Excerpts from a Book Written in the 1980s by William (Willie) Lee, Titled, "A Love Story," (Remembering His Life with the Love of His Life, Josie Magness Lee. Copied by permission from Mr. Lee’s Family.)
- "…Now going back as far as I can remember it was in a house on the corner of Ward Avenue and Dallas Street. My little brother Jesse went along with me in the yard to look around a bit. We went out to the fence between our house and Mrs. Masons who had some geese in her back yard. We were looking through the fence at the geese. I looked around in our yard and I noticed some chickens in our yard were making a funny sound like they do when they are frightened. They seemed to be looking at something on the ground. I looked down to see what they were frightened about and there a snake had crawled up with his head right by my foot. I took off running to the house yelling run Jesse run. He just stood there watching me run. I don’t think he ever saw the snake. I guess he thought I had gone crazy. Well anyway my older sister went out and killed the snake.
- When we lived in that house my older sister would walk with me and Jesse up to the end of the block to watch the train go by. We thought that was great. I remember there was a man lived across the street from us who owned a bull that was gentle as a lamb. The man went barefoot most of the time. He would ride on the bull’s back like riding a horse. He would ride up the road toward the mill. I think he must have been taking the bull to water in the creek that ran down by the mill.
- Sometimes I went with some of the older members of the family to carry lunch to the ones that were working in the mill. They would sit in the shade in front of the mill and eat their lunch. We would wait until they finished their lunch then take the big lunch basket back home. Speaking of shade there use to be a ring of trees around that spot in front of the mill. It was a beautiful spot. I remember they would have what they called ice cream suppers sometimes there in front of the mill.
- I think the next place we moved to was on the east end of Stevens Avenue on the north side of the street. It was in the second block east of Andrew Jackson Way which at that time was known as Fifth Street. At that time there were only three houses in that block. There was no houses across the street from our house. From our house to Maysville Road it was just open fields. On the south side of Stevens Ave. there was only one bock of houses east of Fifth St. including a grocery store on the corner of Fifth St. There was a streetcar track right down the middle of Stevens Ave. to a point two blocks west of Fifth St. At this point the street car motorman would reverse the trolley pole and run the car back east on Stevens to a point one block east of Fifth St. where the track turned south toward downtown Huntsville to a point now known as Five Points then turning right for one block then turning slightly to the left down East Holmes St to Washington St. where it turned left at the store known now as Belk Hudson. But in those days it was a grocery store run by an Italian John Cicero. I think the street car tracks continued up Washington Street up around the courthouse and back north on Jefferson St. to Clinton St. turned west and continued through West Huntsville on over to Merrimack Cotton Mill which is now known as Huntsville Mfg. Co. The people at Merrimack could ride the streetcar to town for five cents do their shopping in downtown Huntsville and ride back home for five cents. Or if you wanted to you could ride all the way from one end of the line to the other for five cents which was from near Dallas Mill on Stevens Ave. to Merrimack mill village.
- Then we moved over on Rison Ave. third house from the mill. We lived there I guess longer than we did on Stevens. We were there when they started to build the Y.M.C.A. and we were there several years after it was finished. I remember sitting on the front steps and watching the black coal smoke roll out of the big smoke stacks over at the mill.
- I remember one day while we lived on Rison I went to the store for my mother. It was only about two blocks away but it seemed to me a long ways. It was the street that run down in front of the Y.M.C.A., on through to Pratt Ave. Of course the Y.M.C.A. has been torn down several years now. I do not recall the name of the street at that time but now it is known as Shiffman. Well anyway I went to the store on Shiffman and was on my way back home. I had already turned the corner I struck my toe on a rock. I was bare foot and it really hurt. I looked back to see what I struck my toe on and what I saw made me forget my toe for the moment. The rock had been buried about half in the ground. Someone had removed the rock, took out some of the dirt under the rock and put a big handful of marbles in the hole and placed the rock back. Well I took the marbles home. My mother said if we find out who they belong to I would have to give them back because it would not be right to keep them if we knew who they belong to but if we did not find out I could keep them. Well we did not find out anything about them so I got to keep them.
- Well time went on and I got old enough to work in the mill. In those days you could start to work at twelve years old. I started to work at twelve. I worked a while I don’t know just how long but then they sent me out to go to school eight weeks. That was the law. You had to go to school at least eight weeks in a year to be eligible to work in the mill. This was for all under sixteen years of age.
- I remember we were planning on moving out on the farm and my dad had bought a horse which we were going to use for a buggy horse. …Well the following spring we moved to the farm. I was real excited because I had wanted to live on the farm for a long time. …Jesse and I started to school at Riverton near what they called three forks of flint. Flint meaning Flint River. I learned a lot for what little time I got to go to school there. …I always wanted to learn but most teachers where I had went to school did not care if you learned or not. But the teacher I had at Riverton was the best I have ever seen. Her name was Miss Hatchett. She later married a young man by the name of Lawler. The next year we moved back to town and I did not know at that time what happened to that wonderful teacher, but many years later I learned she was teaching at Rison School in Huntsville, Alabama, where our children were going to school. She taught some of our children and at least one of our grandchildren.
- We all worked hard that year thinking we might come out ahead at the end of the year. But we barely broke even. So we decided to move back to town and work in the cotton mill. They were full up with help at Dallas Mill where I had always worked except a little while. I worked I guess about three months at Lincoln Mill which in those days was known as Abington Mill. The boss at Dallas said he would keep me in mind and soon as he could use me he would let me know. He said check in every week he might need me any time. By the way I forgot to mention that back in those days the boss of each department hired his own help. You go in and see the boss, and if he needs you he will put you to work and later in the day he would give you a little piece of paper with your name and title of your job and tell you to take it down to the big office and turn it in. The people at the big office put you on the payroll. …It was not long until I got a job back in Dallas. I was happy to get back. I was use to this type of work and could handle it real well.
