By Joyce Fields Blankenship
Special to The North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — Mark Cornelius is contributing to the history of Fieldstown by preserving the age-old grocery store of D. E. (Dock) Fields.
The city of Gardendale recently purchased the store and attached land to build a new fire substation.
Cornelius recognized the history of the building and the wonderful lumber it was built from. He grew up within rock-throwing distance from the store, where he purchased many all-day suckers and bubble gum.
Cornelius plans to reassemble the store on his home site. “It will be a smaller scale, but I hope to keep it as original as possible,” he said.
Cornelius lives in Fieldstown with his wife, Donna. He is the great-great grandson of William Alfred Fields, who founded Fieldstown in 1878. Cornelius is currently the girls’ basketball coach at Mountain Brook High School, and before that the boys’ basketball coach at Gardendale High, where he had been a star player years before.
The store first opened to the public in January 1938. At that time, Woco-Pep furnished the store with hand-pumped gasoline. Later, Pure Oil replaced them with electric pumps.
One could purchase most any item from kerosene to cow feed. Fresh meats, vegetables, eggs, bread, milk, cold drinks, cosmetics, nails, candy, tires, motor oil, roofing, sheet rock, batteries, toys and many other items were available.
It seemed to be a grocery/hardware store, and was really a small version of a huge grocery chain.
During those days, there were many coal and iron union strikes. The little store kept the families going until the strikes were settled. No one went hungry. At one point and time, Dock feared he would have to close up because of the strikes. Fortunately, once the men went back to work, Dock allowed them to pay off their debt as they financially could.
This was the meeting place for the men, once they came home from a day’s work. In the winter months, they gathered around the pot-belly stove to solve the world’s problems. In the summer months they gathered on the front porch and told long tales. World War II was a big topic since the war had emptied the community of most young men.
Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats were also a pleasure to discuss. The Great Depression was still on the hearts and minds of many.
On the fun side, this was a great place for the men to pitch horse shoes or play checkers. During the day, the ladies would shop for items to cook for supper. They took this opportunity to discuss their favorite radio soap opera.
Often, they would piece quilt tops or crochet with Maymie. Dock offered several promotions to his customers.
The ladies were so excited when White Lily started putting their flour in printed fabric sacks. This beautiful fabric was used to make the little girl’s dresses and the mom’s pretty aprons. Families had more flour than the mothers could bake up. The ladies would exchange fabric until they matched up their own pattern, which was ready for sewing.
The other exciting promotion was S&H Green Stamps. Customers could not believe they could actually get prizes with these little stamps.
Business started to decline once the larger chain stores opened in nearby areas. Citizens slowly watched their beloved little store sink. The store served the community and many families until the mid 1960s.
For many years now, it has been sad to see the little store boarded up.
If only the walls of the old store could talk.
Joyce Fields Blankenship is a member of the Gardendale Historical Society.