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Little Collinsville Transports Visitors to the Past

Nestled just off Interstate 59 between Birmingham and Chattanooga lies Collinsville, boasting small town charm, authentic Southern cooking and a population proud of the past. Four miles from the red light on Main Street—one of only two stoplights in town—live Gail and Charles Moore, rulers of a small kingdom called “Little Collinsville.”

Little Collinsville is a small-scale model of Collinsville during its hey day, the 1930s through the 1950s.  He’s a skilled wood worker, she’s a historian, and together they have created a beautiful model of Main Street Collinsville.

“Well, it all started with the clock tower,” Gail says as she points to a towering model of the Historic Cricket Theatre’s clock tower, which has become a symbol of the town.

When the original clock was taken down, Charles decided to build a replica, which created a chain reaction of replicating the town one building at a time. He built two versions of the Cricket theatre since its restoration was the talk of town, and Gail was proud to tell me that the original miniature theatre spent a week at a showcase in Montgomery.

Collinsville was a busy town back in the day. The shed that houses Little Collinsville features photos and drawings of Main Street with images of the community in the first quarter of the century. One image shows the streets, buildings and rooftops crowded with hundreds of people gathered for the town’s famous Turkey Toss.

Little Collinsville replicas include a car dealership, two banks, multiple gas stations, three grocery stores, and Hall’s, a giant supercenter that clamed to be “the largest store of its kind in the state of Alabama.”  Charles painted the claim with pinpoint accuracy on his model of Hall’s.

According to the Moores, Collinsville’s Main Street, situated right off the railroad, always attracted a large crowd on the weekends. People would take the early train in and the last train out loaded down with shopping bags from downtown stores.

Today, visitors to Little Collinsville can see the kinds of goods and services the town offered. Models wearing clothes with school colors are displayed in the windows of Graves store, tiny timing belts hang in the Shell gas and car repair station, and the mortician’s shop is so detailed it includes a tiny doll in the model casket.

The details that the Moores add to their creations are what transport each visitor to decades past.

Little Collinsville has welcomed more than 2,000 visitors since 2006. Around 75 fourth graders from the local school visit each year to support their studies of Alabama history.

They start at the library and get an hour’s worth of talking points highlighting Collinsville history. They then visit the new water board office and walk through the old jail and city hall. The students then take a short bus ride to the Collinsville museum, run by the Collinsville Historical Society, where Gail plays a pivotal role.

While they are there, they can view donated items that span the lifespan of Collinsville: newspaper articles, the marquee from the Cricket Theatre, old year books and class pictures, military uniforms and memorabilia from both World Wars, quilts and dresses and more. Students can discover grandparents, aunts, uncles, and long-lost relatives in pictures and articles, which cultivates genuine interest in the history of Collinsville.

“All of these kids find some sort of connection to Collinsville’s past because their families were part of it,” says Myles Smith, a founding member of the Collinsville Historical Association. “They can ask their parents and grandparents ‘where were you when this happened?’ and hear four different stories about the same event.”

The last stop is “Little Collinsville,” where children file through the path in the shed a few at a time, peering into the houses and giggling at the assortment of trinkets strewn about the mini town. And the kids love it, some proclaiming,

“That’s my church!”

“That’s my granddad’s shop!”

“I get my haircut there!”

“Whoa, would you LOOK at these cars! They’re classics!”

Only promoted through word of mouth, Little Collinsville has become a staple of the community.

Visitors can stroll the model town as Gail shares fascinating stories, memories, and facts she has gathered over the years. She says that every time a local Collinsvillian takes a tour, she learns something new.

“Sometimes information falls into our lap, and we use it to expand what we and the Historical Association know about Collinsville,” Gail says.

“Older generations love to come because they can revisit memories when they walk through here. Younger kids love it because it looks like a town of dollhouses, and craftsmen love it because of Charles’ skilled woodwork. It’s really an all-around crowd pleaser,” she pronounces humbly.

The most astounding part of my tour was that while most of the buildings from the early 20th Century still stood, the businesses inside of them were running to this day. It truly showed the pride that the community felt in the origins of their town and their hard work in preserving it.

Tags: Collinsville

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