Brundidge spreads the news about peanut butter

Published 11:34 pm Thursday, October 25, 2018

The peanut wagons no longer rumble down Main Street in Brundidge. No longer does the sweet aroma of freshly roasted peanuts drift over the small South Alabama town. Those days are gone and will probably never be again.

The agricultural climate of Pike County has changed in recent years, leaving only memories of how it used to be when the Brundidge peanut butter mills were in their heyday.

But a group of folks that wanted to make sure that the town’s proud history in the peanut butter industry was not forgotten and that the little peanut would always be held in high esteem for the role it played and continues to play in the local economy.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In 1991, the Brundidge Historical Society sponsored the first Peanut Butter Festival, a harvest and heritage celebration.

The whole town pitched in along with area farmers and a festival that began without great expectations proved to be just what the community was looking for – a day set aside to come to town and celebrate the harvest season with friends and neighbors.

The year 2018 will be the 27th annual Peanut Butter Festival and it’s much as it was on that first last Saturday in October, a bunch of folks coming together in fun and friendship.

There’s nothing pretentious about the Peanut Butter Festival. That’s what makes it unique. A unique festival based on a true story of yesteryear.

The story of how the peanut industry got its start in Brundidge is a part of the town’s folklore.

It’s a tale of J.D. Johnston who had the first commercial peanut butter mill in the Southeast. However, that’s been challenged but no one yet has been able to disprove the claim.

In 1927, J.D. Johnston realized that peanut butter was gaining popularity as a tasty, inexpensive source of protein so he set up a crude machine in the small upstairs of a wood-frame building just off Main Street and started “the first” commercial peanut butter mill in the South.

Peanut butter’s popularity spread and the Johnston Peanut Butter Mill flourished. Before long the mill was shipping out more than two million jars of the popular foodstuff each year.

In the early 1930s, Grady Johnson and his brother, Oscar, opened another peanut butter mill on the south end of town. Grady Johnson named the company and the peanut butter after his children, Louis and Anne, and they were featured on the label.

The Louis-Anne Peanut Butter Mill provided a giant economic boost to the Brundidge community and together the two mills sustained the town during the Great Depression by providing jobs and an available and inexpensive source of protein.

An interesting tag to the Louis-Anne story is that Louis Johnston went on to be a World War II pilot. Johnson was given permission to have the Louis-Anne peanut butter label painted on the nose cone of a popular general’s plane, which Johnson piloted.

Anne (Anise) married Pike County sawmill giant Jeff Sorrell, whose Troy University’s connection are prominent.

An unconfirmed story is that, a few years down the road, the Johnson brothers unintentionally gave their peanut butter secrets to the owner of an upstart peanut butter mill who sat on the porch and shared some of Josie’s best with them.

In later years, big processing companies proved to be too much competition for the small mills and by the late 1950s the smell of fresh roasted peanuts in downtown Brundidge faded into memory.

But the townspeople have refused to let the memory die so the last Saturday of October is set aside as a day of remembrance and the rediscovery of what’s it like to be in town on a fall day and celebrate the harvest season with friends and neighbors, a turkey leg and some good old time music.

Y’all come. You’ll be glad you did.