Growing Up in Rainsville
As Told by Ida Lee Harrison / Published in Landmarks Bulletin, Volume 1, Number 27, Fall 2009
Someone asked me a question: What were the names of the children of Will Rains, for whom the City of Rainsville was named? That is when the search for that Will Rains began. The only information available was that the city was named for Will Rains, a man who in 1907 built the first store at a crossroads now known as “Rainsville.”
The Rains family is quite complicated. Robert Rains, one of the first pioneers in the County, settled first in Jackson County before moving to DeKalb County to homestead land on Black Oak Creek. Robert was born February 11, 1815, and died in 1909. He was said to be an itinerant preacher, and was the father of eleven children. Among his sons was a set of twins, Albert and Elbert. Elbert was the father of Albert McKinley Rains, born March 22, 1902, and one of Alabama’s most prominent leaders, having served in the U.S. Congress 25 years (1944-1965.) He died in April 1991. Elbert also had a son named “Will.” Albert and Will were law partners in Gadsden before Albert was elected to congress. The family does not think this Will is the one for which Rainsville was named.
Robert Rains had a brother named William H. Rains, born July 1, 1811. Therefore, he could not be “the Will.” William H. married Margaret Pendergrass, and they had a son named William Oliver, born in 1850, but he died in 1883, eliminating him as being “the Will”.
Elbert Rain’s twin brother, Albert, who like his father Robert was a farmer, had a son named William Hammond Rains who married Allie Dean. They had a son, Hamons Edward (“Ham”) Rains, whose military history is included in, A History of World War II Veterans from DeKalb County, Alabama, recently published by Landmarks. Ham was born June 29, 1925. Could his father have been the William Rains who built the store?
I posed the question to DeKalb County’s most noted historian, Elizabeth Howard, and she advised me to contact Glenn Harrison who knew much about the history of Rainsville. Glenn told me that the only name he had ever heard was “Will Rains,” but that I should talk with his sister, Ida, who resides at Crowne Healthcare in Fort Payne.
There I met a most charming lady, Ida Lee (Harrison) Harrison. The 99-year-old, born in Rainsville on May 13, 1910, consented to be interviewed for any information that could be gleaned about the mysterious Will Rains. But, that was the only name she had ever heard and apologized for not being able to be more specific. Even though she could not shed more light on the “Will Rains,” her story adds some interesting facts about the history and life in the early 1900s in the town of Rainsville. The following is from that interview of July 16, 2009.
Growing Up In Rainsville
Ida Lee (Harrison) Harrison was the daughter of Robert Lee Harrison and Sarepta (Hansard) Harrison. Her brothers were Glenn Harrison, Earle Harrison, Volney Harrison and Lowell Harrison. Her sisters were Pauline (Harrison) Edwards, and Mary (Harrison) Harrison. Both Ida Lee and Mary married Harrisons. Ida Lee married Volney Harrison, from the Whiton community near Geraldine. It must have been most unusual for her to have a brother, Volney Harrison, and marry a man with the same name.
After their marriage, Ida Lee and Volney moved to Johnson City, Tennessee in 1930, and resided there for about five years before moving back to Rainsville. About five years later they moved back to Johnson City where they remained to rear their two sons, Victor and Lanier, and daughter, Trine. Volney was a musician who wrote sacred songs and taught music. Their daughter’s unusual name “Trine” was taken from the Christian “Holy Trinity.” Volney worked for the Maxwell Music Company, a printer of song books. Many of his songs appeared in hymnals printed by the Stamps-Baxter Music Company. Volney died in 1973, and Ida Lee remained in Johnson City for 14 years before moving back to Rainsville to be near her ancestral home place on land homesteaded by her grandmother, Mary Violettie “Letty” (Hall) Hansard. Her brother, Glenn, lives in the old home place at present. Violettie was widowed at an early age and came from Elberton, Georgia to homestead over 100 acres in Rainsville.
