Living Democracy

Adventures in West Alabama

Gee's Bend ferryOne of the many highlights of my Living Democracy summer in Thomaston are the road trips that gave me an opportunity to learn about and experience West Alabama. I grew up in Northeast Alabama and had never really visited much of this region. I loved learning about many new places in Alabama’s Black Belt.

Of course, I spent time learning about Linden, the county seat of Marengo County. I spent time here working with the nursing home, Extension office, and the library. I also enjoyed visiting one of Linden’s “hot spots”, J & K Whistle Stop, which is a local diner. I tried their specialty, the “train wreck”, and it was amazing.

For shopping trips and even more lessons about the Black Belt, I visited Demopolis, the largest city in Marengo County. As I explored its downtown, I found many historic and interesting buildings. I was amazed by the beauty of Gaineswood, an historic plantation home. I also stopped by Back Forty Produce to buy freshly picked apples and homemade jam. I enjoyed the diversity of Demopolis, which felt like a bigger city with plenty of small town kindness and charm.

Magnolia under a Magnolia tree in MagnoliaTo learn more about Marengo County, I visited other schools in the Marengo County school system in Sweet Water and Dixon Mills. The schools resembled Amelia Love Johnson High School in Thomaston.

Next I ventured a little further south to Thomasville in Clarke County. I visited the downtown area where I found a mural of a train on one of the buildings. I stopped by the Southern Grounds Coffee Shop, which serves up great coffee and atmosphere in a restored building.

During my first visit to Thomaston earlier this summer, several people told me that there was a town nearby that had the same name as mine, Magnolia. So, I was very excited for my next adventure to visit the town of Magnolia.  Shirley Crocker and Carolyn Finley took me to this rural community and showed me around. We concluded our visit by taking a picture of me under a Magnolia tree in Magnolia. It was very neat to visit the town that I share I name with.

Of all my road trip adventures this summer, one of my favorites was a visit to Gee’s Bend, home of a famous quilting collective on the Alabama River. Finley and the Crockers took me along with them on this amazing trip.  We went to the ferry stop in Camden in Wilcox County and boarded the ferry that took us the 15-minute ride to Gee’s Bend or Boykin.

Quilt from Gee's BendGee’s Bend is in the bend of the Alabama River across from Camden. The drive from Gee’s Bend to Camden is around 45 minutes, but the ferry ride cuts it down to 15 minutes. The ferry ride was beautiful with amazing views of the river.

Gee’s Bend is famous for its quilts. We tracked down the Gee’s Bend Quilters once we got off the ferry. We arrived just in time to see Mary Ann Pettway working on a square of a quilt. Pettway is the collective manager and quilter for the Gee’s Bend Quilters’ Collective.

Pettway told us stories as she showed us the famous quilts produced here for decades. She said, “I just use my God given talents. We do it all by hand, and I am blessed to be able to do so.” Nancy Pettway, who also quilts at the shop, added, “We stay and wait for the last ferry, but we do have good business from the people who visit from the ferry. We do not sell anywhere else, but plenty of people come.”

Magnolia in front of an alligatorThe next stop on this adventure was at Miller’s Ferry, where we visited the lock and dam. Here we were able to see Stokes World Record Alligator. The massive creature, 15 feet 9 inches long and 1,011.5 pounds, was caught in the Alabama River and can be seen at the resource building at Miller’s Ferry. I knew the alligator was going to be big, but I was still surprised to see how huge it was.

This summer I have had many adventures in West Alabama. I feel like I have had the opportunity to learn and experience so much in this area. I am thankful for these memories and for the people who took me on these adventures.

Last Updated: July 31, 2017