Semmes Heritage Day 2016 is Saturday, May 7, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Semmes Heritage Park, 3871 Wulff Road.
This day is set aside each year to celebrate the history of the Semmes community, its culture and a way of life in days gone by. The event is free and open to the public and offers a day filled with music, dancing, exhibits, arts and crafts, demonstrations, contests, food and, this year, the unveiling of an historic marker at the 1902 Semmes School, the cornerstone of the park.
Event chair Jeanette Byrd said those who arrive early can see — and hear — the firing of Steve Cobb’s Civil War replica cannon, which kicks off the activities on every Heritage Day. Visitors can get a living history lesson as they watch skilled artisans demonstrate their crafts, such as wood-carving by the Delta Woodcarvers; soap-making with Maria Frase; loom-weaving by Patty Loebig; pine straw basket-making demonstrated by Dr. Phillippe Oszuscik; and corn-grinding in a hand grist mill by Sammy Everett. The mill belonged to Everett’s grandfather, and his demonstration generally shows corn first being ground into cracked-corn for chickens, then grits and, finally, into fine cornmeal.
Attendees may choose to take a ride around the community in a horse-drawn carriage provided by Steve Quinnelly of Port City Carriage. Or they may plan to participate in the popular hat contest, wearing their finest early 1900s chapeaus.
Among the musical offerings will be the National Anthem and other patriotic songs performed by the 60-member Semmes Middle School Band under the direction of Chester Bean. The Allentown Elementary School Choir will perform as well. Also on the entertainment agenda are the Square Deal Square Dancers, who will show off their prowess and delight visitors as they have since the beginning of Heritage Day in 2003. Greg Grantham is their caller.
Other activities, events and exhibits include an arts and crafts show, a Probate Court Historical Display and appearances by the current Camellia Maids — Briley Kerns, Kaitlyn Read, Lydia Smith, Megan Sellers and Abby Pratt.
Since events will be going on all day, visitors may want to pick up a lunch of barbecue chicken for a $5 donation. Chris McNeil with Premier Motorsports does the grilling; Winn-Dixie furnishes the sides; and Semmes Woman’s Club bakes the sweets for dessert. Proceeds from these sales will go toward the purchase of a storage shed needed at the park.
Jeanette Byrd will present a short history of Semmes Heritage Park and the buildings contained therein, and at 11 a.m. there’ll be the unveiling of a city of Semmes historical marker at the school. Lib Dodd, longtime resident affectionately known as “The First Lady of Semmes,” will perform the unveiling.
Among those to be recognized during the ceremonies will be current and former board of director members and various other officials.
All three of the buildings in Semmes Heritage Park will hold open house — Malone Chapel, the 1900-type log cabin and the 1902 Semmes School.
Sponsors of the 2015 Semmes Heritage Day include Semmes Heritage Park, the city of Semmes and Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson. Other partners are Winn-Dixie, Chris McNeil (Premier Motorsports), Steve Quinnelly (Port City Carriage), Semmes Woman’s Club, Wal-Mart, JTEE Signs, Orchard Assembly and Pathway Church. For additional information call Jeanette Byrd, 251-649-1647.
Below is a brief history of the buildings that make up the Semmes Heritage Park complex.
The highlight of any visit to Semmes Heritage Park is undoubtedly the historic one-room schoolhouse, noted as the oldest continuously operating school in the state.
The first school in Semmes was a log cabin, which served as a church as well. Situated on the 16th section, the school built in 1902 sits on its original site. (Mary G. Montgomery High School, Semmes Middle and Semmes Elementary School are also on Section 16.) The land for a school and church was donated by Thomas Jefferson Howell; the deed stipulated that if the land were ever used otherwise, ownership would revert to Howell’s heirs, some of whom still live in Semmes.
The school has its original blackboard and wood floor, a wood-burning stove and an antique teacher’s desk. The old-fashioned student desks seat two children each; visiting students read from McGuffey Primers and practice their sums on hand-held slates. There are no electric lights in the school building.
Considered a “Living History Museum,” Semmes School will be open for summer tours and field trips for both adult and children groups.
Howell’s deed also specified a church was to be built next to the school. Malone Chapel is a copy of the original church, Mt. Pleasant Baptist, which later became Semmes First Baptist Church.
Dedicated in May 2001, Malone Chapel honors a couple of respected educators in Semmes who were also instrumental in the construction of the chapel and Heritage Park. The chapel bell tower houses the original bell and the pews are period-appropriate copies. An 1887 pump organ was donated by a Semmes citizen.
emmes’ early years on exhibit — books, tools, photos, railroad lanterns, paintings of old Semmes photos, camellia prints, historic dolls in period dress. A Wedding Ring quilt, a gift to Lib and Tom Dodd as a wedding present, is prominently displayed. (Tom Dodd was a pioneer in the Semmes nursery business.)
The chapel has modern restrooms, heating and air conditioning and a water fountain. It may be rented for weddings, receptions and other celebrations, and is even offered as a place for church services.
The newest addition to Semmes Heritage Park is a log cabin built by Trophy Amish Cabins. It is furnished with a rope bed replica, antique furniture and tools and — a recent acquisition — a 1900s pump organ.
To complete the ambiance of early 1900s, the Semmes Heritage Park school yard is shaded by massive oak trees, has wooden picnic tables, seesaws and swings, a hand pump that works and an outhouse that doesn’t.
Jo Anne McKnight is a Mobile County writer whose news of community events can be seen on blog joannemcknight.com.