At the Peterman Station Arts and Crafts Festival
Visitors to the Peterman Festival can shop at over 80 different booths. (Credit: Marie Klepac)
The Saturday before Thanksgiving is a date most people in southwest Alabama mark in RED! That’s the date of the Peterman Station Arts and Crafts Festival in Peterman. For the past 33 years, the Peterman Historical Society has sponsored this unique event, which is unlike any other celebration in this area.
To understand the festival’s popularity and both the passion and dedication of its supporters, one must first understand the history of Peterman. It is an unincorporated 1900s Southern railroad town, located just 6 miles north of Monroeville in Monroe County. It was not always called Peterman. Earlier, the small community was called Buford, because the Buford brothers owned two of the four stores on a hill overlooking the present-day town location. On Saturdays, farm families in outlying areas would get in their wagons and go to Buford to buy the things they needed, pick up mail and just visit with friends.
In 1900, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad laid tracks from Montgomery to Mobile and Pensacola. These tracks came through the area at the bottom of the hill beneath Buford’s cluster of stores. The railroad also built a depot at the bottom of the hill and named it after a longtime L&N employee, Addison Peterman, who was then the agent at Repton.
As the trains began to come through, activity around the Peterman Depot increased. Store owners on the hill decided they needed their businesses down by the railroad tracks to take advantage of all the traffic; therefore, in October 1901, they used oxen to move all their stores down to the railroad tracks, all in one day! A favorite local story recounted that one store literally "got away from them." The building gained momentum on the steep hill, ran over a medium-sized cherry tree, and finally came to rest near its planned destination. The cherry tree survived, but it was forever bent in an easterly direction. This is how the town of Peterman came into existence.
Peterman was a thriving community from 1900-1950. The townspeople built churches, schools, additional merchandise businesses and a drugstore. Two doctors and a dentist located in the area. One unusual business, involving several local people, was the smilax business. Smilax, an evergreen vine that grew in area trees, was gathered, packed in wooden crates with layers of wet paper and shipped by train to florists in northern cities where it was used for decorating. Of course, this was before artificial flowers and greenery existed.
The Depression had a major impact on Peterman. When struggling farmers didn’t have money to buy seeds and fertilizer for their crops, several area businessmen formed an agricultural business called the Peterman Agricultural Company. Farmers could buy seeds and fertilizer on credit, until they could raise their crops. The PAC became an important part of Peterman, employing many people and, ultimately, helping farmers to survive.
In the 1950s, automobiles became the preferred mode of travel, and the railroads started to decline. As passenger trains ceased to exist, fewer trains came through Peterman. Because residents could drive their cars into nearby Monroeville to shop in the larger stores, businesses began to close.
The Peterman Historical Society is the oldest in Monroe County. Some of the volunteers include (from left, front) Marie Klepac, secretary; Dot Klepac, treasurer; Audrey Helton; Susan Webster; (back) Marcia DeSonier; Alice Chandler, president; Alice Dean and Billy Downs, vice-president. (Credit all: Susan Webster)
In 1982, the Peterman Historical Society was organized to preserve and maintain the town and to record its history and heritage for future generations. Because the town was not incorporated, the group had no revenue from taxes; therefore, the members had to find ways to raise funds. In 1983, the group started its first Peterman Station Arts and Crafts Festival, a fundraiser used for the upkeep and restoration of The Old Depot and several of the buildings still remaining today.
This year, the 33rd Peterman Station’s Arts and Crafts Festival will be held on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. It is one of the oldest and best-known festivals in South Alabama, with arts and crafts, down-home foods, local entertainment and historic buildings, opened for browsing all day. The sponsors have already booked 80 vendors with a waiting list in case of a cancellation. Many of the crafters return annually, some booking their favorite spaces a year in advance. Shoppers will find woodcrafts of all types, quilts, jewelry, honey products, jams, jellies, walking sticks, homemade knives, art, drawings, flower and wreath arrangements, Christmas decorations, ceramics, stained glass, homemade toys, tee-shirts, air brushing, candles, purses, birdhouses, handmade children’s clothes and much more.
One of the unique and delicious aspects of the festival is that PHS does not rent spaces to outside food vendors. PHS and its volunteers prepare and sell all the tasty, down-home foods at the festival. They make 10 wash pots of Brunswick stew, as well as old-timey collards and cornbread. Many other traditional festival choices will be offered, including funnel cakes, hot dogs, Polish sausages, hamburgers, BBQ sandwiches, and nachos and cheese. All kinds of soft drinks and fresh-brewed coffee will be available. The Country General Store will be open with hoop cheese, crackers and vintage bottled cokes and penny candy for sale. The Old Depot will house tables of homemade Southern-baked goods.
PHS will again offer tours of all the historical buildings. One of the favorite sites is the refurbished 1880 dog-trot house, staged with period furniture and accessories. This dog-trot house has two large front rooms, a schoolmarm’s room, two smaller rooms, and a separate dining room and kitchen, built off the back and down a short, covered walkway for fire safety. If the kitchen and dining room caught fire from the wood stove, a team of mules or later a tractor could be used to pull the burning kitchen away from the rest of the house. One of the highlights of this tour will be a quilt turning in which gloved quilters will turn antique quilts for visitors to enjoy. Information about every room and its use will be available for guests, as well as free brochures containing stories, historical articles, pictures, recipes, tips and other information about Peterman.
Booths will be arranged along the railroad street, among the old store buildings and parallel to the railroad tracks. Ample parking is available up the hill at the two churches, around the old bank building, at the post office and across the railroad tracks. No admission will be charged.
Left to right, the kitchen preparation area in the dogtrot house. Some of the most visited booths were the ones that sold handmade quilts and textiles. Many vendors come every year and reserve their booths for the next year. (Credit: Susan Webster)
The PHS has continued to make improvements in the town, by using the proceeds from the Peterman Station Arts and Crafts festival, as well as individual donations and earnings from their This & That rummage sales. They have revamped and added downtown street lights for additional safety, cleaned and painted all buildings, arranged for an itinerant artist to paint a vintage Coca Cola mural on the country store museum building, planted flowers and shrubs to enhance the downtown area, hosted various tours during the year, and kept the grass cut and the area tidy. They continue to preserve the heritage, the traditions and the memories of a bygone time in America’s history.
A trip to the Peterman Station Arts and Crafts festival is one visitors will not forget. The relaxed ambience welcomes visitors, young and old, and the family-friendly activities offer something for everyone.