Historic Hartselle house on Bethel Road demolished after tornado damage
Echoes of a bygone era were recently silenced as the historic Stephenson homeplace on Bethel Road met its fate with demolition Oct. 9. This cherished property, rich in family history and agricultural legacy, was a cornerstone for the Stephenson and Sanders family for more than a century.
Regrettably, the century-old trees that once stood sentinel over these cherished memories became the unwitting agents of the homeplace’s demise when an EF-2 tornado hit Hartselle earlier this year.
During the storm, the trees fell on the house, destroying three bedrooms and most of the second floor, according to Bettye English, a descendant of the prominent Hartselle family who owned the house.
She had the property rented to a Hartselle family who were inside at the time. English said the family had left the west side of the home just 10 minutes before the house was destroyed. Smelling a gas leak, they broke through a window to exit the damaged property and seek safety. The century-old home was in good shape before the storms left it in disarray – English said she had invested tens of thousands of dollars into the house five years ago to make necessary upgrades.
A ceremony was held Oct. 9 to honor the history of the old homeplace before it was razed. English said 30 people attended the event to say goodbye to the home that meant so much to so many people through the years.
Charles and Fannie Stephenson raised their four children on this sprawling 99-acre estate, nestled around Bethel Church. Adlai, Purnie, Pattie, and baby Lloyd, who passed away at 14 months old after a bout of Colic, were born and brought up in a house that witnessed the toil and triumph of a self-sustaining farm. Tragically, Charlie and Fannie passed away in 1946, just four months apart, leaving behind a legacy of hard work and agricultural abundance.
English shared her memories of the old homeplace, where her parents, Purnie and Foster Sanders, continued to reside after her grandparents’ passing. The farm was a thriving hub of activity, cultivating cotton, corn, berries, fruits and livestock. English reminisces about a time when a trip to the grocery store was a rare occurrence, as most necessities were sourced from their own land, including corn ground at the local grist mill.
Upon the settlement of her grandparents’ estate, Purnie Stephenson Sanders inherited the house and acreage on the north side of Bethel Road, adjacent to Bethel Church. The remaining land on the south side was divided among the siblings, and a portion now hosts the F. E. Burleson Elementary School.
The Stephenson homestead boasted a unique set of structures that made it a complete homestead, a fact noted by Harry Houston, the Morgan County Agent in the 1980s. The property featured a house, barn, potato house, chicken house, wash shed, smokehouse, woodshed, garage and the quintessential outhouse.
English fondly recollects the distinct role each building played in their daily lives. The house, with its five rooms and iconic front porch, lacked plumbing until the late 1970s. The barn, a hive of activity during hay bailing days, housed horses, corn and served various agricultural purposes. The potato house stored community spuds during the winter, and the chicken house was young Bettye’s responsibility for feeding and egg-gathering.
The wash shed, adjacent to one of the three wells on the farm, was a hub for laundry and livestock water needs. English vividly recalls the process of heating water in a large black pot for washday. The smokehouse was where the fruits of hog killing days were preserved, with shoulders and hams salted and stored for the winter.
Trees were cut and stored in the woodshed for the cook stove and four fireplaces.
“My job was to take in firewood in the evening to have it ready to fire the stove to cook breakfast the next morning and to cook lunch,” English said. “Thank goodness, I do not remember being taken to the woodshed for correction.”
As time passed, the Stephenson family created lasting memories on the front porch, where gatherings and games filled the warm summer days. The front yard became the stage for watermelon cuttings, ping-pong matches and the making of apple cider. English said she some of her most cherished memories took place on the porch – including memories of mule-drawn wagon rides during cotton season.
Although the demolition was a bittersweet moment for English, the cherished memories and the knowledge that her daughter and grandchildren also experienced the magic of the homeplace offer solace.
“It really hit me when the truck drove away and it was all in there – knowing we would never see it again,” English said. “God was good to us, and as time moved on, there came a time to tear down,” she added. “The old homeplace may be gone, but the stories and legacy it held will forever resonate in the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to call it home.”