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The Hembree Gene Pool

The best stories are those written by our genealogy.

Shot down on the Street in Downtown Bridgeport…

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 verdict.

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.

The Hembree White House ‘Haint’

My older brother, Paul, would hide upstairs, just inside the closet in the front bedroom. He’d wait in the dark, as we would climb the stairs to bed.

“BOO!”

I’d scream, probably refuse to go back into the room, and he’d laugh, having gotten me. Again.

But he wasn’t the real ‘Haint.”
Continue reading “The Hembree White House ‘Haint’”

A View Of Hog Jaw Valley From Another Perspective.

HogJaw Valley is a very special place to me. It is where Hembree roots- along with many other neighbors and friends- run deep. For this reason, I think it is inportant to take time to see things through the eyes of a visitor to our valley. Take a look….

Reblogged from Renaissance Musings

A Trip Back to Hog Jaw Valley – Part 2

Originally Posted on July 14, 2014

“One of the major landmarks on my tour was the Hembree home place. This two-story white frame building looks much as it did 80 years ago. Don grew up with several of the Hembree brothers, one of whom—John Hembree–wrote the history described earlier. The Hembrees had come to the valley as early as the 1840s, and this house was built in the very early 1900s.
“The Hembree home as it looks today. The Hembree family owned much of the land in Hog Jaw Valley when Don was a boy, and his family were sharecroppers on Hembree land.

“Don’s family, as were many families in the valley, were sharecroppers. They lived in houses and farmed land owned by the Hembrees. In return, at harvest time, each sharecropper gave two-fifths of the crop to the Hembrees. In the early 1900s, there were no calculators, and many people had little or no schooling. Don’s father, who was also a carpenter, was good with figures, and he was assigned the task of “reckoning” the number of bushels of corn each sharecropper owed.
“Just across the road in front of the house, water flows through the “spout,” a cast iron pipe buried in a spring some 800 feet up on the mountainside. Since the 1930s—or earlier—the spout has supplied water to a large wooden trough—a watering post for passing teams of horses and mules and thirsty people. This was also the site for routine laundry washing and hog killing.
“The “Spout,” is fed by a spring some 800 feet up the mountain. It has served as a watering spot for horses, mules, and people as far back as Don could remember, and it has played a role in the areas history throughout the 1900s.

In a mobile home up behind the Hembree house we met Dr. William L. (Bill) Hembree, one of the brothers that Don knew. We sat outside on a deck in the deep, cool shade of the oak and maple forest. Bill, 85, is a veteran of World War II and the Korean Conflict. He had been a Navy pilot, flying WWII and post-war fighters. I listened as he and Don swapped stories of their experiences. Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes and drove farther up the valley.

“From the Hembree house, we drove along the Tennessee River until the road turned left, up over a bridge that crossed Island Creek that empties into the river. Don pointed out what appeared to be a landing. This is where the Island Creek ferry transported wagons and passengers across the creek. During the late 1800s, as many as 13 different ferries regularly crossed Island Creek or the Tennessee River. The ferries figured heavily in the daily lives of Hog Jaw Valley residents, providing access to schools and to markets for their crops. Once bridges were built across the river and creek, the ferries ceased to operate.
“Each location or landmark kindled memories that became stories had to tell me. Don told of the time he “played hooky” from school—he was probably 11 or 12 years old. He just decided he did not want to go to school that day. He was walking along the main road in the valley when he met his father’s sister, Aunt Helen. She asked him why he was not in school and he said something like he did not think he needed to go to school that day. Aunt Helen escorted him go back to his house. Neither his mother or father was home, but, he says, “My older brother was there and he beat the tar out of me.” He never skipped school again.
“Next, Don directed me down a rough, lonely dirt road. “I think,” he said, “this is the road to the railroad drawbridge.” The road seemed to go on forever. The gravel, occasionally just dirt, road was narrow and sharply winding up and down steep grades; it was remote and isolated. There were spots where heavy rains had gouged deep ruts in the surface, but on this day, the road was dry and we were able to navigate the hazards. Finally, at the bottom of the ridge, we crossed the railroad tracks and then followed the road along the tracks to a small parking area at the base of a tall, steel railroad bridge.
“The “new” railroad drawbridge over Long Island Creek, part of the Tennessee River, across from Bridgeport, Alabama. This bridge replace and earlier pivoting bridge that turned to parallel the river when boats needed to pass the bridge. This was the second spot that we sort of got “thrown out of” during our tour of Hog Jaw Valley.
The draw bridge is visually interesting, and I found a set of steps that took me up to the railroad bed so I could get photos looking down the tracks into the bridge. As I snapped a few photos, the attendant in the cab high atop of the bridge instructed me to get off of the tracks. A couple of more quick shots and I complied.
Once back down in the parking lot, Don was laughing, “Guess we got thrown out of another place today.” He continued to chuckle.
The elevator-style lift bridge carries rail traffic over Long Island Creek, which is the narrower, deeper channel of the Tennessee River along the eastern side of Long Island.
“Don recalled that when he was a boy still living in the valley, the bridge had been a pivoting bridge, that would turn parallel to the river to let boats pass. He had gotten to know one of the bridge operators. “Back then” life was simpler with fewer rules, and Don would sit on the bridge and “ride” it as it turned and hop off once the bridge was closed. This is clearly a pleasant memory for him.
“On the trip back it was clear that Don had enjoyed the cruise down memory lane—and mentioned several times that we had only gotten thrown out of two places.

The Day My Great Grandfather Almost Died

His sister watched him through the lace covered glass as he came up the walk. It was late afternoon, Thursday, June 15, 1892, and 37 year old Isaac Shiloh Hembree had just picked up his mail from the Long Island (Carpenter), AL post office just across the street. He was carrying a wooden box and reading a letter. His sister watched as he removed a small pint bottle from the box, opened it, and lifted it to his lips. He took a swig, made a face, and came on in the house. Continue reading “The Day My Great Grandfather Almost Died”

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