Detroit, Alabama


Detroit, Alabama  1910

Lamar County, Alabama

Picture courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Leon Kennedy


Detroit, Alabama is located about 10 miles north of Sulligent on Highway 17 in Lamar County, Alabama. Detroit was first named Millville, because there were so many mills in the area. The name was changed to Detroit around 1880 because of conflict with another town in Alabama named Millerville - the U. S. Postal Service was having trouble delivering mail correctly. 

Alabama State Highway 17, which runs through Detroit, was paved in 1948 according to writings of Kearney Hamilton a resident of Detroit. 

In the early days the old road was known as Aberdeen-Tuscumbia Road. Farmers in the area and north of Detroit, would travel the road, in wagons, to Aberdeen, MS carrying cotton and other farm products to be sold. Today farmers can carry their products to market, traveling a great distance in a day, but in the late 1800’s, the round trip to Aberdeen was about a week.

Taken from The Lamar Democrat & The Sulligent News December 1, 1966. This article was written by J. C. Gregory, Amory, Mississippi.

“The first store at Millville, Alabama, now named Detroit was near the old school building on the same plot of land. The store was run by two brothers, Jim and Howard Davidson. They also operated the Post Office in the store.

On Sipsey Creek was a two story Flour Mill. The mill made flour, shorts, bran and was called Carter’s Flour Mill. Mr. Carter owned a large farm and raised cotton, corn and a great deal of wheat. People came from long distances both in Alabama and Mississippi to have their wheat ground. In later years when the flour mill was closed, Mr. J. W. Coey operated a gin and mill in the same building which was run by water power. This mill operated for many years and was known for making corn meal. The gin and mill was repaired by Mr. J. A. Murray of Detroit, Alabama.

After running the store for years, the Davidson Brothers sold it to the late E. D. Gilmore, father of E. J. Gilmore of Amory, Mississippi. In the following years, stores were built at Detroit by Messrs J. H. Ray, J. f. White, F. W. Northington. There was also two saloons (called grocery stores) built at the present town of Detroit.

Back at the old home place of my late father, J. V. Gregory, was a two-story building built out of lumber made by hand. In this large building was placed a thread factory which was owned by some nothern people. After several years they stopped the manufacture of thread and Mr. J. H. Ray put in a gin there. This gin was one of the first in the country to be run by steam. The broiler was on four steel wheels and no furnace was used. It was fired in the same manner as a railway engine. The steam engine was on top of the broiler. The cotton was pressed by mule power. I personally saw the gin in operation and about the year 1913, I dismantled the factory and gin. The owner at that time was Mr. S. H. Jackson of Detroit, Alabama.

On this same land was a blacksmith shop owned by Mr. J. H. Ray. The shop was run by the late Mr. Jim Evans. Across the highway in front of the shop was a tannery which tanned hides into leather, and it was run by a Mr. Williams. I have also seen this tannery in operation . It was located between where Mr. Scott and Mrs. Stringer now live.

There was at one time eleven stores selling merchandise at Detroit. The late John H. Ray was the wealthiest merchant in town. He owned a large two story store which had a large basement under it. This store was later dismantled by the owners of the Detroit Cash Store and at the present time two nice store building stand on the lot. Across from the store, Mr. Ray had a large barn. It was the most complete barn I have ever seen in my life. He also had a carriage house for wagons, buggies and hacks. It, too, was a large building. Mr. Ray also ran a livery stable for travelers. Mr. J. H> Ray built a gin which was the largest gin in the country at that time, and it was located near the place where the Church of Christ now stands. He also had a sawmill near the gin.

A Mr. Charley Kennedy of Amory, Mississippi ran a large heading mill on part of the land, which is now owned by Mr. & Mrs. Lee Mullins.

Mr. John H. Ray was a Justice of the Peace, and sometimes he would send a prisoner to Vernon, Alabama jail until time for trial. I remember seeing one prisoner brought back to town for trial and he was handcuffed and was wearing a ball and chain.

On the hill back of Mr. Ray’s store was a very large Chestnut tree and a Chinquapin orchard. As of now, I do not know of anywhere one is growing. Mr. Ray lived in the house which was next to his store and the house is presently owned by Mr. Real. Mr. Ray was a very large man, weighing around 300 pounds. He was never married, and he died at the house one afternoon of a heart attack. He was a brother of the late Mr. G. W. Ray. The barn of which I spoke of that belonged to Mr. Ray, was used very often by cattle buyers to pen the cattle before starting a drive. They surely had some large droves of cattle. Sometime the sheep buyers would have hundreds of sheep in Mr. Ray’s barn lot. Before starting on the drive, the sheep for herd would have a red spot painted on the heads to keep them separated from the people’s sheep on the drive.

At one time Detroit, Alabama had three doctors of medicine. In later year, Detroit had a lady doctor who was an Indian.

At one time, Mr. Man Riggs had a factory a few miles above Detroit, which carded and cleaned wool. This factory was powered by water.

My father, the late J. V. Gregory sold merchandise in Detroit for 691/2 years. Once my father and the other merchants in Detroit and nearby towns bought from farmers and citizens of the community a car load of shuck and bark horse collars. They loaded them on a railroad car and shipped them to a wholesale Hardware company at Birmingham, Alabama.

People came to Detroit from as far away as Smithville, Mississippi and other places to trade because there were eleven stores, and they could find a better assortment of goods and merchandise to choose from in Detroit.

We also had fun in those days. A hardware salesman called on the merchants at Detroit every thirty days. One day when the salesman had finished selling, my father was walking to Mr. J. F. White’s Store. He had to cross a ditch over which was a bridge. The salesman weighed about 275 pounds and this proved too much for the bridge. My father saw the bridge break through with him and went to help him. My father weighed 260 pounds and when he got on the bridge, more of the bridge broke through, and then we had two large men in the ditch.

The way of hauling logs to the sawmill was by oxen hitched to a two wheeled cart. This cart was called a “carry log”. The wheels were at least seven feet high and one end of the logs would drag on the ground. The oxen were shod with two shoes to each hoof so that when they were in the woods their feet would not be hurt by the wild cane which grew in the swamps.

Some of the people in those days helped on their living expenses by gathering star root and other herbs.

In the way of “get togethers” we had two days a year for horse swapping. People would come from Mississippi and all over Alabama with horses and mules to trade and swap. At Christmas, we celebrated with fireworks. The men and boys would meet at the blacksmith shop and put one anvil on top of another one. They poured powder on the bottom one and then used a hot rod of iron to ignite the powder. It surely would make a loud noise. One day a year large crowds of the local people would go to the creek for a fish fry. A colored man would come to town in a wagon with an ox and a mule hitched together to the wagon.

A Dr. Armstrong lived at Detroit, Alabama and he used herbs and roots to treat the sick. He never went to a medical school or received any schooling on the practice of medicine.

For many years, the Blacksmith and men of the community would go to the shop and make caskets for those who died in the community. These caskets would cost from $15.00 to $25.00. I remember seeing the deceased of the vicinity carried to the cemetery in a wagon pulled by oxen.

To date I can remember five different school buildings in Detroit.

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