A number of years ago, after the death of my maternal grandmother, I ran across a picture that sparked my curiosity. We were in the process of cleaning out my grandmother’s house and I stumbled across a shopping bag stashed amongst many other items and boxes. It contained dozens of old pictures from the early 1900’s. My Mom recognized the faces enough for us to determine these were pictures of the Battle family – my maternal great grandmother’s family.
The man with the hat sitting on the front steps is my maternal great, great grandfather – Benjamin Franklin Battle. My Mom vaguely remembered a big old house in Bibb County that she visited as a child, but she didn’t know if this was the house or whose it was. For over ten years I tried to find out more, but the Bibb County of today is no reflection of the area as it was in the early twentieth century. Back then, it was a bustling place and area around Ashby, Six Mile, and Brierfield had numerous nice homes and businesses. This all came about after the destruction of the Civil War – the area became a boomtown due to the mining nearby. Today, the area is rural farmland and little remains of the structures that once stood. There are a few older homes in nearby Centerville, but the towns of Six Mile, Ashby and Brierfield are all but gone.
None of this helped my search. For years I came up empty and the house in the photo remained a mystery. This all changed a few months ago. I ran across a book entitled “The Heritage of Bibb County, Alabama” on the internet and ordered it. This book would reveal, not only the story behind this house, but its owners and a substantial amount of history about my family in this area. It seems the house was called the Battle-Hutchinson Home. It was built in 1915 by my maternal great, great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Battle. Apparently he purchased materials for its construction from an old hotel built in the 1800’s at Oakley Switch, somewhere south of Ashby in Bibb County. Frank apparently built the house from scratch, repurposing beautifully carved wood and red granite doorknobs from the old hotel. The house had a generator for electricity, somewhat rare for a country house at the time. He also dug two cisterns and created a filtering system for purification of the water. The family made some extra money by operating a boarding house for men who worked for the Southern Railroad Company. They apparently would change trains in Ashby and needed a place to stay overnight. The property was also a working farm and Frank installed a cannery as well northwest of the house.
Frank sold the house and farm in 1929 to his nephew, Paul Hutchinson. Paul and wife Eva continued to farm the land and occupied the house until 1951. Afterwards, Paul’s brother Jim rented the house until 1989. Eva Hutchinson sold the house in 1991. The house sat empty for a number of years and Mother Nature had begun to reclaim it. My Mom remembers driving by the house, sitting way back off the road, crumpling from neglect.
About the time it was scheduled for restoration, it burned to the ground. Today, nothing remains. Frank and his wife Rena Merchant Battle moved to a smaller house nearby, next to the country store and blacksmith shop they ran in their later years. Frank would die from burns he suffered when attempting to burn out a yellow jacket nest. Rena and oldest daughter Ruby lived together and continued to run the country store. Each of them were US Postmasters during this time. At some point, their second home also burned and Rena spent her final years living in a trailer on the same site. After Rena’s death, Ruby lived alone until her passing in the 1970’s from tuberculosis.
It is crazy to think that my great-grandmother Pauline Battle Poe grew up in this house. She never mentioned it, just the good memories of her childhood in Brierfield. She lived until I was in college, so I knew her well and I remember many talks between her, my grandmother and Mom about Bibb County, but I never knew the details Below is a photo of Pauline and her sisters Ruby and Maud, taking pictures:
…this is the way I like to think of them – in the prime of their lives, living with loving family members in the big, old house in Ashby.