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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Decatur in Morgan County, Alabama — The American South (East South Central)
 

Old Town Historic District

 
 
Old Town Historic District Marker image. Click for full size.
By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, August 2, 2020
1. Old Town Historic District Marker
Inscription.  The Vine Street Business District, located in Old Town, once played a vital part of the city's history. After the Civil War, the neighborhood emerged politically, economically and educationally. Many prominent African American citizens resided here, including Burrell Lemons, the first man of color elected as City Alderman in 1880, and renowned physician and surgeon, Dr. Willis E. Sterrs. Vine Street, located near the Train Depot, was the heart of Old Town's commercial district and contained a wide variety of professions and businesses, including physicians, dentists, barbers, beauticians, dry cleaners, photographers, radio repairmen, and undertakers. At a time when the city was segregated, the historic district once offered boarding houses, restaurants, movie theaters, pool halls, social clubs, and an array of other venues. Two of the most famous businesses were Green Frog Front and Cornwell Barbecue. Significant to the landmark Scottsboro Boys Trial, many of the black residents' names were submitted as eligible to serve on the 1933 jury. Most of the structures were demolished during the city's Urban Renewal project during 1970's.

108th
Old Town Historic District Marker image. Click for full size.
By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, August 2, 2020
2. Old Town Historic District Marker
United States Colored Troops "USCTs"

During the War of Rebellion, better known as the Civil War, Decatur, Alabama, was the first of two cities in the state to organize an African American Regiment, United States Colored Troops (USCTs). A skirmish occurred at the corner of Vine and Washington streets.

The Reality House
Reality House opened June 1972 and featured a meeting place while providing a variety of services from counseling to assisting with employment opportunities. The two-story building is believed to have been the first hotel for blacks here, owned and operated by Burrell Lemons. Later, it reopened as Liberty Hotel. In 1928, it opened as a mercantile store. Miller's Trading Post operated here during the 1950's. (Originally located at 325 Vine St. NW)

First Missionary Baptist Church
The second oldest African American congregation in the city was organized one year after the Civil War, on April 22, 1866. Members later acquired the property on Vine Street (former St. Ann's Catholic Church site). Built by "nickel and dime" donations, the present edifice was designed and constructed by famous African-American architect Wallace A. Rayfield in 1921. This landmark has always been a social and political presence in the community and played an invaluable part during the Scottsboro Boys Trial. (233 Vine St. NW)

The Teenage
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Ballroom and Wynn's Cleaners

In the early 20th Century, successful businesses expanded to the Vine Street area. This building was once Marion Namie's sandwich shop; loft apartments were on the second floor. Later, The Teenage Ballroom, a popular hangout for young people, and Wynn's Cleaners opened here. (Originally located at 501 and 503 Vine St. NW)

Eva Sterrs Boys Club
Constructed in 1964, this landmark building opened for boys only and offered activities including leadership training, social skills, and swimming lessons. Mrs. Eva Adelaide Young Sterrs bequeathed the property and $10,000.00 to assist with the building program for Negro boys. In 1984, girls were welcomed as club members and participated in all its activities. (606 Vine St. NW)

Reynolds Funeral Home
Reynolds Funeral Home had been a staple in the city's historic black business district since 1929, when George H. Reynolds opened the funeral home in the old Cottage Home Infirmary. He later expanded the business and purchased Sunny-Lodge next door — the former residence of Decatur's first African American physician and surgeon, Dr. Willis E. Sterrs and his wife, Mrs. Eva Adelaide Young Sterrs. Dr. Sterrs opened the infirmary in 1906. It once served as the only hospital for blacks and offered free nursing classes. The infirmary predates the Benevolent hospital
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[today, Decatur Morgan Hospital]. After a fire, the oldest black-owned business relocated to 12th Avenue. (Originally located at 605 Vine St. NW)

Busy Bee Super Market
For many years, this successful business that opened in the late 1930's stood on this spot. Providing delivery services, their motto was "Working Man's Store...Just look for the bees on the truck." (Originally located at 125 Vine St. NW)
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansChurches & ReligionIndustry & CommerceSettlements & Settlers.
 
Location. 34° 36.839′ N, 86° 59.246′ W. Marker is in Decatur, Alabama, in Morgan County. Marker is at the intersection of Vine Street Northwest and Sycamore Street Northwest, on the right when traveling north on Vine Street Northwest. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Decatur AL 35601, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. African American Heritage in Old Town Decatur, Alabama (a few steps from this marker); First Missionary Baptist Church (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Old Decatur Historic District / Historic Depot (about 400 feet away); First Railroad (about 400 feet away); “An Affair Most Important to Us” - The Federal Right, October 27-28, 1864 (about 600 feet away); Dancy-Polk House (circa 1829) (about 700 feet away); “A Hard Nut To Crack” - Federal Defenses at Decatur (approx. 0.2 miles away); Historic Downtown/Founders Park (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Decatur.
 
Also see . . .  NPS: 108th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Battle Unit Details. (Submitted on September 4, 2020, by Byron Hooks of Sandy Springs, Georgia.) 
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on September 4, 2020. It was originally submitted on August 4, 2020, by Duane Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 65 times since then and 5 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on August 4, 2020, by Duane Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. • Mark Hilton was the editor who published this page.
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Mar. 1, 2021