By P. Sue Allen
A few years after their 1852 marriage in Alabama, William Henry 'Dick' Allen (1832-1901) and Eliza Jane Gillispee Allen (1834-1900), left their home in Alabama with one mule and one son, Albert, who was born in Alabama in 1856. They came by boat as far as the Alabama Landing on the Ouachita River in Louisiana. Carrying everything they had, they walked across the country looking for a place to settle. As they passed through what is now El Dorado, all they saw was a salt lick near where the courthouse is now.
It is believed that William Henry's older brother, Albert Allen, and his wife, Harritt Shannon Allen, also made the journey from Alabama. The Allens first settled in the Ebenezer community, a few miles south of Stephens. W.H. and Eliza Allen joined the Ebenezer Church, as did Albert and his wife, and are buried there. The community's closest neighbors were in Mt. Holly, Atlanta and Calhoun. The nearest store or market was in Camden.
In 1859 Allen bought a large tract of land in Columbia County from the government, and by 1863 he owned 312 acres. In 1869 he obtained title to 400 acres of land at a cost of $800. The family moved to Spotville, 15 miles southeast of Magnolia, living for several years near Gum Spring, about a half-mile southwest of their future homeplace. While Allen was away during the Civil War, his wife raised the crops, carrying her wheat and corn to Braswell's Mill to have it ground. Her only means of travel was by ox cart, and it was necessary to ford nearby Hurricane Creek along the way. Plow lines for the mules were made out of peeled bark, which she used to dye cloth for the quilts she made. She was afraid of bears in the woods.
After the war, Allen built a dogtrot style home measuring 28 by 42 feet at the present location of the homeplace in Spotville, near the area known as Nall's Mill, an early water mill that later became a steam mill, saw mill and gin. "Spotville" is the official name, but locals refer to it as "Spotsville." It was called "Allentown" by local African-Americans.
The Allen home was built on the old Magnolia-El Dorado road used before the modern highway was built. The family moved in on Christmas Eve of 1873. Dick Allen began farming with oxen but switched to breeding jacks and raising his own mules. One of the first successful farmers in the area, he also raised corn and hogs and made loans to neighbors. Cotton became his main cash crop. The cotton was picked by hand in late August or September using cloth sacks or woven hickory baskets. Allen had a mule-pulled gin behind the house that ginned up to two or three bales a day. The gin was shut down when neighbor Abe Hendricks put in a new steam gin. Eliza Allen used a spinning wheel to spin the cotton into thread.
The original five rooms of the homeplace were built of hand-planed lumber with square nails and 16-foot ceilings. The original sills were hand-hued from timber on the property and joined with wooden pegs. Most of the lumber was acquired in Camden and brought to the site by ox-drawn wagons. A separate log kitchen out back had a large fireplace where the cooking was done, and where the family spent their evenings in the cooler weather. An open hallway ran through the center of the main house, offering cool sleeping quarters in the hot summers, and two chimneys were constructed in rooms on each side of the hallway for winter warmth.
One room was used as a general store; it carried groceries, dry goods and hardware. A blacksmith shop and smokehouse were also on the property.
Five children were raised in the original five-room house: Hezikiah Allen, Drucilla Allen (Nesbit), Martha Allen (Morgan), Jeff Allen, and Walter Allen. Walter, the youngest, married Minnie O'Della Smith at her parents' home near the Union-Columbia County line on the Magnolia-El Dorado highway in 1899. He brought her to live with his parents, who passed away soon after their marriage. Walter and Della enlarged and remodeled the old dogtrot in 1907, adapting it to the needs of a larger family. A kitchen and four more rooms were added, the dogtrot was enclosed, and a porch was added to the front façade.
Timber for the 1907 expansion was cut on the farm and sawn at a mill one mile from the house by Bill Cheatham and his sons, who were the carpenters for the renovation. A Delco gasoline powered generator provided light beginning in 1923, when running water was installed. The smokehouse sat in back of the house and was always full of hams, bacon and sausage, and an adjacent room stored field peas. The house appears today much the same as it did after the 1907 renovation. The wide veranda sweeps the entire width of the house, and a metal, hipped roof similar to an early one was recently added. The cornice on the porch is marked by decorative spindle work, and the green and white colors echo the original colors.
Walter Allen had a small orchard and farmed cotton, corn and field peas. Lest the family's house and field hands be forgotten, it must be noted that up to eight tenant families lived on the property over the years, raising ribbon cane, sorghum, peanuts and other crops. One African American family that moved into the area around 1915 still has descendants living on the property. In his childhood 'Uncle Randle' had been a slave for the Easter family, who had a farm on the Union-Columbia County line. He and 'Aunt Mary' lived on the Allen farm until their deaths. Mary Easter and their daughter, Effie Easter Mach, worked with Della in the Allen home and helped raise the Allen children.
One story 'Uncle Randle' told the children was about a coachwhip snake squeezing him when he was a small child and whipping him until he hollered for his brothers to help. Randle Easter also said that his master, Mr. Easter, once shot two Indians out of a tree because they would not work for him as his slaves.
Walter and Della Allen also ran the general mercantile store near the house. Like his father, Allen also made and sold caskets until the 1940s, when undertaking establishments became common. The store's location on the old Magnolia-El Dorado Road offered a good lunch stop for the many passing travelers, muleskinners, and wagons pulling oil field equipment or lumber on the dirt road.
Twelve children were born to Walter and Della Allen in the home, five of whom are still living in the vicinity: Docia Allen Brashier of Magnolia, Hubert Allen of El Dorado, Doris Allen Roberson of Atlanta, Jean Allen Gunnels Hendrick of Village, and Geraldine Allen Talley Gunnels, who has owned and lived in the home since 1950. Deceased children include Gertrude Allen Stover, and brothers Oswell, Curtis and Harold Allen. The four-generation home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 as a representation of early settlement in the area.
Allen, a past Union County resident and graduate of El Dorado High School, compiled this article from stories told by her father, Curtis Allen, and his siblings. She currently works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas.