BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
James E. “Big Jim” Folsom Sr. (1908-1987) served two full terms as governor of Alabama, from 1947 to 1951, and from 1955 to 1959.
Like many people in public office, Big Jim Folsom did a few not-so-good things, and he also promoted quite a few good things – though they weren’t always successful at the time.
Among the “good” things he advocated were voting rights for African Americans, an end to the convict-labor system, more access to government positions for women, reapportionment of the state legislature based on population, better public schools, and better ROADS.
Talk about “good” – Big Jim had the good of the people in mind with THOSE ideas.
And, with improvements like those in mind, who cared about a few personal excesses and corruption scandals during the two terms of a hard-drinking, outspoken, charismatic Southern governor?
Poor Big Jim!
We should at least remember him for our highway progress, and leave the “rest of the story” to other folks for analysis.
During his second term in office, Big Jim won the passage of a $40 million highway bond issue in the state legislature.
The main point of interest for us folks here in Butler County is that, with Big Jim’s road work, the “original” U.S. Highway 31 through our county became the Alabama State Highway 185 that we know today, and a “new” U.S. Highway 31 was constructed east of Greenville.
Did we need ANOTHER highway between Montgomery and Greenville?
Well, in our part of the state, the Brandon Highway of the early 1920s had followed the well-worn Federal Road that had brought early settlers into Butler County in the early part of the nineteenth century.
This winding ancient trail between Fort Deposit and Fort Dale became part of “National Highway Number 31″ a few years later.
First created as a footpath by Native Americans, the Federal Road curved and turned to fit the landscape – up this hill and down that hill, around this gully and that one, around the marshy place in the bottom and up onto higher ground wherever a creek crossed its path.
There was no straight way to travel from point A to point B.
No matter what number or name the road was given, people THOUGHT about this crooked road, and TALKED about this crooked road, for decades.
Before Big Jim Folsom’s highway progress of the 1950s, improvements were proposed for the infamous Greenville-Fort Deposit road, including straightening its switch-backing, dangerous route.
Not everyone agreed, of course. The Greenville Advocate editor wrote about the road in December 1946: “It is crooked and considered ‘dangerous.’ But not nearly so dangerous as the straight roads which invite speeding. This road has proven to be a fairly safe road, because motorists are afraid to take chances.”
The road was SAFER because it was so crooked? Travelers would be “afraid” to drive at high speeds on such a crooked road? Interesting concept!
It was almost as interesting as the suggestion that LINES be painted on paved roads.
“We recently threatened to run for governor on the platform of painting a stripe down the middle of every black-top road in the state,” wrote The Advocate editor in October 1940.
That would definitely have helped drivers between Greenville and Fort Deposit.
Crooked or not, U.S. Highway 31, alias Alabama Highway 185, was the first modern paved state-built highway south of Montgomery.
Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s Beginnings here – http://sites.rootsweb.com/~albchgs/, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.