By Betsy Iler
For visitors to Lake Martin and residents alike, Catherine’s Market at Russell Crossroads provides a convenient place to pick up groceries and supplies, meet friends or get directions – just as the original Catherine’s Store served customers in very near the same spot more than 80 years ago.
“The old Catherine’s was a landmark,” said Ralph Frohsin, Jr., who grew up spending weekends at a family cabin on the lake in the 1940s. “You gave directions by her place,” he said.
“It was a place to go shoot the breeze,” Russell Lands chair Ben Russell remembered. “People met there to talk. It was the only place between Alexander City and our cabin.”
Catherine’s Store was owned by an African-American woman by the name of Catherine Adamson. Her father, Sam W. Adamson, purchased the land at Alabama Highway 63 and Windermere Road (Our Town) from Ben Russell’s grandfather in 1927 and put up the store, which he left to his daughter at his death, said James Meadows. A regular customer in his youth, Meadows worked maintenance for Russell Lands for many years and still lives just a stone’s throw from the place where Catherine dispensed her goods.
“It wasn’t like going to a store today where the customers go up and down the aisles,” Meadows said. “You went in and told her what you wanted, and Catherine would take it off the shelves for you.”
In addition to flour, sugar and other staples, Catherine Adamson offered an assortment of candies as well as cold sodas from a tub of cold water. The cold drinks were remembered best. Martha Smith of Alexander City said her late husband Ewell used to stop at Catherine’s Store for a cold RC and a Moon Pie after hunting trips. Frohsin said he occasionally stopped there for a soft drink, and Meadows and Russell remember Cokes, Grapico and RC in the box of icy water.
“She used to go to town in her daddy’s Chevrolet to get the things she sold in her store,” Meadows recalled. “She didn’t drive, so her daddy left the store to her and the Chevrolet to the boy who would drive her.”
In the store’s latter days – the late 1960s and 70s – Catherine also sold beer, said Robert Gunn, historian and director of events and social media at Russell Lands.
Ben Russell remembered a time when he went to Catherine’s to purchase beer for a party he had planned at the family cabin nearby. “I wanted a case of beer, and she wouldn’t sell it to me,” he chuckled. “She said if she sold me the case of beer, she wouldn’t have any left for other people when they came in. See, most people would come in and buy one beer, but then they also bought other things, and she would lose too much money if she couldn’t sell them their one beer. She said if they couldn’t get the beer, they wouldn’t buy the other things. I couldn’t talk her into letting me have the case,” he shook his head with a smile. “The most I could get out of her was four beers.”
“She was a wonderful lady,” Frohsin said. “Her store was sort of an A-frame building with wooden siding. It had an old feel, a nice porch. It was covered with metal signs and advertising. It never was painted. It had great character and charm. When I came back to the area after college and the military, I always thought it would make a great wine and cheese setting.”
Frohsin once took a photograph of the store, and by some miscommunication with the printer, the photo appeared on his Christmas postcards instead of the family picture he had planned.
Smith showed one of the postcards to local artist Larry Tuggle and asked him to paint a watercolor of the building as a gift to her husband. Now the owner of The Shoppes at Queen’s Attic in Alexander City, Tuggle traveled for Russell Corporation at the time. “I used to take art supplies on the road with me and paint in my room in the evenings,” he said.
Ewell Smith had grown up in Our Town and entertained his wife with stories of the place. “He used to hunt quite a bit,” she said, “and the hunters would go in there and get a can of beans and heat them up on the pot bellied stove.”
As the area grew, other outlets opened around the lake, and Catherine’s Store fell into disrepair. The store closed in the late 1970s, Gunn said, and Ben Russell bought the property back. James Meadows obtained permission to move the building to his property down the road. He took the porch off the building to move it and added a wing to each side of the old store when he moved it to his property. He uses it for storage now.
Russell said the property Catherine’s Store once occupied sat idle for 20 years, amidst much discussion about how to develop it. “The highway commissioner told me the curve in the road there was the state’s 14th most dangerous roadway, and it was going to be a real problem to get a turn lane put in there that would add traffic to the area. Anything we put there would have been cut off from the traffic going by, because we couldn’t safely direct the traffic. So years passed before we developed it,” he said.
Russell said the Crossroads development was planned after the area was clear-cut in conjunction with a lands conservation effort fewer than 10 years ago. “Well, when that was done, we could see this beautiful view that no one knew was there before,” he said. “We went back to the highway department, and they wanted us to provide a right-of-way at no cost to the state, so the road could be better situated. We purchased more property, and it took a while, but we finally were able to do it.”
Catherine’s Market manager Emily Brown said the Crossroads opened in 2008 with a specialty grocery store offering natural and organic foods, a deli and bakery and 600 wine labels. The naturalist cabin next door hosts programs by Russell Lands naturalist Mary Ann Hudson on alternate weekends, and a blacksmith shop occasionally offers demonstrations of the craft. There’s an adventure center, a gift shop and a café on the premises. “The Stables is a popular wedding venue, and we cater other events, too,” Brown said. A real estate office, SpringHouse restaurant and the Town Green are adjacent to the Market, and the area regularly hosts family-oriented gatherings.
“Our customers feel like this is their place, their town center,” Brown explained.
Russell said the old Catherine’s Store inspired the Crossroads. “Catherine’s Store was a place for people to gather in this area. That’s what we’ve tried to provide at the Crossroads, so that’s why we named the new market ‘Catherine’s,’ in honor of her,” he said.