CHEAHA: Page Nine

TOR and I are capable of reading maps, but at times either one of us can be navigationally challenged. My internal GPS must have gotten confused when I made that u-turn for the berries because, when we left the farm, I turned left instead of right back onto Highway 21 and treated us to a little detour, almost all the way back to Oxford before I realized the landmarks looked familiar.

I’d chosen Highway 21 for the return drive because I wanted to check out two tiny towns that had been home to marble quarries in the 19th century. I didn’t expect to find much, but you never know.

Winterboro is located mostly right around the intersection of Alabama State Routes 21 and 76., about two miles from  a marble quarry opened by George Herd in 1850. Plank roads were popular back then, at least for a few years until railroad tracks, which didn’t warp or rot or provide dinner for boring insects, stole the appeal. Most Alabama plank roads were toll roads. You paid 2 ½ cents per mile for your four-horse private pleasure carriage or 3 cents if you had a loaded wagon with two horses. There were exemptions—no charge if you were going to church, a funeral, the mill, the blacksmith, or your doctor.

Alabama had several, including John G.Winter’s Central Plank Road, which the Georgia banker wanted to from Montgomery to Guntersville, via Talladega. Unfortunately, planks were laid  only as far as this intersection because, as often happens with local politics, the people of Talladega declined to chip in towards the cost of the last ten miles, so Winter stopped the road right there and  named the place for himself.

The only clue to all this today is Plank Road Station, a weather-beaten building atop a sparsely grassy rise next to Winterboro School. TOR will tattle on me that it took three times driving around in circles before we spotted the station, which served as a Masonic lodge from the 1920s until 1957. It then endured a long empty stretch hiding behind overgrown vines until recently, when a group of local preservationists began working to restore the station as a gathering place, an art gallery, and a museum.

%d bloggers like this: