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Petersburg then … policemen, schools of town are recalled

Posted on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 8:21 am

Editor’s Note: Vivian J. Sanders of Petersburg writes in the following article her recollections of the Petersburg square in 1954. The third in a three-part series, the memoir was written as part of an almost 200-page book she compiled for her children and grandchildren, a gift she gave them this Christmas. At the age of 89, she said she feels compelled to share her family story.

By Vivian Sanders

Special to The Times

We mustn’t fail to mention our early policemen. There were Bill Thornton, Tell Wells and Tom Bryant. They were the ones I remember when we first came here. I think Tell Wells was the night watchman. Mr. Thornton’s wife, Lucille, worked at the City Hall, too. Someone had to be on hand to answer the phone in case there was a fire or other emergency. The fire truck was housed in the City Hall.

We had three good schools. There was the school for the black students, which at that time, we called the colored school. That building is now used as the Senior Citizen Building. It is located on what is now called Railroad Street.

Then there was the elementary school on College Street. When we came here Barnett Gamble was principal. Soon after, Thurman Cobb was principal for many years. Mr. Cobb was a good man and educator. My children went to school while he was principal.

One of my 50-ish sons told me an interesting story about Mr. Cobb. It seems there was a former circus performer named Joe Pack who probably missed his audience and would often come to the edge of the school yard and want to show the children how he could breathe fire. Mr. Cobb would send him away, but one day he said, “All right, you can put on your demonstration, and they can watch, but this will be the last time I want to see you here.”

The school had plays, musical recitals, ball games and various activities to give the children opportunities to perform and proud parents opportunities to watch their children. The community also used the auditorium/gym for civic activities.

On the other side of town on Church Street, and across the county line into Marshall County was the high school. It was housed in the building that was formerly the home of Morgan School.

Petersburg High School took over that building in 1950. Mr. Oliver was the principal. I didn’t know much about this school until 1956 when my husband started teaching there. Mr. Oliver’s wife was the home economics teacher. Raymond Adams taught agriculture. Doug Watson followed by Frank Shubert, were the coaches, and Charles Sanders, after 1956, taught English, math, history and chemistry at various times. Not all of those at the same time, but he was pretty consistently in English.

Sam Bobo was the commercial teacher until he was killed in a wreck on his way home to Lynchburg. Katherine Adams finished out the year in that department. Mrs. Newsome Harvey taught English at the beginning of the school’s transition from Morgan School to Petersburg High School. In addition to the athletic program, the community was entertained annually with a junior class play and a senior class play. There were talent shows from time to time. All of these things helped to hold the community together.

At the elementary school with Mr. Cobb, we had Helen Bowers as coach. (Helen is still living and is my one exception on writing about the deceased only.) Mrs. Calahan taught first grade and was loved by her students. Mrs. Lena Scott was the second grade teacher, and Mrs. Lilly Crabtree was the gentle soul in the third grade. Mrs. Sara Talley taught the fourth grade and is remembered still today as a strict disciplinarian. She lived on High Street across from the school yard and every Easter she took her class to her yard for an Easter egg hunt.

Mrs. Mildred Scott taught the fifth grade and was the school musician. She played for chapel and taught appropriate songs to the children. Mrs. Mattie Burns taught sixth grade until an injury caused blood poisoning and consequently her death.

Helen Bowers taught the seventh grade and established the school library. Her specialties were math and science. Mr. Gamble and later Mr. Cobb taught the eighth grade and filled the position as principal.

Petersburg had a very active Lions Club. They met in the community building on Church Street right behind what used to be Marsh’s Store. The wives of the Lions were formed into committees and took turns cooking the meals for the men. I was on one of those committees, but I don’t remember what the financial arrangements were, but we had the facilities to cook right in the building.

The building was also used for books from the Mobile Regional Library. Members of the Research Club took turns keeping the doors open on Saturday afternoons. The Research Club met once a month. Two women each month were in charge of the program and the refreshments. The club met in their homes.

In addition to these two clubs, there was a garden club, a Mason’s organization, and an American Legion Post. In addition to the annual horse show, there was a colt show. This was held right outside of town on Highway 129 East across from the cemetery. This was a big social event. People packed picnics and spent the day sometimes. Several people who were part of the Colt Show organization are still living, but two of the very early ones were Warren Gill (Bill’s father) and Cecil Ellis. The very first show, I have learned, was held in Mr. Gill’s front yard on Richmond Road.

Petersburg still has the same churches that were here in the ‘50s and an added one. There are the First Baptist, the Primitive Baptist, the Church Street Methodist, the Caldwell Methodist, the Russell Street Church of Christ, the Water Street Church of Christ, the Cumberland Presbyterian and the First Presbyterian and a new addition, the Fellowship Baptist.