Historical society discovers fun, curious facts about county

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 29, 2004

Historical research often means searching – lots of it. But the efforts can yield some fascinating, fun and sometimes strange facts about the place called home.

Members and guests of the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society (BCHGS) were treated to &uot;Interesting and Unusual Facts about Greenville and Butler County&uot; last Sunday afternoon at Greenville City Hall.

BCHGS Librarian and Quarterly Editor Judy Taylor, an avid and experienced genealogical researcher and Greenville native, shared some intriguing facts about &uot;the best small town in America&uot; and the surrounding county with a capacity audience.

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Old-time transportation

You may know of Greenville’s horse and buggy days. But did you know about mules and the streetcars?

&uot;I know no one here remembers the Greenville streetcars, since they were gone by 1895,&uot; Taylor said with a smile.

With no electricity, little Texas mules pulled the cars, traveling up and down between the depot and the courthouse several times each day.

By 1906, the first automobile had been introduced to the city and &uot;everyone was thrilled&uot;, said Taylor. Her research showed a gentleman named W.M. Cannon brought that first &uot;flivver&uot; to Greenville. Following the public’s enthusiastic response, Cannon traveled north in order to bring back more &uot;horseless carriages&uot; to the city.

&uot;And shortly thereafter,&uot; Taylor added dryly, &uot;was the first recorded report here of two cars running into each other.&uot;

Traveling homes

Even in the days long before mobile homes, houses were &uot;on the move&uot; in the Camellia City.

&uot;Did you know the Mary Bracken home [next to First Presbyterian] on Commerce St. has been turned around?&uot; Taylor asked, adding, &uot;It once faced in the completely opposite direction. I understand they did the turn-about on logs – can you imagine that?&uot;

The home of Gene and Nonnie Hardin was moved &uot;all the way down the street&uot; to its present Herbert St. location, while &uot;another home in Greenville traveled all the way from Pensacola,&uot; Taylor marveled.

Fabulous firsts, curious facts

A woman named Araminta D. Bonds, born in January 1820, was &uot;the first baby born at Fort Dale,&uot; Taylor said.

And Benjamin Lloyd, who compiled the first Baptist hymnal in the United States, &uot;also had the distinction of having no less than nine sons who served in the Union Army,&uot; she said.

&uot;Now I know you all must recall the Camellia City Drive-In, right? Did you know it used to be a horseracing track? It was next to the old fairgrounds, where Beeland Park and the YMCA are now,&uot; explained Taylor. The first mini-golf course in the city, said Taylor, was the Patsy Putter Course, opened in 1930 at the old Oaks Hotel.

And speaking of golf…&uot;Some of you have played golf at Cambrian Ridge, I am sure…well, that name has been called ‘an embarrassment to historians and geologists,’&uot; Taylor told her audience.

&uot;It seems there is nothing ‘Cambrian’ about Butler County. Technically, it should be called ‘Tertiary Ridge’. That just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it,&uot; said Taylor with a smile.

Crime and punishment

Crime and mysterious goings-on have a long history in Butler County, Taylor said.

&uot;At the old Wilkinson Hotel, there was a cook named Texana who put arsenic in the biscuits and very nearly killed the 26 guests staying there. She ended up going to the penitentiary,&uot; she explained.

As for the old photographs showing infamous outlaws Hipp and Kelley being hanged in front of the courthouse, pictures can be misleading.

&uot;They were actually executed at CH Thompson’s store, where they were hanged on either side of the store’s front steps. The bodies were later moved to the jail and then the courthouse,&uot; Taylor explained.

The local terror

Have you ever heard the story of the mysterious creature that terrorized Butler and Crenshaw Counties in the 1920s?

This nasty &uot;thief in the night&uot; stole livestock, killed pets, and even chased a terrified Greenville citizen down the street one evening.

&uot;Some speculated it was a bear or a panther. Others said it was a tiger loose from the circus. Some were certain it was a wolf, or a monster from the swamps of Florida,&uot; Taylor said.

&uot;The Greenville Advocate offered a reward of five dollars cash to anyone who brought in one of the creature’s feet. They thought it should be captured alive, that’s why they only asked for one foot,&uot; Taylor explained.

Records show some sort of wild animal was killed and put on display at Stewart’s Drug Store. Still, there continued to be big trouble in neighboring Crenshaw County.

&uot;There were reports of a wild creature attacking animals.

It looked like a very big, shaggy shepherd dog, but with round tracks, like a cat,&uot; she said.

Later, a strange bird was shot off the top of the Greenville water tower. The creature had a wing span of more than four feet, and was said to resemble a &uot;large sea gull or sea pigeon.&uot;

&uot;Citizens speculated the bird had been detoured off course by southern storms; apparently there had been a pelican in Greenville a few years before. Perhaps, they said, it was bad weather that ‘brought forth the strange animal that had terrorized the citizens of Honoraville for so long,’&uot; Taylor explained.

The local historian and genealogist next plans to pursue facts about fabled Greenville fires and the city of McKenzie.