Ansley: A railroad town
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2002
At 4:13 p.m. the train roars through the small hamlet of Ansley, Ala., and the engineer drowns out the sound of the dogs barking with three tight blows of the horn.
It’s meant as both a greeting and a warning.
The train is as much a part of this small community as it has always been, although in today’s society its use as a convenient mode of transportation has long since been usurped by the automobile’s evolution.
But once, Ansley owed virtually its entire existence to the railroad and the industry it brought.
In 1889, the Alabama Midland Railroad Company decided to lay some tracks through the town of Berryville, named so because it was the Berrys, (along with the Barnetts), that first settled into this tiny northwest corner of Pike County that would one day become Ansley. That day would come soon after railroader Willie Whit Ansley announced the AMR’s plans to ride its rails right the town that would, from then on, bear his name.
There once was a cotton gin in Ansley. A saw and shingle mill were there, too.
All that’s left now is a collection of homes, ranging from older wood to more modern brick, and the church, of course, the one southern consistency which never seems affected by time’s ticking.
The Ansley Baptist Church was established in 1893 and tradition suggests that it grew up out of a dispute. There was a supposed division among the members of the Olustee Church in Briar Hill and one of those groups decided to pack up their religion and head south to Ansley. The church was rebuilt after a tornado came through in the early 20th century and today holds Sunday School at 10 a.m., with worship service following just after.
It’s a small church, white and perfectly suited to the smallness of the community. Before Valentine’s Day, there were paper hearts decorating the window panes of the front door. Maybe those hearts were created by children in the pink trailer next to the church. This mobile home, purchased in 1988, doubles as a place for Sunday school classes and a fellowship hall. Probably the most enchanting room to be in on Sundays is the one closest to the church where the younger children gather around the tiniest of tables, sitting in the tiniest of chairs, and create things with scissors and glue related to the Bible.
Down from the church, and right before the railroad tracks, there’s a dark wooden building, a sign that while time may pass slow in Ansley, it does pass. The doors are screened in and rusted bars run across broken window panes. It may have once doubled as both the post office and a gas station. There’s a place for pump out front, a no trespassing sign on the door and a US Savings Bond Special Award 1967 sticker on the left window.
The sticker is a reminder that even in a quite town like Ansley, a jungle war overseas was felt by Americans everywhere.
Dirt roads run parallel on either side of the railroad tracks and both lead past houses. One road is sandy gray, while the other is pure Alabama red dirt. The roads seem to go to nowhere, around the bend, disappearing.
Yet, Ansley still goes on.