November 2011
Featured Articles

Collinsville in the 1940s-50s

The downtown area of Collins-ville. Street lights, cars and other figurines help add character to the replica.

 

He’s a woodworking hobbyiest, She’s a historian...

Together they’ve captured
a town’s past in miniature

To capture the history of a town during its prime is often revealed through newspaper clippings, black-and-white photos, letters and stories. For residents in the Town of Collinsville, they can actually walk through history by the way of a miniature version of the town at the home of Charles and Gail Moore. He is a woodworker and she is a historian; together, they have built a miniature replica of the town as it looked in about the 1940s and 1950s.

Charles always enjoyed woodworking as a hobby and even built doll houses in the 1980s to sell at craft shows. Their daughter, Elizabeth Jackson, helped pick out miniature decorations for the inside of the buildings, adding character to each of the models.

 

Charles Moore is a hobby woodworker and began building the town replica when he built a copy of the town’s historic clock. Here he looks at one of the replica homes he built.

Lifetime residents of Collinsville, she from the city and he from the country, began to build the town with the historic town clock. The clock, which sat on top of the Cricket Theater, is the town’s claim since the 1950s. It was dismantled and in need of some repair in about 2005. After seeing the clock up close, Charles built two replicas. One was given to the Collinsville Historical Museum and the other he kept for a keep-sake.

Several years ago, the town leaders were considering building a new library. Being a historian at heart, Charles took a picture of the old library building. The photo guided him to build another replica, including the interiors being decorated with small rugs, wall paper, pictures and furniture. Cars, horses and buggies, street lights and sidewalks all line the "streets" of the miniature town.

The clock and the library were the catalysts for building the town. Charles and Gail reminisced about how the town was when they were growing up and soon the research on photos of the town began to transpire. Since then, she has collected over 100 different pictures of portions of downtown. These photos help them make the buildings more accurate. Garland, wreaths and Christmas lights decorate the miniature town during the holidays, similar to how the town was once decorated.

Gail placed a picture of her family on the patio of the apartment where they lived above a store in downtown Collinsville.

Gail Moore began looking for photos to help her husband build each building accurately. She has many of the photos hanging above the replicas.

 

Today, the town replica is located in his former work shed. Models include the Collinsville Train Depot, the Presbyterian Church, Main Street as it was in the 1940s with Graves Hardware Store, Cooks Barber Shop, The Cricket Theater, Hall’s Dry Goods, City Hall, the depot, the Collinsville New Era office, Western Auto, the Pan-Am station and other businesses along the streets.

A stroll through "town" brings back many memories for former and current residents of the area. The fourth grade classes at Collinsville High School stop by for a visit each year as part of their studying of Alabama History. There are more than 1,487 names on the guest list from all over the United States and one person visited from Canada.

The Moores don’t advertise their hobby, but with almost 1,500 visitors, the word has traveled quickly throughout the area. They often host senior adult groups, school classes, visitors, family of those still living in town and historical associations.

In April of 2006, the Collinsville Historical Society honored Charles with the Historian of the Year award at the group’s monthly meeting at the Presbyterian Church. The society recognized him for his work in preserving the town’s history in miniature form.

 

Gail Moore and their daughter, Elizabeth Jackson, decorated the interiors of each building adding more lifelike characteristics to the models.

The Town of Collinsville lies in the valley of Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain, with Little Wills Valley flowing throughout the town and outlying areas. In May of 1887, the community was incorporated and named Collinsville, after one of the influential founders, Alfred Collins, with a population of 304.

The railroad came to town in about the 1870s just before the depot was built. This allowed more trade with other cities and was the point at which the town began to build around. It was about the same time as doctor and dental offices began to be built, as well as lawyers, barbers, dry goods and hardware stores, hotels, jewelers, drug stores and banks began to establish their businesses in this scenic town.

 

The historic clock once sat on top of the Cricket Theater, one of the town’s most famous landmarks, in downtown Collinsville (replica above).

 

The Cricket Theater was built in 1925 and was the second theater to be built in town. It is there the historic town clock chimed for over 50 years.

In 1884 and 1900, fire destroyed portions of the town causing a rebuilding and restructuring of the buildings. In the 1930s, flooding became a disastrous problem as the north and south branches of Little Wills Creek, which borders the town, would rise and flood the streets. In 1939, engineers came from Mobile to assist in solving this problem. They suggested implementing new levees and flood walls, replacing bridges and incorporating drainage structures.

Most of this information on the town can be heard, and much more, on a visit to the Moores’ replica. Through their hobby and interest in the history of their town, the Moores’ have created a trip through time for generations to enjoy.

Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.

    

Top left, cars and trucks of the period line the streets as they once did during the 1940s. Below, the Pan-Am Station in downtown Collinsville. Right, “Little Collinsville” sign welcomes visitors to the miniature replica of the town from about the 1940s to 1950s.