Pioneer Day brings history to life

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Fourth grade students from Brantley School, Luverne School, Highland Home School and New Covenant Christian Academy attended the annual  Nov. 7. Hosted by the Crenshaw County Historical Society (CCHS), the event aimed to bring the area’s rich history to life and educate students on Crenshaw County’s diverse heritage by offering a glimpse into the past.

April Hall, a CCHS member and math coach for Crenshaw County Schools, delved into local history and pioneer life.

“There were once around 70 schools in the county,” Hall said. “That was because there were no cars or buses like you all use now to get to school. Crenshaw County became a county in 1866, and thanks to old records, photos, and written accounts of people who lived here during that era, we can imagine what school was like then. Schools were typically one room with one teacher for all grade levels.”

Hall read an excerpt from an 1800s reader, a common textbook once used when children were learning to read, that focused on the importance of helping others and being kind. She also discussed the educational publications available through the Crenshaw County Historical Society and explained how and why CCHS makes Pioneer Day possible.

The museum is located in a home originally built in Rutledge during the year 1865 by James Hurt Howard and his wife Amanda Mahone Howard. Around 150 years later it was donated to the CCHS by Dr. Donald H. Morgan, the great-great grandson of James and Amanda Howard, and moved to its current location.

Jimmy Cambell of Luverne gave a presentation showcasing Native American artifacts, including a talking stick used by Creek Indians during council meetings. Campbell highlighted the Native Americans’ disciplined approach to communication and showed through artifacts the impact the American settlements had on Native American life.

Patsy Owens, a retired Crenshaw County school teacher and the visionary behind Pioneer Day, wore period attire and provided children with insight into the past by narrating the history of the dogtrot house and pioneer life with vivid descriptions.

In the kitchen, Oleta Owens, president of the CCHS, was dressed in period clothing and taught students about 1800s-style cooking, emphasizing the contrast between historical and modern kitchen practices.

A hands-on demonstration on drawing water from an open well, led by Crenshaw County Historical Society Vice President 1 Bryan Winfiele allowed students to experience daily life activities of the past. Winfiele highlighted the importance of preserving history through events like Pioneer Day.

“It was nice to see children visiting and learning about how life used to be and what it took to get where we are now,” Brian said. “Most people only get to know and experience maybe five generations of their families, six if they are lucky.

Brian explained that it becomes difficult to learn about one’s ancestors after the sixth generation is gone.

“If we can maintain a museum like this, write a book, preserve pictures and documents, [share] oral histories and just everyday items, the older ways can be remembered instead of dropping off and being forgotten to time.”

Winfiele is grateful for the work members have put into keeping the society going and is especially thankful for the effort Pamela Campbell and Oleta Owens have contributed.

Luverne High School teacher Mathew Pippin, involved with Pioneer Day for 14 years, enlisted the help of Luverne High School FFA members to lead tours and assist throughout the day.

Reflecting on the event, Luverne High School senior and Luverne FFA member Jake Kelley expressed enthusiasm for preserving local history and the importance of listening to older generations.

“Crenshaw County has so much more history than most people think,” Kelley said. “I love talking with older people. I have always been told to be sure and listen more than I talk because we can learn so much from them. One of my favorite things to do when I was little was to go with my Pawpaw when he sold collard greens and listen to all the older men talk about days gone by.”

Other historical society members that helped with pioneer day included Eddie Russell, David Winfiele, Charles Sipper (Kayo), Marshall Brown and Pam Speed.

The Crenshaw County Historical Society, faced with the challenge of museum upkeep and restoration, continues its mission to preserve the county’s history while educating members of the community and beyond. The CCHS encourages community participation and welcomes new members and volunteers. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to Crenshaw County Historical Society 39 East Grove Avenue Brantley, AL 36009. The society actively seeks local historical materials and oral histories for preservation.

As the CCHS prepares for its next open house Nov. 18 from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m., the organization invites everyone to explore the museum and delve into the rich history of Crenshaw County.

The Crenshaw Christian Academy fourth grade had a prior engagement but will visit the museum on a later date.