Bridgeport, AL was an up and coming city incorporated in 1891. The Tennessee River and the deep port at Bridgeport were set to make the tiny city a major player in the transportation of raw materials and production of all sorts of goods across the country from North to South.
The hope was for a booming metropolis.
In 1891, The American Handle Co. opened, and would a mere two years later, take the Award of Excellence at the Chicago World’s Fair. The Bridgeport Electric and Ice Co., the first ice company between Chattanooga and Huntsville, had just opened, and the Steel Car Works, which planned to employ 500 people making train and cable cars, was under construction. Other factories employing hundreds of workers were turning out baskets, crates, nails, and stoves, and shipping them north. Steamships were plying the river, and at one point, 28 trains a day were running through town. Banks, brickyards, sawmills, a grain elevator, and the Alabama College for Dental surgery were booming.
The city was also beginning to fill with buildings by big name developers: the triangular three-story Witcher Building, the Aldous Building, named after its New York developer, Frederick Aldous, and modeled after the Triangular flatiron building in New York, and the luxurious Hoffman House Hotel, built by the Rev. Charles F. Hoffman of New York.
Within a few years, another famous architect, Stanford White, well known for the gaudy and opulent Metropolitan Opera House, as well as the old Madison Square Gardens and many others, would build eight elegant turreted three-story fairytale duplex homes worthy of New York City on Hudson Avenue (now known as Kilpatrick Row), right across from a view of the multiple train tracks that were bringing prosperity to Bridgeport.
The truth, however, was a little bit rougher.
In 1892 the courts of Bridgeport, AL had their usual surfeit of cases: property quarrels, arrests for minor offenses, murder and attempted murder. On July 1, 1983, preliminary hearings were in process for an attempted murder by poisoning, State vs Ladd, involving Mr. I.S. “Ike” Hembree.
That night, after the hearings were concluded, Ike and his brother Robert Lyle “Doc” Hembree, Jr. were walking through downtown Bridgeport, when they were accosted by J.C. “Bob” Murphy.
Witnesses reported that the man initially insulted and threatened Ike and Doc, but that the brothers avoided Murphy, who had been drinking, by going into the market establishment of J.P. Seiter. Murphy followed them into the meat market and hurled “vile and abusive” language at them, saying he would kill every “last one of the Hembree brothers”. Ike and Doc left the store and walked across to Alabama Avenue. They were standing across from the drugstore on the corner, when a few seconds later, according to newspaper reports, Murphy followed the brothers out into the street, “initiating the difficulty that led to the fatal shot.”
He turned himself in.
After the fatal shot, Doc turned himself in. On Monday, July 10, 1893, Doc Hembree and Ike went before Squires Thomas and Looney in the Bridgeport court. There was excitement and no little surprise to find Ike Hembree’s name on the docket – since it was his attempted poisoning case currently being tried in the Circuit court.
The shooting death was confessed, so the hearing went straight to the evidence. J.C. Murphy had been known to be ugly and threatening when drinking. He was drunk the night of the shooting. He had made threats to others that he was after the Hembree men. That night, the brothers had done everything in their power to walk away from his verbal acrimony.
$10,000 bond one of the strongest ever given in Jackson County
Ike’s charges were dismissed and Doc was released on $10,000 bond. The bond was signed by 14 men, and was said to be one of the strongest bonds in Jackson County. His case would come up again in September, 1893.
The Circuit Court pre-hearing in September was brief. After hearing the evidence, it was determined that Doc acted in self-defense, and thankfully for Doc and his family, the charges were dismissed.
Many people thought that this shooting was somehow related to the poisoning trial, but evidence during the initial hearing proved that the Hembree brothers had never met Murphy before the altercation. While there was no direct link, those officiating at the hearing speculated that the poisoning case may have given rise to Murphy’s discontent, and he let that settle against the family.
While Ike continued living in the beautiful valley across the river, at Long Island (Carpenter) and later further up Hog Jaw Valley in the big white house, Doc would eventually move himself and his family down south, below Scottsboro, perhaps in an effort to move away from the memory of that fateful July night.
Author’s note: I discovered these facts while researching the outcome of the poisoning case of Ike, Isaac Shiloh Hembree, my great-grandfather. I want to thank Judge Gentry, of Scottsboro, AL, for giving me access to the old newspapers as I conducted my research. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Carlus Paige, Self-styled Jackson County Historian/Genealogist, for his guidance pointing me in all the right directions!
The beautiful duplexes on Hudson Street were well known to me. My great Aunt Sammie Rankin lived in one until it burned down in the early 80s. I loved the round turret rooms, the claw foot tubs in the bathrooms and the beautiful high ceilings. They truly looked like houses out of a fairytale to me!
Thanks to the following sources for these events: MidSouth, The Commercial Appeal Magazine, Memphis, TN, Sunday, June 14, 1971; The Bridgeport News, Vol. III, Editions: Saturday, July 8, 1893; Saturday, July 15, 1893; The Progressive Age, Scottsboro, AL, no.39, dated September1, 1893; more resources are available at the Scottsboro, AL public library, where many of these old newspapers are now on microfiche/film.