Ida Lee has some vivid memories of growing up in a close-knit family in the early 1900s. There were two churches in Rainsville, one Baptist and one Methodist. There was a cotton gin, and a general store, McCurdy’s Store, located in the heart of Rainsville. According to historians, this store was originally built and operated by a man named Rains. Ida said it was a “jot-em’down” store. They sold everything from plow points, to straw hats, to snuff. Other than the Harrisons, some of the prominent citizens at that time were: Tom Polk, Jim Green, Mal Willingham, Audie Large, Carters, and Rusts. The McCurdy’s moved to Rainsville when they bought the store. They had a reputation as being very kind and generous, giving those in the town credit when they could not pay. Ida Lee remembers the peanut candy in a barrel, and a big bag full sold for a penny.
Ida Lee’s home was where the town is now on part of the land homesteaded by her grandmother, Violettie. She said that when she was a child there were no Toy’s R Us stores, and children had to invent their own entertainment. The boys and girls played together — even basketball. One of the games was called “Annie Over,” which involved throwing a ball over the house and someone on the other side of the house would catch it and throw it back. Another game was Wheel and Guider. An old wheel was taken off of something that had been discarded and it became the steering wheel attached to a cross-piece of wood; a toy one could ride on.
She helped her mother do everything. Canning and growing a garden in the summertime were the main chores. Her older and younger sisters were privileged to go to singing schools and social events but she usually remained home and helped her mother. They canned everything that they ate and purchased only staples, such as sugar and flour. She remembers going to the corn crib and shelling corn in a large bag, 199 lbs. or more, and taking it to the grist mill to be ground into meal. They had an old gray mare that her father bought when she was three years old, and this old mare “raised them all,” she said. They would throw a bag of corn over Maude and Ida would take her hitching post along so she could tie Maude when they arrived at the mill. While the corn was being ground Ida spent her time in the Rains store.
The old gray mare, Maude, performed another important duty for the family. The children attended grammar school in Rainsville and had to cross a foot log over a creek to get to the school. At times water would rise over the foot log and old Maude would take the children across the creek. After arriving across, the reins would be pulled over Maude&rssquo;s neck and she would cross the creek to get more children.
Ida remembers the Rains cotton gin near Grove Oak. She barely remembers Mr. Elbert Rains, the father of Congressman Albert M. Rains. Elbert was the great-grandfather of Judge David Rains, and Dr. Willis Michaels of Montgmery.
Ida’s mother was a sister to Dr. William Simeon (“Sim”) Hansard of Ider. Another brother, James Patrick, was the father of well-known residents of Fort Payne, Elbert, Orville, Thelma (Hansard) Hinson, Lima Sue (Hansard) Davis, Tressie Evelyn (Hansard) Camp, and Essie (Hansard) Gilbert. Ida spent many wonderful hours with her Uncle Sim. She said in addition to being a good medical doctor, he was quite a psychologist, and people came from all around to ask for his advice. He had many philosophical sayings written around his door facing. One that she remembers said: “The foot might slip, but never let the tongue.”
It was common during hard times for neighbors to help neighbors. When people were behind with their farm chores, or needed something built, the community would get together and do whatever needed to be done on the farm. Ida’s mother and her sister would piece and quilt during the afternoon while they listened to their soap operas, never wasting precious time. At night her mother did beautiful drawn-work, knitted for the family, or fashioned and sewed clothes for her seven children. Ida also remembers all of the potters up and down Sand Mountain. The family had many pieces, and had Ida known that the pottery, now eagerly sought by collectors and called “Sand Mountain Pottery,” would have become so collectible she would have kept it.
Ida attended the Baptist Church while growing up because it was the closest to her home. After attending school at Rainsville, she went to Snead, a Methodist school in Marshall County, and became a Methodist. While living in Tennessee Ida attended a teacher’s college which is now East Tennessee State College. She taught school for many years.
Ida has lived a long and productive life. She has quite a list of things that she still wants to do. One, write a book from all of the notes she has kept. In fact she has enough things laid out to last about another 100 years or more. But, she added, “I will never get it all done.” I would never bet on that!
Searching for the “Will Rains” seems to have led me down a road that ran in circles, but that stop along the way to talk with Ida Lee was a real treat. Even though the question of who the real “Will Rains” still remains just that — a question, perhaps it will be pursued by some interested citizen of Rainsville, so it can go down in history.
By Julia “Judy” Brown