Did You Know? It's Still Merrimack to Him
It's Still Merrimack to Him
Reprinted from Bill Easterling’s column in the Huntsville Times – August 8, 1993
Did You Know? articles provided by Jim Marek.
George Reavis was born in the house where his mother was born. Sixty-six years later, he lives only a block away. But George doesn’t mind, because “this old village has always felt like home.”
Merrimack, sweet Merrimack. The name was changed to Huntsville Park many years ago, but natives of that once mighty mill village only know it by its original name. “I still call it Merrimack,” George Reavis said without hesitation.
Seated in a chair on the porch of his home, one of those stately duplexes the mill built and maintained for its workers, George reminisced about yesteryear when Merrimack was “one of the best neighborhoods in Huntsville.”
In those days, streets had the names of the alphabet and went from A to G. George was born on what’s now South Broad and a block away from his present residence on Clopton, which was C Street. “I played in these streets before they ever thought about paving them,” he said.
George called it “a pretty village,” with the typical duplex featuring an outhouse, a cow stall, a place for a horse and an outside faucet where residents got their water. There were shower stalls in the company hospital for women and shower stalls in the barber shop for men. “People didn’t make too much money, but while the mill was going strong they didn’t have too many problems,” he said.
The Merrimack of his youth “was more or less a carefree community where your neighbors were neighbors. When someone passed away, it seemed like the whole village was there. Everybody at that time was willing to help.”
He lit another unfiltered Pell Mell cigarette and took a drag before adding, “I didn’t know what a house key was until a few years ago.”
Some of Merrimack, now Huntsville Park, has become rundown and dilapidated, but many of its historic old houses have been kept in immaculate condition by people who plan to live there the rest of their lives.
There has been talk of getting the village renamed Merrimack and having it declared a historical district. George said he wouldn’t be opposed to either idea. A move like that would require property owners to repair rundown houses, which would help control the tenant situation.
“We had gangs back then too,” George said with a smile. “Anywhere from five to 15 of us would gather under a streetlight at night to talk and pass the time. About the worst thing we ever did was whittle down one of the light poles with our pocket knives, and I can’t remember how long that took.”
Another time, “We dismantled a fellow’s wagon and then reassembled it on top of somebody else’s barn. We swapped a few cows on Halloween. Real mean stuff like that.”
Although George hardly worked in Merrimack Mill at all, his father and both his grandfathers did “for as long as I can remember.” When his father was hired on as a sweeper, he worked six days a week, eight hours a day, and was paid $6. “But the mill rented him a house for 50 cents a week.”
George Reavis, who learned to drive a 1933 Chevrolet and has “been fooling with cars ever since,” waved at a neighbor, puffed on his Pell Mell, then wrinkled his brow in thought.
“I’ve had a good life in the old village,” he said after a moment’s reflection. “I’ve lived a lot of different places, but I’ve always come back to home. This old village has always felt like home to me.”