Dade County History: Following Up on History



I’ve written several articles for our local history column and I really appreciate the folks who take time to let me know that they actually read my articles and even enjoy them. Sometimes I’ve gotten responses that I really didn’t expect. For instance, after doing a couple of articles about a murder that happened in my community long ago, I heard from the granddaughter of the man convicted of that crime. She never knew her grandfather because her father was adopted. After learning who he was, she had done a tremendous amount of research on her grandfather and shared some of it with me for an additional article.

(Photo: a young Dr. Joseph Leonard Gardner)

When I did research for an article about a snake-handling meeting held here in Dade County where one of the snake handlers was bitten and died, I was surprised at how many people I was able to find who actually witnessed it: my uncle, a lady at my church, my father-in-law and another acquaintance of mine.

The article I wrote about my friend Monica, who integrated Rising Fawn School all by herself, brought a lot of response. One of Monica’s former neighbors, a retired teacher, called to thank me for telling her story, and she got copies of the articles to send to Monica’s children. I heard from some young people who thanked me for reminding them what life was like for Monica and many like her.

I wrote an article about my father’s great-aunt Josephine Hawkins Parrish, describing the deadly ambush where her son and stepson, a Walker County deputy sheriff, were killed. I wrote another article about Sheriff Steve Wilson submitting Deputy Parrish’s name to be honored in Washington, D.C., at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. I’ve been invited to a candlelight vigil there on May 13.

We had been unable to find any relatives of John Parrish, but after the second article End of Watch appeared, I was contacted by a lady in Walker County whose husband, Robert Jackson, is a descendant of Deputy Parrish’s sister.

I was a bit surprised at the response I got following the publication of articles on two local doctors, Dr. Daniel Spencer Middleton and Dr. Joseph Leonard Gardner. I suppose that men like them who practice for a long time in a community become a very important part of the lives of the people in that community. One of the details that my mother remembered about the death of Dr. Gardner, who was killed at a railroad crossing, was that she heard he was on his way to his lady friend’s house to take her some tomatoes from his garden. Mrs. Gardner had been dead several years and Mama thought his lady friend was Belle Reeves who lived just south of Trenton, where the new apartments have been built. Mama was not sure of this, so I didn’t include it in the article.


Dr. Gardner and his brother F.M. Gardner

One of the people I heard from was my ninth-grade geography teacher, Edna Reeves Clemons. Belle Reeves was Mrs. Clemons great-aunt and she said that her aunt was engaged to Dr. Gardner and she might well have been expecting a visit from him.

I was quite interested to receive an email from Charles Gardner, principal of Hokes Bluff Elementary School in Etowah County, Ala., who is the great-nephew of Dr. Gardner. He had read my article and told me some things about Dr. Gardner’s family and his life before he came to this area.

Dr. Gardner was one of 13 children. His family farmed and the whole family worked together to put Joseph Leonard Gardner through medical school in Birmingham. Charles Gardner confirmed that Dr. Gardner was engaged to Belle Reeves and that he was supposed to visit her that afternoon.

Of course, many people questioned why he stopped on the railroad track. Mr. Gardner said his uncle was a diabetic and the family thought he might have had a diabetic or cardiac episode. He also remembered being told that his watch was found on the train. Charles Gardner also heard the story about Dr. Gardner's money being found in the piano, although he was told it was $100,000, rather than $57,000 as my daddy remembered.

Dr. Gardner erected an elaborate stone fence and monument to his wife at the Lathamville Baptist Cemetery, hauling the rocks from Georgia in the trunk of his car. After Dr. Gardner’s death, the Gardners allowed Mrs. Gardner’s family, the Barksdales, to come to the house and take Mrs. Gardner’s things. Charles Gardner was told that her hat and gloves were still on her bed, just as she left them.

My mother remembered these people starting a fire behind the house and letting it get out of control. Mama left me with a neighbor while she went and alerted the Hester family, neighbors who were in from the fields having dinner, and they and Mama put the fire out while the ones who started it just stood and watched. Mama was not impressed with them.


(Photo: Graves of Dr. and Mrs. Gardner in Lathamville, Ala., cemetery)

Mr. Gardner also related that when his grandfather was very young, he got sick and their local doctor wanted to hospitalize him and was afraid he would not make it. The family chose instead to call in Dr. Gardner, who came from Georgia and treated him, and he made a quick and complete recovery. When the Gardners' parents passed away and the property was divided, Dr. Gardner did not take anything. He said that his education was his part.

Most of my articles have been about people or events from my part of the county, the Rising Fawn area. I’m sure people would like to hear stories from other parts of the county, so if you have a story, write it up and submit it to Donna Street at donnam.street@gmail.com. If you think it needs polishing, let us know and we’ll be glad to help with editing.


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