PINE TREE ARTICLE
Marengo County, Alabama
Contributed by Jennie Ellison
DAY IN THE LIFE OF ALABAMA THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS August 30, 1981State Pines Shored Up Aging Tower of LondonBy Clarke Stallworth News associate editor
William N. Nichols was a red-headed, blue-eyes giant of a man who helped to put pine logs from Marengo and Clarke counties into the Tower of London in 1886.
Nichols was born in North Carolina and grew up in east Tennessee. He came down to Alabama in 1852 and bought a 960-acre farm on Horseshoe Creek in south Marengo County.
Nichols married a raven-haired Irish girl and the two of them reared their family on the Black Belt farm. He taught his wife to read and write, and one of their descendents said later: "Grandma Nichols read the classics, the Bible, Tennyson, and Browning, and wrote letters with flawless grammar and sentence structure."
Nichols himself went off to war in the 1860's and was taken prisoner. Held in a Northern prison camp, he was released at the end of the war, came back to the impoverished South and took up his life again.
With a cotton gin, a grist mill, a country store, and a post office on his place, Nichols and his wife were able to afford a college education for each of their 12 children, as well as for 11 orphans adopted soon after the war.
The Nichols lived in a big house made of pine from their own woods. In the center of the structure was a large hall, 20 feet wide and 40 feet long, and ceilings were made of 12- inch unknotted boards, each 40 feet long.
Nichols also milled the lumber to build 17 churches on roads between Selma and Demopolis. He made them of heart pine, with a simple architectural design, so they all looked alike.
It was the Southern yellow pine in Marengo and Clarke counties that helped Nichols to keep his head above water during the depressed years after the Civil War.
In the mid-1880's, Nichols saw an advertisement in a newspaper. The Queen of England wanted to buy a lot of eight-in, square cut pine logs to shore up the old Tower of London. Each log, it said, had to be at least 100 feet long.
Nichols saw the ad and bragged: "Over Hudson Hill on my land in Clarke County, I have virgin pines that exceed 200 feet, and can easily produce the specified measures of 12" x 11" up to 132-foot-long timbers."
The Marengo farmer took a boat-load of cotton to Mobile, and while he was there, he asked about the timber ad.
A few months later, a British official from New Orleans rode up to the Nichols home in Demopolis in a rented buggy. He wanted to see those big trees Nichols had written about.
Later, the official said he though Nichols was stretching the truth in his description of the trees. But after Nichols took him on a tour of the farm, the two men signed a contract for Nichols to supply the wood.
It then became a family operation. Nineteen sons and foster-sons of Nichols helped outócutting, loading, skidding, and hauling the pine trees on their land to get them to London.
According to Lee Nichols of Tallahassee, Florida, "Uncle Henry was the driver of the oxen, and the timber was hauled over Hudson Hill to the Tombigbee River and via the Alabama River to Mobile."
Uncle John was in charge of the sawyers and Lee, a robust 10 year old at the time, packed the buggy with Grandma's good cooking and carried it to the top of Hudson Hill. There Grandpa blessed the food before they ate.
Uncle Kirvin and Uncle Eugene, then, in their early teens, were the "best team on a cross- cut saw who ever felled a pine tree," according to Grandma Nichols.
Several months later, when the lumber reached London, it was used to shore up the historic Tower of London, and the pungent smell of Alabama pine gave a fresh clean odor to the musty Tower.
When he died in 1924, at the age of 94, William Nichols gave bequests to the Alabama State board of Missions, the Baptist Home Mission Board in Atlanta, and the Baptist Foreign Mission Board in Richmond, VA.
And for the latter part of his life, his relatives remember, he bragged about his Alabama pine trees that had shored up the Tower of London.
(Note: Material for this story came for an article in The Alabama Baptist Historian, and was written by Miss Sara Walls. Miss Walls lives in Tuscaloosa and is retired from Gulf States Paper Corp., where she edited two company publications. Thanks to Irma Cruse, who suggested this story.)
1/2/2000 Copyright © by C.A. Wood. All rights reserved.