By Skip Lanier
The village was built about 1925. The
area covered in the first part of the village was east of 26th Street. The houses were either
3 room, 4 room or a 2 or 3 room duplex. There were no paved streets or sidewalks; these were added later.
The houses were heated by fireplaces in each room, fired mostly by coal, which was purchased from the company and stored
in “coal houses”, a small house built behind each house. The houses had electricity, but in
the early days, no refrigerators; ice was delivered on a truck from the ice plant in Opelika. Natural gas
was added in the 1940’s. The houses were rented for about $2.00 per room per month. Rent
could be paid by payroll deduction. Periodically, the houses were painted by company painters. The
company provided maintenance for the houses. In the area which is now the Baptist Church, there were various
trees and shrubs; these were used as replacements for village houses and for new houses. A group of employees
and a Supervisor worked full time in this area.
village consisted of the houses and:
The school was under the county school system and included through the 6th grade. After
the pupils finished the 6th grade, they went to the schools in Opelika. Several years later,
and addition was made to be able to serve up through the 9th, and then Clift High School (OHS) was attended
by the 9th grade graduates. The school was the center of community social activities.
The auditorium was used for men’s and women’s basketball games, and for traveling musical groups, as well
as for school functions.
This was used by employees who had just been hired and were waiting for their families to join them and by unmarried
employees. They served three meals a day and the rent was very affordable. The meals
were prepared by full-time cooks. The boarding house was operated by Mrs. Lonnie Harper, Sr.
CLINIC: The Clinic was located near the Mill, and included a Doctor,
who had a private practice as well as being on-call for Plant emergencies. The clinic started with one
RN, but later another RN was added. One nurse stayed in the clinic, but the other visited in the houses
of ill employees and families; this nurse was especially helpful to mothers of new-born babies. Employees
had no reason to seek medical services except those which required special treatments. Cuts and scratches,
bad colds, flu and other ailments were taken care of in the clinic, free of charge.
KINDERGARTEN: A place where working mothers could leave their children and get some pre-school education as well. The
forerunner of Day Care. Most of Pepperell’s children attend the Kindergarten.
STORES AND POST OFFICE: What is now the Red Cross Building was originally
a movie house. Most textile towns had a movie house. This one didn’t last very
long and a grocery store, drug store, post office and barber shop were put in this building. The stores
were operated by brothers Charlie, Jule and Jim Varner. Customers could go in the store and place an order
for groceries or drugs, and their order would be delivered to their homes, mostly by a mule and wagon; later the delivery
was upgraded to bicycles. In the beginning the Post Office was in the same room as the Drug Store, then
later closed off to be separate and was operated as a Branch Office of the Opelika Post Office; the Varner’s
sister Mary Elisabeth, called “Baby” took care of the post office. Countless young sons of
Pepperell employees got their first jobs as order-fillers or delivery boys under the Varners.
CHURCHES: What is now the Pepperell United Methodist Church was built by the company in 1926. It
served as both Methodist and Baptist Churches, on alternating Sundays. A lot of the people attend both
Sundays. In 1942, the Baptist withdrew and started having their services, church and Sunday school, in the school house.
Later the company gave them the land and they built their own church. The company later gave the
land and the Methodist building to the Methodist Church. The company contributed to each of the two churches
on a regular basis. As the employee base moved more and more from the village, the company stopped the
contributions since so many of the employees were members of churches outside the village.
SERVICE STATION: The service station included gas and oil and other
maintenance services and also had a small café located next to the service station. After the local
movie closed, the operator of the service station, located on the highway, operated a “show bus”.
The bus made regular trips from the village to S. Railroad Ave. in Opelika; for the price of a theater ticket, you
could see a movie and ride the bus for free, round-trip. The bus was also used by residents to go shopping,
since many of them did not have automobiles. This same bus was also used to transport school children to
High School in Opelika. In 1943, the bus was used to transport the Opelika football team to Eufaula for
The company sponsored baseball and both men’s and women’s basketball. A baseball field,
complete with bleachers, was located at the back of the school building and across the street from what is now Pepperell Baptist
More houses were added about 1938, and the “new village” was
extended to 29th Street. And later on to 30th Street. Many of
these newer houses were occupied by Management people of the Bleachery, built in 1947.
1958, the company got out of the real estate business; for one reason, due to the expansion of the company, many of the employees
did not live in the village, and for another, the cost of maintenance was much greater. Some of the houses
were relocated away for the Mill, and the balance were sold to the current renters. Houses sold for about
$700.00 per room, except those on corner lots which sold for $750.00 per room. During the great depression,
Pepperell never had a shutdown; there were some weeks when the employees did not work a full week, but the mill kept running.
The company donated land for the East Alabama Medical Center and other property as well. The company also
donated the Red Cross Building.