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Matthew E. Brunson family moves to Covington County in 1900

In the past few weeks, the genealogy of the Brunson family has been reviewed, especially as residents of neighboring Coffee County. Today’s story will bring them into Covington County and their impact on its history. In the early days of Andalusia, the Brunson name was well known for several businesses as well as outstanding citizens bearing the name.

Matthew Eugene Brunson III is the descendant who brought the Brunson family into Covington County, Ala. He was born in 1868 in the Victoria community of Coffee County, Ala. He was the second son born to Matthew Eugene Brunson Jr. and Nancy Elizabeth “Nan” Brooks and he was affectionately called “Brother.” He was also one of 14 children born to his parents who made their home in Coffee County. In 1890, Matthew Eugene III or Brother was married to Minnie Jane Seale (1871-1930), daughter of Henry Oliver Seale (1830-1913) and Mary Susan Henderson (1843-1915) of Butler County where Minnie Jane was born.

Matthew III farmed for a few years in Coffee County before moving to Crenshaw County to attend Highland Home College. His brother, Arthur, attended college along with him and lived with Brother and Minnie Jane until they were graduated. While living there, their first two children were born. They then returned to Coffee County where Matthew farmed until he went into railroad work. Their next three children were born during this time.

After 10 years of marriage and five children, Matthew moved his family to Covington County during 1900. He was helping to build the railroads into Andalusia and most likely saw the potential growth for the young town. With an awareness of folks coming into town on the trains, he chose to build a hotel near the two depots to offer the emerging need of housing. He moved his family including five young children from Coffee County by the means of mules and wagons to a house on South Three Notch Street where two more children were born.  They resided there until the hotel was completed at which time, they moved into it and had four more children born there.

Matthew Eugene Brunson III and wife, Minnie Jane Seale, were the parents of the following children: Eva, b. 1892, d. 1975, m. 1915 Robert Peeples Purefoy (1871-1939); Howard Edward, b. 1893, d. 1977, m. (1) Lala Ouida Lyons (2) 1938 Laura Annette Morrison; Charles, b. 1896, d. 1971, m. 1917 Foye Mathis (1896-1982); Susie “Sue,” b. 1898, d. 1986, m. 1920 Albertus Vaut Barber; Matthew Eugene IV “Matt,” b. 1900, d. 1952, m. 1926 Flossie White; Annie Merle, b. 1903, d. 1955, m. Mercer Mack Simpson Bullock; Edna Earle, b. 1905, d. 1972, m. 1927 Gundy Howard Roberts; Ellie Barnes “Buddy,” b. 1907, d. 1956, single; John, b. 1908, d. 1990, m. 1929 Lorraine Ella Baumback; Dorothy Lois, b. 1911, d. 2000, m. 1935 Edward Thomas Hyde; Helen Selene, b. 1913, m. 1935 James Worth Nickerson; and Mary Esther, b. 1915, d. 2001, m. 1941 John Raymond Martin.

This family made a major contribution to the business growth of the developing Town of Andalusia throughout the first half of the Twentieth Century. Once Matthew Eugene Brunson arrived, he set about constructing the Brunson Hotel, also known as The City Hotel, which was completed in 1905-1906. It was located near the railroads on the west side of South Cotton Street. The building was two-story with a large basement and was a wooden frame structure until it was bricked some years later. The family lived on the ground floor while the second story featured guest rooms divided by a long hallway. Meals which were included in the room rates were served in the large dining room where everyone gathered around a very large oval-shaped table. The Brunsons grew much of the food in their large garden and also slaughtered farm animals to provide abundant home-grown meals.

The hotel featured period furniture which today would be classed as antiques. Most bedrooms had the popular iron bed, and the rooms were heated by an open fireplace initially before steam heat was added. A piano was available in the parlor, and the hotel had one of the first radios in town. An old letterhead read, “Clean rooms,” “Hot and Cold Water,” and “European Plan,” which meant meals were provided.

The Brunson’s City Café was a business which grew out of the large-scale cooking at the Hotel. It was located adjacent to the hotel and was connected to its dining room. Matthew Brunson III operated it himself, and he featured short orders such as hamburgers. He was known as a very generous person and enjoyed sharing food with others and providing treats for special occasions.

A third Brunson business was the Andalusia Baking Company or the Brunson Bakery as it was also called. From their cooking for the hotel guests, the Brunson family became “Master” bakers. As a result, Matthew Brunson opened Andalusia’s first bakery in 1914. To get it on ground level and more visible to the public, it was located on the east side of South Cotton Street across from the hotel. Matt recognized a broad market in South Alabama and Northwest Florida for baked goods of a premium quality. Also, the downtown area of Andalusia was growing and thriving at the time.

In 1920, two of Matthew’s sons, Charlie and Matt Brunson IV, purchased the bakery from their father. Another son, Ellie or “Buddy” Brunson, delivered on foot around town baked items in a basket. At the time, some of the items included the following: 3 loaves of bread for 25 cents, pound cake for 20 cents and 4 cinnamon rolls for five cents. The work of baking began at 4 a.m. and continued until 11 p.m. with the brothers rotating shifts. They had many faithful helpers through the years including Johnny Crenshaw of café fame who began working as a young lad. One of his major duties was to deliver loaves of fresh bread to the River Falls Lumber Company Commissary. Around 1925, the purchase of a bread-slicing machine was made which resulted in major improvements for the production of the loaves of bread, and the business prospered even more.

At some point, Matt decided to sell his interests to his brother Charlie and move to the area of Baytown, Tex., to join his brothers and sisters who had located there. In fact, Charlie is the only one of the 12 children to remain in Andalusia. He took in his son-in-law, Bethea Caton, husband of Caroline Brunson, as a partner. Carolyn is remembered for decorating thousands of birthday and wedding cakes for the bakery. Charlie’s son, Charlie Jr., helped in the business until he attended Auburn University and dental school. Of course, Charlie’s wife, Foye, helped throughout the years and made a home for their three children.

Charlie and Foye Brunson were the parents of Carolyn Boron, m. Charles Bethea Caton; Marjorie Eugenia “Marge,” m. Charles Clarence Bass Jr.; and Charlie Jr., m. Jonell Boyette. All three families resided in Andalusia and contributed significantly to the well-being of Andalusia.

Charlie’s oldest sister, Eva, and her husband, Robert Purefoy, settled in Talladega, Ala. and owned the “World Famous” Purefoy Hotel, which was featured in many magazines.  It was furnished with an international selection of antiques. The hotel also featured family-style meals and entertained many celebrities and prominent citizens.

In 1943, the Andalusia Brunson Bakery was moved to the Payne Building at 200 South Three Notch Street. Along with the move some upgrades were made to the equipment. Some automation was added along with large, revolving ovens capable of baking 242 loaves of bread every 45 minutes, which was four times faster than the former method. By 1951, the bakery was offering more than 40 different items including the famous “Bluebird Bread,” cakes, cinnamon rolls, cookies and pies. It thrived until 1959 at which time the business was closed.

Of interest in Andalusia history is that a new business, a coffee shop, is currently being created in the former facility in the Payne Building. It will be managed by Debbie and Lee Williams who have chosen to name it the Bluebird Coffee Company. Also, the former Brunson Hotel building on South Cotton Street is the current home of Alan Cotton’s Florist. So, the Brunson family influence is still alive.

Sources for today’s story include Ancestry.com and family stories written by Sue Bass Wilson, a Brunson descendant and daughter of Marge (Brunson) and Charlie Bass, for The Heritage of Covington County, Alabama publication in 2003.

Anyone who finds an error in the above is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL; 334-804-1442; or Email: cthomasson@centurtyel.net.