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Troy Rotary marks 100th anniversary

On Tuesday, Dr. John Dew gave a talk on the “100th Anniversary of the Founding of the Troy Rotary Club” via Zoom for the club’s weekly meeting.

Dew earned a Master of Arts in History from Murray State University in Kentucky and followed with a Doctorate in Education at the University of Tennessee. He recently joined the board of the Pioneer Museum of Alabama.

His continuing interest in history and his preparation for the Rotary talk led him to the Troy Public Library’s archives where he went through all of the 1920 editions of The Messenger in preparation for his talk to the Troy Rotarians.

Dew said the Troy Rotary Club has played an important role in the City of Troy for 100 years and continues to be a leading local service organization.

“Business and community leaders in Troy established the Troy Rotary Club with help from a committee from the Montgomery Rotary Club,” Dew said “The Troy club was organized by Alex Henderson, who served as the first president, with the charter approved on May 1, 1920.  The first meeting was held on May 7, with a luncheon sponsored by the ladies of Eastern Star, and then met weekly at a fishing club owned by a member on the Conecuh River until meetings were moved to the New Troy Hotel.”

The Messenger provided stories on the club’s meetings, referring to the local Rotarians as “The Rotes.”

“The Club’s first service project was a Boys’ Fish Fry,” Dew said. “In the first year the club provided clothing to school children, raised funds for the high school band, sent children to Mobile for polio treatment, and supported the Pike County Fair.”

Charter members included Alex Henderson, Will Heath, John Wilkerson, J. M. Watkins. L. Gelderstedt, Sam Williams, Charles Henderson, George Cox, Gillis Sanders, Charles Simpson, John Hollis, Rev. V. G. Lowery, John McClure, M . N. Doson, and Emory Folmar.  In the first year, Sam Mary, E. F. Dunbar, Lane Enzor, W.C. Black, M.B. Folmar, and Ewell Bassett joined the club.

Dew’s interest in history and his love of Troy whetted his desire to know more about Troy a century ago and in other 100 year milestone events.

“One hundred years ago, residents of Troy and Pike County did not have access to television news and the internet,” Dew said. “National and international news made up the front page of every edition of the Messenger. “The local paper kept readers informed about the influenza pandemic, the battle in the Senate over ratifying the Treaty of Versailles, Prohibition, the break-up of the Kaiser’s Germany after the Great War, the civil war in Russia, as well as events closer to home.”

The front page always carried one of the most important daily news items – the price of hogs. Farm prices were down in 1920 and the country was rocked with massive labor unrest. The Messenger also covered stories on social issues.

There was almost nothing about local sports, because local sports did not really exist, Dew said. The paper carried lots of local advertisements for banks, businesses, and consumer products like Chero Cola, along with stories on local clubs, such as the Knights of Pythians, and the newly established Rotary Club.

One hundred years ago, the male citizens of Troy and Pike County were preparing to vote in national, state, and in local elections, while the women were preparing to vote for the very first time in the Presidential election that fall, following the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August of 1920.

“Alabama, it should be remembered, did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1953,” Dew said.  The majority of Alabama’s black citizens were prevented from voting by a wide variety of voter suppression tactics.”

On the national level, the race was between Warren G. Harding of Ohio, running on his “gospel of thrift” platform with his candidate for vice president, Calvin Coolidge.  The Democrats nominated Governor James M. Cox, also from Ohio, on the 44th ballot at the convention.  His running mate was a young man from the State of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Alabama went for Cox in the election that fall.

One hundred years ago, roads were the major avenue to economic development in Alabama.  Senator John Bankhead had led the passage of the Federal Highway Act in 1916, which propelled the government into financing roads in the states after the Great War was won, Dew said.

“Bankhead may be better remembered for having a glamorous granddaughter, Tallulah, who was a Hollywood starlet and media darling of the Roaring 20s.”

Alabama’s Governor Kilby, who served from 1918 to 1922, made roads one of his primary missions by pushing through a $25 million bond issue for roads that was coupled with federal funds which Bankhead and his successors were able to send our way, Dew said.

Kilby, who was one of four U.S. Governors who escaped an assassination plot while on an official visit to Mexico, was also known as a champion of education for the State of Alabama.  He also raised the minimum age for work to 14 and limited the work week to 48 hours a week.

As roads were improving and the automobile was dominating the roadways, the last horse stable in downtown Troy closed in 1920.

Dew’s interest in state and local history runs deeps. He enjoys sharing what he learned about Alabama, Pike County  and Troy with members of the Troy Rotary Club.