- …This was about 1920. I remember my brother Jesse and I would go to the picture show downtown every Saturday. We always went to the Jefferson because they most always showed westerns. At that time we lived on Abington Ave. It was not far downtown, so we always walked down Meridian St. right into town. On our way we would stop at a little store run by Mr. Hatcher. It was known as Hatchers Store. We would buy candy there to eat while we were in the show. Always when the show was over we went straight home.
(Note: Willie and Josie are married in the following memories.)
- We lived on Davidson St. about a year or maybe a little longer then we moved back to Dallas. Josie and I both got a job back in Dallas Mill and began trying to get a house. Mama and I always one of the little three room houses up in what they use to call new town. That was from Rison Ave. where the big ditch is to Oakwood Ave. Well we finally got one up on Oakwood Ave. next house to the four room house the Magness family lived in when Mama and I married. We lived there about two years then the mill co. decided to close half of the mill and transfer some of the people from the part that was closed down to the part that was running so as to work at least one in each family. It was nice of them to do that. Well at the time mama was working for one boss and I was working for another. The superintendent told the bosses to try to work one in a family. If there was two working in a family lay off one and work one. Well in our case we both were laid off. Each boss claimed he thought the other boss was going to work the one that was working for him. We did not know what we would do or what we could do. You could not get a job anywhere. If you had a job you was lucky. But we knew if mama’s parents had anything to eat, we would have some too. We heard they were going to have to start up another set spinning frames to balance up the production. So soon as I heard this I went to the spinning boss and ask him to let mama spin on this job and he said no that job is already given away. I was not satisfied about this so I went to the superintendent. He said he would look into it. He was a man that if he told you something you could depend on it. He asked me why they laid us both off. I told him how it happened. He sent one of the village nurses up to our house to find out just how bad we needed a job. So, the next day the spinning boss sent mama word to come in Monday and go on that set of frames. I know that must have almost chocked him to death to have to do that after telling me no they was already given away. …I know the superintendent gave the spinning boss orders to give mama the job or he would never haven given it to her. Well as I said we lived in this little three room house about two years and we decided we did not like it well as we thought we would. So we decided to move back to old town which was from Rison Ave. back south to O’Shaughnessy Ave. It was not long until we got a house back on Stevens Ave. It was the fourth house from Dement St. on the south side of Stevens Ave. west of Dement St. We lived there a long time.
- I remember one time mama was sick and we called the doctor. Dr. Brooks was on vacation so Dr. Jorden came in his place. Well when Dr. Jorden came he was smoking a cigar and as he came upon the porch he laid his cigar on the banister and told Howard or Billy one I don’t remember which to not get it. One of them said Ha I don’t want to get your germs. The doctor just laughed and went on.
- Now about something that happened when I first went to work in the mill. I was only twelve years old. We did not work hard but we did not make much money either. We also put in long hours. We worked from six in the morning until twelve o’clock noon. Then they stopped the mill off for one hour and everyone went home for lunch. Then we went back to work at one o’clock and worked until six. People today can’t believe we made such little wages. I started working at sixty-five cents a day for eleven hours. There were many boys and girls at age twelve and thirteen and fourteen working in the cotton mills….
- The present time is Oct. 7, 1980. There had been two families living in this house but one had moved out so we asked the man that still lived in one side of the house if he would swap houses with us if the mill company would give us the whole house. He said he would. I ask about it the mill and they said OK. This house is almost straight across the street from the house we were living in. So we carried our furniture across the street a piece at a time. It was a slow move but we finally made it. The house was in need of a paint job throughout. The company at that time was furnishing the paint if people wanted to paint their house.
- …Back in those days no one ever thought that the mill company would sell any of the houses. But in later years there began to be labor trouble. We had a strike or two but they got it settled. One time we had a strike in the winter and when I had to go on picket I wore pair of Howard’s heavy shoes he had in the Marines. They sure came in handy when it was cold. There was no labor trouble when the mill company sold the houses but everyone thinks labor trouble had something to do with it. The company was real nice about selling the houses. They gave the people first choice on the house they lived in if they wanted to buy it. The company required a small down payment. We did not have any extra money. We did not see any way we could raise the money for the down payment. If we could make the down payment the company would take out a very small payment from your paycheck each week. Well a man that worked in the same department that I worked in at the mill had learned that a real estate man by the name of Thomas W. Jones, Jr, was lending people money for their down payment and taking a second mortgage and people could pay it back in small monthly payments. This proved to be a good thing for a lot of people because there were many people just like us that was just barely getting by from one paycheck to the next. …It took a long time to pay for it but we finally made it. …At that time we were working under a contract between the mill company and the labor union. I don’t remember for how long the contract was but when it ran out the company and the union could not agree on a new contract. So the union pulled another strike. The mill company and the union had several meetings trying to get together on a contract but they all failed. I think the union was asking too much. But anyway after a while the company began hiring new help and some nonunion help went back to work. They tried for about a year to run the mill but it did not work out. So the company decided to close it down and sell it out. That must have been about 1947 or 1948 because Huntsville Mfg Co. started hiring Dallas help in late 1948. Up until then they would not hire any Dallas help because of the labor trouble.
- …We finished paying for our home December 28, 1965. What a wonderful feeling it was to know we finally made it to make the last payment."