By KEVIN MCKINLEY
Special to Atmore News
Time and distance passes by on Highway 31 in Canoe as a never-ending succession of cars, trucks and 18-wheelers roll by what they may consider is just another town along another highway in another rural area.
For some, little communities like Canoe, Uriah, Huxford or Jay are just dots on a map, but they mean something more to us who live in these places. They are the birthplaces, burial grounds, and battlefields of our ancestors. They are where we, as children, learned to walk beside our grandfathers along old fence rows set by their grandfathers. They are where we have laid to rest those we have loved so dearly in our lifetimes in the quiet cemeteries that hold their remains. They are the places where we learned to pray, where we built friendships, where we fell in love, and they are the incarnations of all that we are and the memories of all we hold dear. To paraphrase a great movie, they are the “sacred geography” of our souls.
Such places and these sacred memories deserve to be preserved. Historic markers, memorials and murals help remind us of times and places not so long ago in our collective memory. It was such a desire to preserve these memories that the Canoe Civic Club set out to put a mural in Canoe. The group “endeavored to persevere” through Covid, heartbreak and setbacks yet the Club was able to get the project off the ground.
The subject of the mural at Canoe is a photo that Mrs. Carolyn Conn shared with this writer back in 2007 at the time we were raising money for the Canoe, Alabama historic marker at Baker’s Grocery in Canoe.
Mrs. Conn shared the photo from a postcard which showed Canoe in the 1933-1934 era showing the downtown area and many businesses and structures. It is very likely Charles Troutman, Canoe’s resident photographer, took the photo at the time of the opening of Highway 31.
On April 5, 1934, a local newspaper reported, “Detour signs, which have routed traffic on Highway 31 around Canoe for the past several months, were removed this morning and motorists were allowed to ride over the entire length of the newly laid concrete from Atmore to Sardis Church, a distance of about 8 miles. The highway to Canoe has been open for some time, but today was the first time motorists were allowed to travel the distance from Canoe to Sardis Church, the concrete on this stretch having been poured only about two weeks ago.”
Speaking with Mr. Weldon Vickery outside Trucker’s in Atmore on a Saturday recently, I learned that Highway 31 through this county to Bay Minette was rare in the pouring of concrete sections in the construction of the highway. As a child I can remember riding to town and the bump that occurred as the vehicle traveled over every seam in the concrete sections on the way to town as contrasted with “going the old way,” as I was told my grandfather called it, en route to town. In retrospect I think “the old way” of going to town referred to a time before 31 and which involved country roads between Robinsonville and Atmore.
If you visit the mural in Canoe, which I encourage you to do, notice all the stores on both sides of the railroad tracks. It’s hard to believe Canoe had a two-story mercantile establishment at the intersection of today’s caution light but it’s there on the right. The store existed on the bottom floor and the local Woodman of the World and another fraternal order met upstairs once a month.
On the other side of the tracks is Stallworth’s Hardware, now Mill’s Fence. Train riders often knew Canoe as the town of the “Guns and Coffins” sign on their hardware store.
If you look closely, you can see a few people sitting outside the stores here and there under the awnings. You can also see Canoe’s train station and potato sheds. There’s a lot to see in this mural, which can easily be viewed without getting out of your vehicle and I’d bet you’ll see something new every time you stop and view it.
This mural was placed through a lot of hard work and dedication, and we plan a ceremony soon. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Board of Directors, Mike Smith, Tim Chavers Wiley Farrar, Davis Amos, and Butch Black. Brandon Smith was instrumental in our community efforts and deserves a thank you for all his hard work representing his constituency in county matters with experience and dedication to his job.
The good people of Canoe also deserve thanks for their support of our efforts to improve the day-to-day lives of the people of Canoe through projects such as this mural which adds texture to the fabric of our community.
The William Carney Camp Sons of Confederate Veterans have always been supportive of efforts to preserve all of Canoe’s history, and they were certainly of great assistance in this project as well. David Landis and Landis Design Co. did a job above and beyond expectation and I think they were absolutely the right folks for this challenge. My wife deserves my thanks for all the support she has given these projects and others. If I forgot someone it is due to getting older not necessarily wiser.
So, when you’re heading east from Atmore along North Highway 31 take a look at the Canoe mural just past the caution light on the right.