Bankhead National Forest, Aunt Jenny, and Pine Torch


This weekend, we spent some time in the Bankhead National Forest (it’s named after Tallulah’s daddy, who served Alabama in the House of Representatives and became Speaker of the House).

The forest makes up over 180,000 acres and is just so pretty. There’s lots of hiking, canoing that can be done on the Sipsey, and lots of things that we want to do when Shug gets a little older and can enjoy them. On this trip, we just drove all over – there are plenty of paved roads but we did a lot of backroads driving on dirt and gravel/dirt roads:


One thing we wanted to get to but didn’t was the home of Aunt Jenny Brooks Johnson:


She is a local legend and has an amazing story – her husband and oldest son were killed during the War, and her other five sons got into all kinds of trouble. I read that she said she was proud because all her sons ‘died like men, with their boots on’.

Carla Waldrep, a librarian in Haleyville, gets dressed up as Aunt Jenny and tells her story to schoolchildren and others:

One really great thing that we did find was Pine Torch. We were looking for the Pine Torch Schoolhouse and found the Pine Torch Church, which is one of the oldest remaining original log churches in Alabama.


The historic marker beside it reads:

Pine Torch Church
In the early 1800s, settlers of Scots-Irish and Indian ancestry begin moving into this area. These mountain people homesteaded small tracts of property on public domain lands of poor sandy soil and rugged terrain. According to tradition, the old church was built as a house of worship for the local community which by 1915 was known as Europe. England, Bolan, Payne, and Nicholson families moved the building here from Holmes Chapel. The church consisted of one-room 24 by 27 feet logs hand-hewn by Bud Holmes, Josh England, Jim Nicholson, Dick Payne and others. The original floor was made of hand-hewn planks of poplar as wide as 48 inches. Beginning around 1920, the original flooring was stolen over a period of years; therefore, a new floor was built about 1940. The roof was made of hand split wooden shingles, which were later replaced with tin. The first pews where hewn from solid slabs of poplar trees. Pine Torch got its name from the blazing pine knots that were used to light the church services after dark. After services, the pine knots were used to light the way home. Some say the old building was also used as a one-room school. Today, Pine Torch is considered to be the oldest standing structure in Bankhead National Forest with decoration day the 4th Sunday in May.

My WPA book says that the school was .3 miles from the church, but maybe that’s something different.

Shug decided he wanted to pull one of his socks off for this pic:


This is the interior of the church – it’s awfully dark inside so I can see why they would need those pine knot torches for light:


There’s a sign at the church cemetery that says that the church dates from 1850. The cemetery is ‘swept’ meaning that the sand is raked so that no grass will grow.


One of my friends’ mother is from Southeast Alabama, and she grew up with a ‘swept’ yard. The ground is pretty sandy down where her family lived, and the children were given the job of making sure that the yard was kept well-raked/swept so that no grass would grow and ruin the look. They grew up being told that nice people who kept up their homes didn’t let grass grow in their yard!!

The New York Times did a story about swept yards back in 1993. I never knew the history behind it until I read that article. Interesting!

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