Early family leave land and lasting legacy

Published 3:36 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

A tall young man rode his horse past a cotton field near Siluria Mills in 1901 and noticed a hardworking girl picking cotton. He asked his friend who rode along with him who the girl was. Her name was Mertie Draper from the Maylene/Fox Valley area.

It must have been love at first sight because John Robert Harper declared then and there that he was going to marry that girl. When they married, Mertie was 15 and John Robert was 20.

They settled on 120 acres along Highway 119 and dedicated their land to the Lord. John Harper built a modest white farmhouse with the dogtrot down the middle. Over the years the home was added onto many times to accommodate their growing family. A large screened front porch and an eight–foot swing offered a welcome respite. From 1903 to 1925, 12 children were born into the family.

The Harpers were known for their love, dedication, hard work and moral ethics. John Harper was employed as a carpenter foreman for the railroad and also farmed his land. He planted the crops while it fell to his wife and children to tend the land daily.

Once on his way home from work, Mr. Harper saw two boys sitting on the porch of what looked like an empty house. These youngsters had been abandoned by their parents and needed a place to stay. Harper took them home with him. The older one stayed about a year and the younger one until he was able to fend for himself. I guess we would call them foster kids without the paperwork.

In 1964, after the death of Harper, the place was sold to Cowboy Rogers. The city of Alabaster acquired the property on Sept. 13, 2003 and created what is now Veterans Park. Many of us enjoy the facility by watching our kids and grandkids play ball or have Easter egg hunts. Now that I know the full story, I’m going to give my imagination free reign.

Mary Butler Lee and Martha Butler Waugh – daughters of Frances Harper Butler and Robert Butler –– shared this information. Just think, their grandbabies are playing on the land that belonged to their great-great grandparents.