Altar Call – O-A News

Walter Albritton -- December 1, 2002


The old home place gets a face-lift after 72 years


          The year was 1929. Walter and Caroline Albritton were in their second year of marriage. Weary of living in apartments, they dreamed of owning their own home.

            Despite the hopelessness of the Great Depression, they determined to build themselves a home in Elmore County. The house would sit on the high ground, about a half-mile north of the Tallapoosa River, of a tract of farmland they had rented from Caroline’s parents, Seth and Neva Johnson.

            Walter had little building experience. Securing a small set of books on carpentry, he taught himself how to cut rafters, joists, and the other beams necessary to construct a house. With the help of one man, an unskilled day laborer, Walter and Caroline began building a simple seven-room house in the middle of a briar patch.

            It must have seemed to passersby an impossible task. Caroline’s Uncle Dave Johnson lived a few miles away. Walter never tired of telling his children about the time Uncle Dave rode up on his horse to see what was going on. It was a cold and windy January morning.

When Walter told Dave that he was building a home and expected to be in it by the first of March, Dave replied, “That is impossible; you will never finish it by then.”

            Dave’s comment fueled Walter’s fire. That was all the motivation he needed. He and Caroline spent their first night in their new home March 1. They had met their deadline.

            One of Caroline’s brothers, Wylie, remembers helping bring lumber for the project. He was almost 11 years old at the time. “I remember helping your mother lift lumber over a small holly tree. She took care of that little holly and it grew to become a tall, beautiful tree,” Wylie says.

            Much of the lumber used to build the house was salvaged from an old Army Camp nearby. The lumber, mostly heart pine and oak, actually came from one building, the mess hall of Camp Sheridan Rifle Range.  It was from that camp that the road got its name, Rifle Range Road.

            The camp site was near an overflowing well where, Wylie says, “your father watered his cattle for many years. I recall seeing a high water mark on the walls of the mess hall, which was left there by the 1919 flood. The muddy residue from the flood water was on the lower 30 inches of the walls.” 

            Seventy-two years after the house was built, Walter’s grandson, Steve Albritton and his wife Amy, took possession of the home. They have remodeled it, carefully preserving the integrity of the home.

            Unlike his grandfather, Steve is a home builder with a construction company. His knowledge of building was a valuable asset in the remodeling. Steve was most impressed with the lumber’s condition. “I have crawled under every inch of the house and for the most part, the timbers are as solid as a rock, especially in the foundation,” he said. “The house was well built.”

            Most of the floors have been sanded and covered with several coats of polyurethane. Amy says, “They are as beautiful as we thought they would be.”

            The original house was built with one bathroom, although for a time there was no running water. Walter had gained valuable experience working as a plumber for B.P. Scruggs Plumbing Company in Tampa, where he and Caroline lived for awhile.

            Walter lost his plumber’s job in 1929 when the Depression hit the country. They came back to Alabama in the fall and Walter decided to try his hand at farming. However, the first project was building a home.

            At first water had to be carried in buckets from a well up a hill to the house, where it was poured through a window into the bath tub. Wylie remembers toting buckets of water to pour into the tub so he could take a bath. He stayed with Walter and Caroline a lot when he was growing up.

            Since there was no electricity service available, Walter installed a gasoline pump at the overflowing well about 50 yards from the house. With it he pumped water into a large reservoir adjacent to the house. The tank was elevated about 20 feet so that gravity provided running water in the house.

            Wylie remembers, “They stored their furniture in the Deal Bochtel Lumber Company building at Old Agusta, Al. The center of Old Augusta was at the junction of the Wares Ferry Road and the road from Mt. Meigs, east of Montgomery.”

            Wylie even remembers going with Walter to the old lumber building to check on their furniture when he was only 10. His memory, now that he is in his eighties, is quite remarkable. This tidbit, for example, illustrates what I mean:

            “My father stopped driving when he had undulant fever in 1928. He had a green 1926 model Rickenbacker touring car that he let your father have. Your father kept it awhile, and then traded it for a used Chevrolet coupe.

            “He modified the back end of the coupe to make a small truck out of it. I recall helping him gather cantaloupes and taking them to Montgomery to sell.

            “Every time I pass the cantaloupes in a super market, and see them priced for two or three dollars apiece, I think about your father selling the same size delicious Rockyford cantaloupes, three for a quarter. He got only one dollar for a dozen.”

            The old home place was without electric power for its first nine years. Kerosene lamps provided light at night. Having been born in 1932, I can remember studying in the old “breakfast room” by a kerosene lamp. I remember feeling some kinship with Abraham Lincoln but I never remember feeling sorry for myself.

            REA reached our neck of the woods in 1941. Only then did we enter the magical world of electric lights. Soon we had the added enjoyment of propane gas and space heaters. It was a treat not to have to cut and bring in wood on a daily basis for the fireplaces and the wood stove.

            My sisters Neva and Margie, and my brother Seth, have cherished memories of growing up in the old house. Neva and I were both born in the house. Margie, Laurida, and Seth were delivered in the old hospital in Wetumpka.

            Steve and Amy, and their sons Jake and Josh, have a rich legacy in the home they have restored. On Thanksgiving Day they entertained some 70 family members and friends who came to admire their creative handiwork.

            Thanks to Steve and Amy, the old home place has a new lease on life. If those beautiful old heart pine boards could talk, I think they would say, “Thanks for the face-lift. We will try to be worthy of the honor you have paid us by restoring our natural beauty.”  ---30---