Wilsonville’s Pope Mercantile was largest in county

Published 4:00 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

The parking lot with the gazebo on the corner of U.S. 25 and 61 in Wilsonville was once home to Shelby County’s largest general store, the J.F. Pope Mercantile Company.

Constructed in 1895 of hand-made red brick, the three-story building towered over the town.

It was a supermarket of sorts — a very large and impressive supermarket ­— the Wal-Mart of its day with a larger array of goods.

From cradles to coffins, the store carried everything a person needed from the time they were born until they died.

Years later, after the building had been vacated, a piece of the store’s wrapping paper was found on the second floor. It read:

We feed the man and mule,

Clothe the naked,

Shoe the feet,

Console the bereaved,

Bury the dead.

People came from miles around to trade at the general store. Pope purchased and sold cotton and traded livestock.

He even stored cash for some of the townspeople in an upstairs vault when there was no bank in town.

The mercantile had employees who would ride on horseback to outlying farms for the purpose of surveying crops in order to ascertain the amount of credit that would be given to the farmer.

Pope ran the store he built for nearly 25 years. He died in 1921 and is buried in the Wilsonville Cemetery.

His brother, W.H. (Will) Pope, continued to manage the business after his bother’s death. By 1923, the mercantile had become the third largest of its kind in Alabama. After 1939, the store came under new management and the building saw use as a tractor company, garage and service station.

The mercantile building burned in the late 1970s.

Catherine Cousins writes a weekly column about the history of our county. Have an interesting historic topic? You can reach Cousins by e–mail at info@catherinecousins.com.