By C. G. FENNELL
(transcribed from summer issue of The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol 1 No 2, Summer Issue 1930)
Men of advanced age are apt to think of the “Good Old Days” only in retrospect, but as a matter of fact, there is no comparison between the conveniences of life now, and those we enjoyed in 1860. This is especially true in regard to communication and transportation. The “Good Old Days” did not begin nor end with 1860, but prior to that date we must rely largely upon tradition, as the section under discussion has found but small place in written history, and few men are now living who can give data from personal experience.
Marshall county Presbyterian Mission
Oldest house in the county, Guntersville, Alabama
This article relates specifically to that part of Marshall County lying on the Tennessee River and remote from the county seat and not in close touch with neighbors. Tennessee River afforded the only means of ingress and egress for a large section of North Alabama, except by crude dirt roads and horse-drawn vehicles.
The highway, then known as the big road,” was the main artery of commerce from the live stock and fruit growing section of Tennessee and Kentucky to the cotton belt of Alabama and Georgia. This highway led directly from Huntsville to Ft. Deposit, (Deposit Ferry).
Large droves of mules, and swine were driven through the country and crossed the river at Deposit. Facilities for handling large bodies of stock were crude and primitive. Boats were pulled across with oars and 20 or 25 head of mules made a load.
Traders had arranged with farmers along the road to provide food and troughs for mules and horses, and lodging for the drovers. These farms were about a day’s march apart, and were known as mule stands. Where crops were growing the road was fenced in, making a lane that was of great assistance to the drovers in keeping their mules from straying while waiting for the final load.
Marshall County Courthouse ca. 1939 – Alabama State Archives
Hogs were usually fed in the road and they were generally fat, showed little disposition to stray away, but would promptly tumble down as soon as they were fed. One such stand was located about four miles from the river, and another some thirty miles further south, at the foot of Sand Mountain. This road and ferry were kept in use until about 1890, when the county established a free ferry at Guntersville, when the business at Deposit gradually shifted to the free ferry.
The ferry was not free to non-residents, but the old road was always bad, and was worked by the old plan of ten days work each able bodied man along the route. It was never a satisfactory method, and the road steadily grew worse, until within recent years, the ferry at Deposit has been discontinued.
Late in the last century, the long projected railroad from Gadsden to Guntersville was completed and the people of the valley began to think that they had arrived at the zenith of modern progress. Telegraph lines followed the railroad, and it really was a great step forward. Soon thereafter the telephone came, and we knew that our section would be heard from.
Guntersville Main street ca. 1939 Alabama State Archives
After the telephone, came the automobile, which was received with many misgivings. It was really a torture to ride in a car on the roads that we had. At first, it was expected that only rich people could afford to own a car, and grumbling was loud and persistent about keeping roads in order for a chosen few.
Teams were frightened and many accidents made the auto very unpopular, until the model “T” put them in reach of all. Then went up a shout for improved roads, and the shout was heard and road building began on a small scale with county means. This was so satisfactory that bond issues began for road building. The impulse reached the state and adjoining states, and the result is that every man who has sufficient credit now owns a car.
Main street Guntersville, Alabama postcard
Travel has increased from a distance, and cars may be seen now in any town, with tags from Canada to Florida. The steam ferry at Guntersville has become inadequate, so that now a splendid bridge, the “George S Houston” bridge, spans the Tennessee River at Guntersville. The road from Guntersville south is hard surfaced and the trip that required a day in former years, may now be made in two hours.