The Old Cabaniss Store is Only a Memory Now
By Delbert Reed
Published in the Northport Gazette June 19, 2002
I went looking for a bit of the past last week, following a newspaper advertisement to the old, deserted stone store on Highway 43 in Samantha built by Oscar Cabaniss in 1939 and operated by the family for 45 years. I had hoped to buy some small item from the store just for the sake of history.
But there was no sale after all. No one showed up to open the doors of the crumbling old store to the dozen or so people who showed up, just as I had, searching for a piece of history and perhaps a memory or two.
I peeped into the darkness of the store through the bars of a broken window, trying to see just what might be left after nearly 20 years of abandonment and decay. I wasn’t expecting much, and I am sorry to say that I saw even less among the dust and spider webs.
But I did remember a few visits there from far in the past when Cabaniss’ Store was the big city to me. I was just a barefoot boy of seven then, playing in the dusty fields along Wolf Creek as Daddy, Mother and a mule named John struggled to feed themselves and four small children as a tenant farmer on the old Espy Mill place.
The old store was a familiar place to me from my childhood on as we lived in ten similar tenant houses within two miles of the store during the 1940s. Daddy, older brother Lonnie and I walked to the store several Saturday afternoons a year in those days. Lonnie and I sometimes drank a NuGrape and watched the older men playing checkers while Daddy talked about the crops and weather with the neighbors. I always filled my pockets with soft drink bottle caps picked up from around the front of the store as we started back home and Daddy usually carried a 25-pound sack of flour over his shoulder.
We proudly rode a borrowed wagon loaded with cotton past the store in the autumn of 1947, headed East to the gin near the Samantha Post Office with what amounted to the product of a year’s hard work, and we likely stopped at Cabaniss’ Store for another NuGrape on the way back home. Years later, from 1952-73, Mother or Daddy stopped at Cabaniss’ Store every day for 22 years to deliver a newspaper to the store, and I was with them a lot of those days to get another NuGrape.
Now I hear that the old store, located just a stone’s throw from Northside High School, may be torn down to make way for a modern convenience store. It is inevitable, I suppose, but it seems a sad ending for the once-grand old general store that proudly served the people of that community from 1938 until 1983.
The store was built in 1938 by Oscar Cabaniss, who ran it until turning it over to his son, John Manley, in 1955. John Manley had been a part of the store from the start, having helped his father build it and run it from his teen years on. Oscar continued to spend time at the store until his death in 1968 at the age of 76. John Manley operated the store until his retirement in 1983. John Manley and his sister, Margaret Crump of Northport, recently sold the store and property..
John Manley, now age 80 and living in Northport, recalled this week that the store once handled almost anything anyone needed, including groceries, clothes, shoes, gloves, feed for livestock, plowlines, nails, horseshoes, tires, tobacco, plows, gas and oil. The store also served as the Beat 4 polling location for many years, and it was a general community gathering place where gossip and news–and sometimes even a bottle—were passed around.
John Manley recalled that former governor James E. “Big Jim” Folsom stopped at the store once about 50 years ago as he passed by on his way to visit his in-laws, who were from nearby Berry.
According to John Manley, many of the rocks used to build the walls of the store were taken from a quarry near North River, not far from the old Gorgas School. Other rocks used in the foundation were taken from the fields on Reed Mountain, he said.
“The Reeds (the author’s great-grandparents Wes and Omie Reed and their 11 children and dozens of grandchildren) piled them up at the edge of the fields and we hauled them in there by the truck load,” John Manley said, recalling that the truck used was an International.
John Manley also recalled that the first gas he ever sold was to Crockett Kyzer, a well-known farmer and basket maker from the area. He said that sale came in 1936 at another nearby store his father operated before building the stone store in 1938.
The old stone Cabaniss store holds many memories for John Manley, and he and his children and grandchildren have kept a few items from the store for themselves. Still, he isn’t overly sad to see it finally sold. “I guess it eases my mind a bit in some ways,” he said of the sale.
“It’s a different ball game now than it was in 1936,” John Manley said, noting how times have changed. “At one time I knew everybody who lived on Highway 43 from Berry Junction to Stone Hill in Northport.” And there is no doubt that everyone who traveled along Highway 43 knew that old stone store and its owners Oscar and John Manley Cabaniss, who served their community well for almost half a century.
Now it appears that the store will soon be gone, with not even a bottle cap left behind as a souvenir for a barefoot boy who thought of it as the big city itself more than 50 years ago.
This story is a follow up to a previous blog “Who Remembers Cabaniss Gro.” Published on June 26, 2017 on Samantha Living.
1963: Cabaniss Grocery in Samantha This rock store stood at the corner of Hwy 43 North and Northside Road in northern Tuscaloosa County. The store replaced one that was once part of the Stagecoach Exchange at what was then called ‘Marcumville’.
Samantha Living would like to thank Delbert Reed for sharing this story. We appreciate his journalism and interest in the Samantha Community. We invite your comments below or send them and any photos you might have to editor@samanthaliving.
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