet is held every year at the Pea Ridge Senior Center, which used to be Mayberry Elementary School. I went there for the fifth and sixth grade, because my folks were running the store across the road at that time. The rest of the time, I went to Montevallo. But anyway, Mayberry Elementary School had three classrooms and it only went to sixth grade, after that, the students would go on to Montevallo to finish out their schooling.





Speaking of Mayberry Elementary School

A highlight of The Meet this year was when Glenda Pickett Smitherman showed up with a collection of pictures that used to belong to Lydia Murphy. Most everybody from the area knew her as the former principal of Mayberry Elementary, back when I was there. She created a lot of wonderful memories in both the school and the Pea Ridge community. She would get the whole school involved in these wonderful festivals. Every year, she directed a May Day Festival, and the kids from the school would dance around the Maypole. Then at Christmas, there would be a Christmas Program. In the middle of all this, there would always be a May Day and Christmas Queen and court both. We surely enjoyed looking at those old pictures.

The Pea Ridge Senior Center is now in the building that used to be the school. That land was originally owned by Bethel Free Will Baptist Church, which is still next door. The early church members had originally planned that there would be a cemetery there, but the community needed a school and that location was right in the center of the Pea Ridge community. So the church sold some of the land to the county and they built Mayberry Elementary School. For that reason, there was always some kind of connection between Mayberry School and Bethel Church. Also, the buildings were right next door to each other. When I was growing up, the school was always having some kind of activity out front. They would use the church grounds and the school yard both, so they had more room. I do not know how such would go over today, but that is the way things used to be in a little country community.

Bethel Church, Pea Ridge.

While I am on the church next door thing, my daddy, Albert Lee Pickett, Sr., preached there for thirty some years. His dad, my granddaddy, William Joseph “Bill” Pickett, was among its earliest members. You’d think my family had a history in that church. I grew up in that church and played piano there all through high school too.

Anyway, since taking the land from the church to build the school would have left the folks at Bethel without a cemetery, by agreement between those early community and church leaders, the folks at Bethel buried their dead at the cemetery at Macedonia Baptist Church. Always have, as far as I know. That is where my family buries as well. It is on a nice hill and has a beautiful and well-maintained cemetery, as you first drive up into the Pea Ridge community area from Dogwood, another little community down the road.

So, the school was built on the land from Bethel Church and Macedonia had the cemetery that mostly served the two churches and a lot of the rest of the community as well. Antioch also has a cemetery too. And I might be missing some other, I think there may have been a cemetery out at the church in Boothton as well. That’s out by the Cahaba River, near where I was baptized. People don’t generally baptize in the river anymore. Today it is most well known for the Cahaba Lillies and people come from all over to see those flowers.

The Third Sunday in May

While we are on the churches, every year on the Third Sunday in May, there is a big community get together at Macedonia Church. It is called “The Third Sunday in May.” Everybody from the area knows about The Third Sunday in May. All the families from way back clean up the cemetery and put flowers on the family graves and they get together for dinner on the grounds. There is usually a singing after everybody eats. The Third Sunday in May has been the biggest get together of the year in the area for as long as I can remember. The Meet on the Ridge just got started a few years back.

A Third Sunday in May picture of the Holsomback siblings, early 1960s, or there about. On the back row: Uncle Eddie Lee, Uncle Henry and Azlee Pickett (my grandmother). On the front row: Aunt Margie Pickett, Aunt Bertie, Aunt Ruby Nabors and Murray Franklin “Uncle Bunt” Holsomback.

Back when I was growing up, all the women and little girls would get a pretty new dress to wear on the Third Sunday. If you didn’t get another new dress all year, you got one for The Third Sunday in May. People would be taking pictures all day. Just about every family in the area has Third Sunday pictures from way back, with everybody wearing their pretty new dresses. The pictures are generally taken near the resting place of their loved ones. Big community reunion, it’s dying down a little now, but folks still come.

One thing surprised me when I grew up and moved away is that other folks did not understand the thing about the community get together and the picnic in the cemetery. It is a day to remember the past though and those who came before you. Pay your respects to those who came before you. Then, as the morning wears on, you say hello to old friends and family and right about lunch time, you get together for dinner on the grounds.

The next generation Third Sunday in May picture (probably from the early 1980s). Albert Lee Pickett (my daddy), Azlee Holsomback Pickett (my grandmother), Billie Pickett Elliott (my dad’s younger sister) and Elizabeth Pickett Bergstressor (my dad’s older sister).

The Churches on the Ridge

There are other churches and cemeteries in the area. There were seven churches on The Ridge when I was growing up: Bethel Free Will Baptist Church (where Daddy preached), Macedonia Baptist Church, Mayberry Southern Missionary Baptist Church, the Church of Christ, the Assembly of God, Antioch Baptist Church and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church (Daddy preached there a little while too, not long). Pilgrim is gone, the House of Prayer came and went, and there is now Christian Mission and the Church that God Built with a New Beginning. And Bethel is no longer Free Will Baptist. It is still Baptist though. As the old timers used to say,

Baptists are like bees, if you get too many in a hive they swarm and start a new one. – Reverend “Preacher Maxwell” Harper

I had to throw that in there, thank you Trussel Harper. But anyway, back to The Meet on the Ridge and all the way back to the food, you know if there is a good time to be had, there is some good food involved. I used to say that cooking was a contact sport on Pea Ridge, there is no doubt there is some good eating in those parts.

