Jessie Cleveland Ruth Cleveland

About 100 Years Ago Now…

I’m in the process of scanning old photos, slides, and negatives. The sheer number makes the whole process daunting! One of the unexpected outcomes of my project is that many of the photos jog my memory of times now long gone.

Here’e an example

My grandmother, born in 1903, was a very progressive woman in her day. She was far a head of her time. And, despite numerous tragedies during her childhood1, she went on to attain things that generally were not afforded women of her generation.

But, inconceivable to me now, my grandmother never drove a car. I just can’t get my head around that fact—to live one’s entire life never having driven a car. And when I scanned this photograph of her (top and below), I remembered a conversation we had when I was a young man driving her from her house to ours.

Mamaw told me that when she was a little girl, there were no roads where they lived, only what she called “pig paths.” They lived “out in the country.”

There were no roads because there were no cars. She said the first time she saw a car it terrified her. The car was terribly noisy and frightened all of the animals, sending them running down the pig path toward her in a panicked state.

People had horses and wagons back in the day. In “downtown” Prichard, people tied up their horses to posts down the center of the dirt street. Later, a cable car was added, replacing the posts for the horses.

This photo shows the old pig path up to the house. Fancy atire aside, this scene looks so impoverished because there are simply no roads.

Jessie Cleveland Ruth Cleveland
This photo was taken about 100 years ago now. My grandmother is the girl on the right
Prichard, AL
Prichard, AL

Today, Prichard, AL, is impoverished. All of the industry is gone2. Downtown is basically boarded up. Only the poorest of the poor remain. Crime, unemployment, and drugs are rampant. By all measures Prichard is among the very worst places to live in the whole state of Alabama. But downtown sits close to a huge interstate that passes over (literally on top of) main street—no on/off ramps needed there! People whiz to and from Mobile on it.

I’m not so sure things have gotten any better in this country over the past 100 years. But we have roads. We have cars. We have gridlock. We have high density living and glutted life styles. Frankly, we just have too many people. But that’s the price we have to pay to keep this Ponzi scheme we call capitalism afloat.

What will people say of today 100 years from now? The transportation infrastructure is in a ruinous state. Whole municipalities are collapsing. Towns are being poisoned with lead-laden or fracking chemical-laden water supplies. Young people graduate from college with no hope of ever paying off the cost of college, let alone finding gainful employment in an actual career. And the wealth divide is the worst it’s been in my entire lifetime.

Where’s my smartphone? I need to take another selfie of me smiling and posed. Life is good, yeah?! Should I get the new model?

  1. She basically grew up as an orphan. 

  2. The paper mill and the steel plant employed huge numbers in their day. 

2 thoughts on “About 100 Years Ago Now…”

  1. Very interesting to read about Mamaw. She was definitely a stong woman and very ahead of her time. Wished I’d been wise enough to realize it then. Would love to hear from you. Have a new email address [email]. I’m in Denver currently for a couple of weeks helping Tammy redecorate. Lots of work but fun. Had a full knee replacement the end of July. What a difference it made. Not sure if I told you we moved John up close to us last Oct. He’s adjusted pretty well. He was in Vegas for 51 years.

    Write if you have time


  2. You might be interested to know that the shortest girl in the photo is Aunt Jessie Cleveland. She married (and divorced) Uncle Gene (1905), Papaw (1903) and Aunt Irma’s (1908) brother. Mamaw (Ruth Lucille Cleveland Tyson) was related to Aunt Jessie, but I’m unsure how.

    Back in the very late 1980s – 1990, Mamaw, before her dementia was so great she couldn’t remember or write, sat and wrote the names of the people on the old photos. We were all horrified at the time, because she wrote their names on the photographs themselves. But, had she not done that, we would not know that this picture has her and Aunt Jessie in it, and which is which.

    Knowing she is on the right, I can recognize her face from other photos of her during this time. But otherwise, I would not have known. And I had no idea that was Aunt Jessie.

    After scanning the photo, I kept a version with the names and then created this version with the names removed and the photo more or less restored to the state it was in before she wrote on it.

    Oh, and another thing Mamaw said about back in the day: The cable car went from downtown Prichard (which was down the hill from the old homestead) “up on the hill” and ended its route just beyond the old homestead: Nanny’s house. So the cable car went past the old homestead.

    Without consulting his brother and sister, Uncle Gene sold the wood of the old homestead when Nanny died and pocketed the money himself. Back in the day it was a lot of money as the house was built entirely out of cedar. The main beams on which the house sat were about 1 foot square cedar beams. But what upset Papaw and Aunt Irma the most was the fact that he had the old house taken apart and removed from the land without ever telling them.

    I refer to the old homestead as “up on the hill” because that’s how everyone referred to it when Nanny was living there. We would go visit Papaw and Mamaw, and they would always say they were going to take a trip “up on the hill” to see Nanny. Nanny’s house was always referred to as “up on the hill.” They would say things like, “Should we go up on the hill today or tomorrow?” Everyone knew what that meant.

    And, from my last visit to Prichard back in 2003, the property sits empty and is overgrown with trees where the old homestead once stood. I wonder who, if anyone, owns it!

    Just for crazy fun, this is a link to 2 photos of the property I shot in 2003: From halfway in the backyard looking to the street, and From halfway in the backyard facing the back of the property.

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