Peanut Butter Museum: A work in progress

Published 9:11 pm Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Eighty-two years ago this fall, the first truckload of commercially made peanut butter pulled away from the J.D. Johnston Peanut Butter Mill on Little Wall Street in Brundidge.

Johnston had realized the potential of the foodstuff as both an affordable source of protein and as a tasty treat. He began making peanut butter for the market in the two-story, wood-frame building and before too long, the Johnston Peanut Butter Mill was churning out two million jars of peanut butter a year.

The Johnston Mill helped sustain the Brundidge community during the Great Depression by providing jobs, money to circulate around town and something good and nutritious to spread on soda crackers.

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After several decades, big peanut butter companies proved to be too much competition for the small-town mill and the aroma of fresh roasting peanut was only a sweet memory.

However, the old two-story building remained a part of the agricultural scene for many years as a weighing station for cotton, a sampling station for peanuts, a buying point for feed and a place for workers to pickup their paychecks.

Then, it stood alone after all the other structures of a once bustling, farm-related business came tumbling down.

Randy Ross said the building had played such a significant role in the town’s proud history in the peanut butter industry that Anderson Peanuts donated the building to the Brundidge Historical Society.

“John Fryer worked for Anderson Peanuts and was instrumental in making it happen,” Ross said. “The idea was to use the building as a museum of local history and as a site of our annual Peanut Butter Festival.”

Ross said the donation of the building was the most significant donation the historical society had received because of the role it played in the history of the Brundidge community.

The museum is a work in progress and, for a while, it seemed as though progress was on hold.

But the BHS has made a commitment to push ahead and make the needed improvements to the museum of local history so it can be open to the public on Peanut Butter Festival day, Oct. 30.

“This year’s festival is being held in conjunction with the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel’s ‘Small Town, Down Town’ promotion and the Alabama Homecoming event,” said Lawrence Bowden, BHS president.

“We expect a huge crowd in town and, if all goes as planned, the museum will be open and we’ll be making peanut butter the old-fashioned way.”

Cathie Steed, BHS member, said items have been purchased for the museum but the BHS is asking anyone who has items that would be of interest to consider donating them.

“We would specially like to have items that relate to the time the peanut butter mills were such a vital part of the community – from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s. We would also like to have copies of old photographs and we are looking for old farm equipment. It doesn’t have to be in working condition but could be used for display.”

The item at the top of the wish list is a peanut picker.

Anyone who has items they would like to donate or who would like to be a part of making a museum of local history a reality is asked to call Bowden at 334-735-3898 or Steed at 735-0170.