Buddy’s Bar-B-Que

Kenneth “Buddy” Hyde, of Buddy’s Bar-B-Que, in Alabaster, did the catering for the Meet on the Ridge. He set up for business, selling plates, in the old school cafeteria. It was some good eating, well known in those parts as some of the best bar-b-que around. Word has it that Buddy used to compete in the bar-b-que cook-offs and when he did, he generally won. He also went to Mayberry Elementary School, and we all did a little reminiscing as well. There is no doubt, Buddy’s Bar-B-Que is some good eating, his sauce is just the way I like it, a little bit sweet with a good tang to it and the meat cooked real tender: baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw on the side. Some people show up to The Meet just to get a plate and take it home and that is okay too. People pretty much come and go as they please at the Meet on the Ridge.

Buddy’s Bar-B-Que.

Potluck Dessert Bar

For dessert, the area cooks pitch in and bring their favorites. You don’t just sit down and leisurely eat and then go back for dessert, that stuff will be gone if you do not move fast. And after you take your first bite, you understand why. Remember what I said about cooking being a contact sport on Pea Ridge. Mama made two desserts. My sister brought a pie and I didn’t catch who made the others, but there was not a whole lot left.

Pot luck dessert bar. Everything goes fast.

Aldrich Coal Mine Museum

After we ate, some of us headed out to the Aldrich Coal Mine Museum for some more history. Henry and Rose Emfinger run the museum and were there to show us around. A lot of us had relatives who used to work the coal mines, so we had a lot of interest. You’d think all we did was talk about history when we get together, could be. We toured two buildings there. One used to be the Montevallo Coal Mine Company Store and the other was Farrington Hall, which served as an office building for the mine.

Aldrich Coal Mine Museum. Photo credit: Regina Pickett Garson.

My granddaddy, Bill Pickett, was disabled with black lung from his work in the coal mines and he was real active in the coal miners’ union. A lot of those old timers started work real young, eight and nine years old, working in the coal mine. And you know if they were working that young, they were not spending a whole lot of time in school. That is the way things were in that area back then.

When they got older though, some of the old timers in the area got very active in the coal mine unions and working toward change and the rights of workers. Sam Littlefield, who used to go hunting with my granddaddy, was a nationally known union organizer. It is likely we will never know the truth about his death, but he was shot when he was in Washington DC for a union meeting. He’s buried in Macedonia Cemetery. Those were some hard times and some of the folks in the area worked real hard for change, to make things better for the coal miners, working folks, their kids and grandkids, and the people who came after them. Those old timers were a whole lot more forward thinking than some folks give them credit. They went through some hard times but they also had the tenacity and courage to work to make things better for their family, community and country.

Whether they know it or not, every working person in this country today owes a debt to the early union organizers in this country. What they went through. Skipping off to work in a coal mine, when they should have been studying for a spelling test in third grade must have been something else.

But anyway, it was a real treat visiting the Aldrich Coal Mine Museum, humbling to say the least. I had heard about it for years but that was my first visit. One thing really hit me hard was the finery in Farrington Hall, which used to be the office building for the Montevallo Coal Mine; as poor as those coal miners were, and working so hard, so young, those were some fine furnishings in that old building, leather wall covering, art, pool tables, inside bathroom facilities, which there sure weren’t a lot of on Pea Ridge back then. It pierced a hole in my soul to see that level of finery and realize it was there the whole time, while those who came before me were working in the coal mines at eight and nine years old. Some of the earliest memories of my life are of going to the spring with my grandmother, Azlee Holsomback Pickett, and carrying water back to the house in buckets. There was not a whole lot of running water on Pea Ridge back then.

I wish I had taken more pictures at the Coal Mine Museum, but I ran my cell phone battery down taking so many pictures at the Meet on the Ridge and by the time I got to the museum, oh well. It could be that is an excuse to go back. They also had a lot of pictures from the early history around the Montevallo area. The museum is definitely worth a visit. After that, we called it a day.

Aldrich Coal Mine Museum, “Company Store.”

This year’s Meet on the Ridge was organized by Larry Pickett and myself (we’re cousins).  I am still as involved as I can be in the area and not live there. Jim Seagle, President of the Pea Ridge Senior Center, helped coordinate things and make sure all was taken care of at the Pea Ridge Senior Center. Linda Jarvis Russell, who was a past organizer for The Meet, was not able to be there this year, but she also helped on some of the communications and logistics.

The Meet on the Ridge is generally held in April. Although the dates have fluctuated somewhat, it is tentatively set for the first Saturday in April every year.

We always take up donations to cover the building rental for the day and whatever we have left goes as a direct donation to the Pea Ridge Senior Center. The donations were generous this year, and we were proud to be able to give back to the community.

That’s about it. Several folks helped in checking some of the facts on the history. Thank you to Mike Pesseackey, Judy Fox, Mama (Cherry Pickett), Trussel Harper, Rita Horton Anderson, and anybody from the Pea Ridge Community Page or the Pickett and Holsomback Family Page that I missed. Y’all see anything that I missed or got wrong,  there is a comment section below and I’ll get back on it as soon as I can.

Also see:

Photo credits:

The photo of the Holsomback siblings is from a Third Sunday in May in the 1960s, or thereabout.  As is traditional, it was taken at Macedonia Cemetery, near the final resting place of family members who had gone before them. I am not sure who took the original, but we all cherish our copy.
The interior of the Aldrich Commissary is from the National Park Service. It shows Henry Emfinger’s Colletion.  Aldrich Commissary, 137 Shelby County Road 203, Aldrich, Shelby County, AL.
Marvel Water Tower, Bibb County Road 10, Marvel, Bibb County, AL.  This photo is from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) or Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS), the National Park Service.

 




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