A couple of weeks ago, I fell in love…with a town. I went to see what Blue Springs State Park in Southeast Alabama had to offer, then decided to keep driving on Highway 10 East.
When I got to the town of Abbeville, I noticed something different. There was a strong sense of pride shown in the homes, businesses, churches and people. It gave me that “Mayberry” feeling, which is a good thing. I decided to walk around for a bit and check this town out.
Walking down the sidewalk in front of the shops, I could hear music playing—the good ol’ music from the 50’s, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin music. I smiled and kept on walking. I noticed the windows of these shops were “dressed” with wares from a previous life. There were TV’s from the 40’s and 50’s, bicycles, clothing and hats from the same era. This piqued my interest even more.
When I got home, I did a little digging around, and the name Jimmy Rane kept popping up. I contacted Mr. Rane, and he was happy to share his hometown with me, so I drove back down for a visit.
Abbeville, Alabama is the oldest remaining colonial settlement in East Alabama and it is older than the county it sits in, Henry County, and is older than the State of Alabama.
Jimmy Rane was born and raised in Abbeville, Alabama, and said his fondest memories were from the age of six through 13. Jimmy said, “I remember riding my bike along Kirkland Street with a stick in my hand, and I held the stick out so it would “click” along the picket fences as I rode by.”
“Everyone in town was on the same level. We were equal. We weren’t rich and we weren’t poor.” We worked together and we helped each other out. We didn’t have the government supporting us, people were involved in the community, and it was the community that supported each other.”
“People didn’t have air conditioning back then, and people would sit on their front porches. At night, everyone would walk the streets and visit with each other. You could also smell what everyone was cooking!” (I can see Andy and Barney now, can’t you?) Jimmy said it was an idyllic childhood and I have to agree.
On Sunday, the churches were full, whether you were a Methodist or Baptist, and if you didn’t arrive early, you didn’t get a seat. And Sunday lunch, that was a big deal and something you looked forward to.
Agriculture was the main source of income before the war. Then, shortly after World War II, West Point Pepperell came to town and employed 1,400 people. Abbeville was flourishing in the 1950s and had everything you needed: grocery stores, drug stores, clothing stores. In the 1960s, Abbeville was still holding, but it started tipping in the ‘70s, and Abbeville had pretty much fallen apart by the 90’s.
This broke Jimmy’s parents’ hearts. He said, “When I would go to my parents’ house, it was like going to a wake. They were upset about the condition of their town. I decided to do something about it.” Jimmy started buying up the vacant buildings on Kirkland Street and renovating them. Businesses started to come back.
Huggin’ Molly’s, an old-fashioned restaurant, depicts a simpler time in the 50’s with its authentic soda fountain and counter. There are old jars with penny candy in them and the back “wall” is a reproduction of Mr. Gower’s pharmacy and soda fountain from the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Down the street stands the Archie Movie Theater where the children lined up on Saturday afternoons to watch the double feature. The theater was opened in 1948 and named after Archie Walker who passed serving in WWII. Jimmy is restoring the old theater to its former glory days and when completed, the good ol’ movies will be played there once again.
While walking around Abbeville, I passed by other people out walking, and when we passed by each other, “Good Afternoon,” and, “How you doing?” was said with a smile. I miss that.
Mr. Rane loves his hometown of Abbeville, Alabama and it shows. He said he was fortunate enough to have many good people believe in what he was doing and they formed a team, because he said, “No one person can do all of these things by himself.”
Jimmy Rane, the “YellaFella,” is the owner of Great Southern Wood, and he told me, “A lot of people have helped me along the way and I try to give when and where I can. You can only eat three meals a day and wear one pair of pants a day. It’s not about material things.”
Come along with me, and I’m sure you’ll agree, the best little places you can find are on the atlas following the red line!
Where have you found that “Mayberry” feeling?