Nevin Heller Tells History
ASHS Column for 9/22/05
Things get a little weird when
we write these columns a week
ahead of time. By that I mean
some of our topics actually
did transpire in the past while
we are reporting events that
haven't yet occurred, but are
predicted. Is that perfectly
clear? Good, because this
week's column contains an
example of both.
On Monday, the 12th, Olin
Tisdale, Gene Byrd and his
helper, Daniel, arrived in a
van loaded with equipment ready
to tackle some of the much-
needed work in the James
Houston Jones Park. Jerry
Simmons and I also joined in,
so from 8 A. M. until 2:30 P.M.
we managed to get a lot of limb-lopping, weed spraying, azalea trimming, raking and general sprucing up done.
Actually, it was Gene and Olin who were the movers and shakers on this project. Olin climbed the tree to pull down the dead limbs. Some were stubborn and clung mightily until hooked to Jerry's truck. Olin's persistence finally prevailed. Climbing the tree wasn't enough for this eighty year old. He couldn't rest until he climbed up on the roof of The Leach House to get the branches off that were damaging the shingles. Fortunately, he didn't fall, so all was well, at least until he tried to get out of bed Tuesday morning! I strongly suspect the same was true with Gene since he did a lot of pulling and hauling in those azaleas and then worked with that sprayer. At any rate, we are most grateful for their labor and their friendship.
Our second example is dealing with Nevin Heller's informative program at the September meeting of the Society on the 20th. Nevin had given this speech at the Escambia County Historical Society's meeting recently. We found it so interesting that we invited him to share it with us. The entire speech is too lengthy to print in this column, but we do have a copy of the complete text, so if you would like to fill in the blanks from my condensed report, let us hear from you for a copy. We may even persuade Jerry to put it on the web page.
Nevin divided his report into three parts: Pre 1900 history of the local Flomaton area, The recreational years of the Jackson Theater, and Action at Flomaton Antique Auction. In dealing with the early history he dealt with the Indians, early explorers, trails and early references to settlements extending to the 31st parallel including Flomaton, west of the Escambia River. Next he spoke of the arrival of the Alabama & Florida Railroad just prior to the Civil War in May, 1861. After the Civil War the small town of Flomaton emerged as did more railroads, thus a major junction was born. By the 1900's many of the early families had settled - Browns, Drurys, Jacksons, McCurdys, Walkers (possibly the earliest landowners) and Weavers(1904). On April 13, 1908, the town was incorporated as Flomaton - FLO-rida/alaba-MA-TON (added by the Post Office).
Part two is basically the history of the Jackson Theater which later became the galleries of Flomaton Antique Auction. Before getting into that history though, he mentioned that the area just north of the Alabama/Florida state line is being developed into a local museum and Alabama welcome center by the Flomaton Chamber of Commerce.
In 1926 Mr. Sam Jackson, Sr. built a large brick theater near the center of town, probably using brick from the Keego brickyard. The building is 50' x 100' done in a Spanish style architecture with four arched entrances across the front. There was a hexagon-shaped ticket booth in the center of the large protected portal. The interior had an 18' high tin ceiling, a sloped audience floor and had a full production stage complete with dressing rooms and under stage frontal lighting. The building was later equipped with a large water-cooling "air-conditioning system".
This was possibly the first theater building in the Escambia County, Alabama area. With a seating capacity of around 400 patrons it was among the largest in Alabama until mid-century. Nevin tells of the many and varied uses of the building and the changes that took place over the years. On Saturday, October 2, 1934, twenty-two year old Sammy Jackson married Clara Mixon, a schoolteacher from Chumuckla, Florida. At the ceremony, Sammy's father handed them their wedding gift - the deed to the Jackson Theater. They ended the day with an evening at the "picture show". The happily married couple then embarked on the livelihood of their lives. Nevin gave us many endearing anecdotes of their experiences until in January of 1971, after an entertaining 37 years and 3 months, Jackson's Theater closed its doors.
Now we come to part 3 in 1977. Herbert Heller, local proprietor of Flomaton Antique Auction bought the building, which in a way, reverted to its original intent and purpose - live theater. The furniture would be displayed on the original stage with lights turned in much the same way as a live artist performed. There would be interaction with the audience as the bid caller announced the next bid increment.
In September of 1967, the first production of Flomaton Antique Auction took place in a building that was located where the cash registers of Piggly Wiggly currently stand. Herbert and Dorothy Heller rang up their first total of $1465.00. The Hellers moved to Flomaton in 1961 to pastor a Mennonite church. Having moved here from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Herbert was aware of the fine antiques made in America and especially those produced in the northeastern area of the country. He teamed up with a third cousin, Dave Lehman, to start the business. Dave supplied merchandise. In 1967 bi-weekly auctions were held on Friday evenings with approximately 70 people in attendance.
After a couple of moves the business finally located in the former Jackson Theater. Since that time additions have brought the total square footage to around 11,000 square feet. Over the years many changes have taken place. In January of 200l Herbert and Dorothy Heller retired and by April of that year the business was incorporated and Nevin took over.
There is so much history attached to this business and this family that you readers will really want to know all of the story, so get in touch with Jerry about the web site possibility or send us a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a printed copy that contains everything.
Don't forget to mark your calendars for Oct. 8 and let us know how you will help. Contact either Jerry or myself to volunteer. Encourage others to attend this event.