By Al Harris
One of Jacksonville's
best-known historians got her start the day a secretary overruled
Jacksonville State Teachers College President Clarence W. Daugette.
One day in 1937,
sophomore Edwerta Carpenter went to see President Daugette about
working in the school library, located then on the third floor of
Bibb Graves Hall, which was a new building and served as the school's
only classroom complex.
reason, Dr. Daugette decided he "didn't want me to have that job,"
recalls Miss Carpenter. "But his secretary got me the job anyway,
Wood knew best -- she took me on secretly, and we never told Dr.
Daugette. He was out of town a lot on student recruiting trips to
build up the college, and he never knew."
gumption sealed Miss Carpenter's fate. Miss Carpenter immediately
fell in love with research, which would become a way of life as
she diligently pried and poked into local history.
now 84, is still recognized as one of the best authorities on Jacksonville's
past. Since her college days, Miss Carpenter has created hundreds
of slides that document early Jacksonville. She mined those files
-- hundreds of pages of handwritten and typed note cards and sheets
-- to author the major portions of Jacksonville's history in the
1998 book, The Heritage of Calhoun County, Alabama. She also
produced a thorough file on the history of her own church, Jacksonville's
First United Methodist. During the past 50 years, her research and
photographs have thrust her into the spotlight as one of the most
in-demand speakers in the area. And now Miss Carpenter is busy organizing
her vast set of files for eventual
donation to the Jacksonville Public Library.
It all began
with Miss Carpenter's secret job working for Ramona Wood, who Miss
Carpenter described as "a strict lady who had to be strict to run
the library and keep up with the books." She summarizes her years
with Mrs. Wood simply: "I liked her." And Mrs. Wood looked upon
Miss Carpenter as a favorite, even trusting Miss Carpenter with
the meticulous task of moving books to the new Ramona Wood Library
her senior year.
"We had several
thousand books at that time [on the third floor of Bibb Graves]
and very little space. Most were in the areas of history, education,
and science," she said.
It was the history
section that most appealed to Miss Carpenter, who began taking every
class she could get under history department head Robert Felgar.
"I trained to
be a history teacher; I knew that was what I wanted to follow. I
particularly liked U.S. colonial
history. Then, I don't know exactly when, I began collecting material
on local history and making my slides. I got a Kodak camera," she
organized her files into topics: historic homes, the local economy,
education, the town square, the relocation of the courthouse to
Anniston. She began digging into sources and filling her folders
with every scrap of information she could find about significant
people, landmarks, and buildings. She thoroughly consumed the Jacksonville
News and other newspapers, reading with an eye for specific
topics to keep her files current.
"Early in Jacksonville's
history, everybody knew everybody else. People who lived here had
friends. Jacksonville's history is really about education and religion
-- and the two were tied together back then. When you look back,
you see that people were closer to God, and they had a love for
education, and that's what helped build the town," she said.
In a way, Miss
Carpenter was born to be the local historian. Miss Carpenter entered
the world on January 2, 1921, in a two-story house on a corner lot
on Ladiga Street just a stone's throw from the Jacksonville Book
Store and the former location of the
late John B. Nesbit's insurance agency office. Her father, Joseph
P. Carpenter, ran a grocery store and worked for the Greenleaf Water
Works. Her mother, Lola Foreman Carpenter, worked for The Mercantile
and later for Brown's Department Store, both on the square.
"I grew up on
the square," she said. "My mother insisted that I come to the store
after school, and as a child I played on the square, and when I
got tired I would go back to the store and sleep on stacks of overalls
on the counter. I went to picture shows on Saturdays. They were
a dime. The store was not far from the old tavern on the east side,
and I got to know all of the old buildings."
As a young adult,
she joined Eastern Star, which is the women's auxiliary of the Masonic
Lodge. Miss Carpenter quickly discovered that both organizations
were steeped in history (Jacksonville's Hiram Lodge #42 was one
of northeast Alabama's earliest lodges) and kept important primary
A lifelong Methodist,
Miss Carpenter went to church in the new Methodist building on Pelham
Road that was constructed in partnership with the local Masons,
who used the top floor. (The building was long ago replaced by a
strip mall.) There, Miss Carpenter began her early investigation
into the history of the town's First United Methodist Church.
At every turn,
the young lady ran into important historical resources. College
work would be a snap -- she lived to learn. Miss Carpenter received
her B.S. in education in 1939, began a 40-year teaching career,
and along the way earned the M.A. in 1959. As always, Miss Carpenter
went on to take additional courses that did not count toward a degree
but were of specific help to her as a historian. Miss Carpenter
took an additional 30 hours in library science at JSU, but was unable
to complete the degree due to scheduling conflicts while employed
as a teacher, but the credential was less important to her than
attended school from grammar school through master's level in Jacksonville.
Her early teachers were Normal School graduates and she remembers
being taught by the Normal School's student teachers. After graduation
from the State Teachers College, Miss Carpenter taught elementary
school in Ohatchee for two years before transferring to the Anniston
city system, where she served 38 years, the last 17 as a principal.
Her last school was Norwood Elementary, where she retired in 1980.
two major passions throughout her life were teaching and research
-- those passions outweighed other personal concerns. Early in her
teaching career she married a soldier stationed at Ft. McClellan
whose home was in Wisconsin. The soldier wanted to return home and
take her with him, and that presented Miss Carpenter with a difficult
decision: to move or remain in the town she loved. She decided to
stay. And today she continues to use her maiden name, preferring
to be called Miss Carpenter or simply Edwerta.
"I think knowing
your local history is important," she said. "In the early days,
people had to work out their own problems. There was no one else
to do that for them. They made some mistakes. Now we can look back
and see how they approached their problems and avoid making their
"We can also
appreciate our beginnings and the early people of Jacksonville
-- the Stephensons, the Woods, the Nesbits, and many others who
built up the town. And we can appreciate the plantations, such as
Henry Farm. We have a rich heritage."
And she says
her favorite lesson from Jacksonville's history is this: "Love one
another. Be friendly. Help one another. This is what has made Jacksonville."