South Huntsville Living
For just a moment, close your eyes and picture Whitesburg Drive, booming with business, restaurants and one of Huntsville’s busiest intersections at Airport Rd. Now, erase everything and come with us to Whitesburg Pike.
Whitesburg Pike, now Whitesburg Drive, was a county Road that connected the city of Huntsville with the Tennessee River. Governors Drive marked the outer boundary of Huntsville, and Whitesburg Pike was a sleepy little dirt road along which much of the land was originally owned by the Garth family. After falling upon hard economic times, the land was sold to Aaron Fleming around 1920. This is when our story begins. Please relax and enjoy the ride as you become part of south Huntsville living from the 1920’s to the 1950’s! (All photos may be clicked to enlarge.)
We invite you to climb aboard our mule drawn carriage for a scenic journey through hay fields, cotton fields and vast pastures where cows, horses and sheep graze. Prepare to depart from the intersection at Drake Avenue and travel southward along Whitesburg Pike. This is the beginning of what will become south Huntsville.
Miles of unobstructed views of pasture land flanked by rolling hills to the east stretch before us with only 6 homes dotting the landscape. Our first stop is about midway between Drake Avenue and Airport Road. To your left, you will see the old Garth home which will soon become the home of Mr. and Mrs. Walton Fleming and will grow with their family. Across the street, to your right, there is a large horse barn and a dirt road that leads westward to a track that was used primarily for entertainment. The land here is so lush that owners of Kentucky Derby race horses often keep their horses here in off seasons. Many years from now, land where the track is located will become the Piedmont neighborhood.
As we approach the corner of Whitesburg Pike and Airport Road, please notice the sheep you see grazing on the hills. This is the only farm in the state of Alabama that raises sheep, which is something Mr. Aaron was told couldn’t be done in the South! As we momentarily detour into the future, the sheep will fade and you will see the intersection begin to change during the 1940’s and 1950’s.
We are still here on Whitesburg Pike at the intersection of Airport Rd., but now in the early 1940’s, and the road under our carriage is being paved and made into two lanes. The men planting Cedar trees along the roadside have been sent by Mr. Aaron, who is planting the trees in memorial to soldiers. In the late 40’s he will begin selling 4 acre parcels of land for $400 each. Mr. Fleming values land according to its use for farming and worries that he might be charging too much for those rocky parcels near Airport Road.
With an increasing population, the need for entertainment is also growing. It is now 1949 and Aaron’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. Martha Fleming (wife of Walton Fleming,) has built a drive-in movie theater on the northeast corner of Whitesburg and Airport Rd. Airport is still a dirt road and does not cross the mountain into Jones Valley. The Whitesburg Drive-In opens on June 16, 1949. It has a capacity for 400 cars and includes a playground for children in front of the screen as well as a concession stand. If you’d like to catch a movie on our return trip, admission is 40 cents for adults and 10 cents for children over age 5. If you’d prefer more lively entertainment, Camerons Supper Club, which offers dancing and drinks, is located across the street on the southeast corner of the intersection. The Presbyterian church congregation, in need of a meeting place, holds Sunday morning church services at Camerons and eventually will purchase the land.
As times change, Mrs. Fleming will find it increasingly difficult to obtain a variety of movies that are appropriate for family viewing. Being a woman of strong character, she will not compromise her standards, and will close The Whitesburg Drive-In in September of 1979.
The only other building here, the one to your right, is the Highway Patrol office located on the northwest corner of the intersection. When the Highway Patrol moves out, Mr. Walton Fleming will use the building as his office and will plant the surrounding 2 acres with turnip greens, which will be offered to anybody who wishes to harvest them.
Now we return to the 1920’s and our little dirt road and will continue to roll southward on our journey! We’ve reached Four Mile Post Rd, which means we’re now four miles away from Huntsville, hence the street name. In addition to Saturday evening dinners with neighbors and Sunday afternoon softball games at the corner of Sherwood Drive, there are two annual gatherings in this area that will span decades. A grand, 4th of July celebration is held each year, and a “hog kill,” takes place each January or February. Each family is given one hog to supply them with meat. Everyone gathers to process the meat. Suffice it to say that a hog goes in one end and sausage comes out at the end of the line.
Land on both sides of the road will someday become neighborhoods. Mr. Aaron is best friends with the owner of the Chevrolet dealership, so many of the streets will be named after various Chevy vehicle models such as Corvette Drive and Bel Air.
In a few minutes we’ll be approaching Mr. Aaron’s home on the right. The fields to our left are dotted white with sheep and to our right with cotton. Why is the road wet? Oh drat, we’re stuck in a mud hole! Please feel free to stretch your legs while we find some farm workers to help get us out of this mess. Just don’t wander too far away. We’ll need to collect 50 cents to pay them for their efforts.
I apologize for the delay, but we may now continue. I’ve heard that the workers sometimes wet this road down when they need extra money, and since the sun is out . . . well, who knows why the road was so wet. Hopefully you had a chance to look around the Fleming home, though. It’s quite beautiful!
On we go
toward Lily Flagg! In 1934, 2,200 bales of wheat-straw from these fields will
be brought up Monte Sano and used to build the home of Dr. William Burritt.
What’s that? Why is the street named Lily Flagg? Well, that’s a story in
Lily Flagg was a Jersey Cow who broke the world record as the top butter producer in 1892. This honor was received after Lily produced 1047 pounds of butter that year. She was owned by W.E. Matthews and General Samuel H. Moore of Huntsville. General Moore painted his house butter yellow and hosted an elaborate party, which included electric lights for the dance floor. The area was named in honor of Lily Flagg before 1906.
To your right, just behind where the United Church of Huntsville will someday be located, is, The Quarters. This grouping of cinder block homes is where farm workers live. In years to come, Mrs. Martha Fleming (Walton’s wife,) will routinely stop by on hot days with a farm truck and drive the local children to the public pool in Huntsville to have some fun and to cool off. Many years from now the land at The Quarters will become the Lily Flagg Trace Condominiums.
As we come to the end of Whitesburg, the cotton gin is on our left. In the mid 1920’s the first rural electrification in the state takes place when power is run to Mr. Aaron’s farm and this cotton gin. The gin is always bustling with activity as cotton from the farm is ginned, graded and stored here. It also serves as a gathering spot where men are often found in the office playing checkers or a hand of poker. Within a few years, a general store and a machine shop will be built across the road on your right, and those buildings will remain well into the 2000’s.
We’ve reached the end of our tour, and thank you for joining us. We also offer our sincere thanks to each of the following long-time residents of Whitesburg Drive for lengthy interviews including, Mr. Ben Walker who also provided maps, Mrs. Sally Walker who shared original artwork, Mr. Joe Fleming, Mrs. BeBe Fleming, Mr. Bob DeYoung, Mrs. Mary Deyoung, Mr. Wince Woods, and Mrs. Maddie B. Woods. The oral history and visual history shared by these neighbors will be treasured by many for generations to come. For more information on the homes of Aaron or Walton Fleming, please visit our previous articles on the South Huntsville Living website under the South Huntsville History tab.