Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How did access to roads or railroads shape your ancestors' lives?

This early 20th century view of the Wilmer, Alabama, community shows a car coming up the road toward the Wilmer Store Company. The car is in the distance at the middle left side of the photo.

We tend to forget how much the coming of the automobile changed life in rural America. Before cars, any travel to major markets took a lot of time and effort. Storms turned dirt roads into rivers of mud. The rain flooded stream crossings and, if there were no bridge, travelers had to stop until the streams lowered enough to cross.

People traveling outside their own neighborhoods often had to move along poorly located roads that wound without apparent direction from farm to farm.

Where farmers lived within a short distance of a railroad, navigable river or good roads, they found they could make a lot more money by specializing. This means they devoted most of their acreage to growing a single crop for sale in the market rather than raising all the grains and meat they needed. They no longer had to provide everything they needed by their own hand.
Wilmer and other towns in western Mobile County sprouted up along a major road from Mobile to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. At one time the road was called Moffett's Ferry Road, named after the family who ran a ferry across the Escatawpa River near the state line. The name was eventually shortened to Moffett Road. The road later became a part of the federal highway system as U.S. Highway 98. The road name had different spellings, such as Moffatt, until 1986 when the Alabama Legislature declared "Moffett" to be the correct one.

Wilmer became an incorporated town in 1970. But 24 years later, Wilmer’s citizens grew tired of local political tomfoolery and voted to dissolve the incorporation.

In the 19th century and for most of the 20th century, Wilmer was a small farming town that served families with names such as Brannan, Moody, Pierce, Stringfellow, and Tanner. Today it is increasingly becoming a bedroom community for the city of Mobile and other areas.

Did your ancestors live near good transportation? How did access to roads or railroads shape their lives?

Wilmer Store Company image courtesy of the Erik Overbey Collection, University of South Alabama Archives (http://www.southalabama.edu/archives).


  1. I have been trying to picture, exactly where the photographer stood while taking this picture! It sure looks different these days...

  2. Yes, it is hard to tell exactly in which direction we are looking. But my guess is that the buildings all faced Moffett Road.

  3. Ralph,

    I just wanted to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/03/follow-fridayfab-finds-for-march-22-2013.html

    Have a great weekend!