September 1925: Dora businesses burn, Cordova couple celebrates golden anniversary


A dozen Dora businesses went up in flames on Thursday, Sept. 10, 1925.  

The fire was the third to strike Dora in two years and took out most of the business section, which had escaped the other two blazes. The loss was estimated at $35,000.

The businesses affected were Crenshaw Cafe, Temerson Dry Goods, Burke's Cafe, Martin's Meat Market, Alabama Power's office, Southern Express Company, Vandiver Clark's Barber Shop, Lantrip's Jewelry, Little Gem Cafe, Methodist Missionary rooms, the Dora Bargain Store and a pool hall.

The Mountain Eagle reported that the fire had originated in the dry goods store around 5:30 a.m. and "was only checked by the firefighters when dynamite was used to blow up the rooms occupied by the Methodist Missionary organization."

The only reported injuries were Chief of Police Martin (no first name given), who suffered a lacerated hand, and Charley Extra, who was sleeping over the dry goods store and narrowly escaped.

Telephone and telegraph services in the area were disrupted for several hours because the equipment had to be dismantled to save it from the fire.

In a separate, smaller story, the Eagle reported that two people were being held in the case. Jim Crenshaw, owner of the aforementioned Crenshaw Cafe, had been taken to Walker County Jail along with Emerson Goin, an African American taxi driver. 

Crenshaw, who had returned on Friday, Sept. 11, 1925 from a week's vacation in Florida, had been charged with arson.

This story gives me a couple of opportunities to discuss how newspapers have changed in the last century. 

The Mountain Eagle, which was then a weekly newspaper, did not have an opportunity to report on the blaze until Wednesday, Sept. 16 — nearly a full week after the event. When Cordova burned in October 2011, I was on the scene within the first hour and remember being furious because it took someone at the Eagle office longer than I thought it should have to update our Facebook page.

The Dora fire was among 18 different headlines that appeared on the Sept. 16, 1925, front page.

No pictures of the destroyed business, or any pictures at all, appeared on the front page.

At UAB, I was taught the dollar bill rule of design. The rule says that if I can place a dollar bill on a page and touch only text, then I need to consider adding a photo or something else to break up the text. The thinking is that too much text is intimidating for readers. 

Though the 1925 layout isn't easy on the eyes, it has its own charms. For example, none of the stories continue to an inside page. Most stories were confined to between two and six paragraphs in length. 

Reporters of the time saved a lot of space by not using quotes or providing sources for any of the information they were printing.

Finally, there is the matter of how the arrest story was structured. 

Today, reporters would be expected to lead off with the fact that a local business owner had been arrested for arson. The most newsworthy information must be presented first so that if a reader doesn't finish a particular story, he or she will have learned all the important stuff in the first couple of paragraphs.

In 1925, the Eagle did not go out of its way to point out to readers that a businessman had been arrested for arson. The information was treated so casually that I almost missed it on first read. 

Just for fun, I'll end this week with a recap of the 50th anniversary celebration of Mr. and Mrs. John A. Douglas of North Cordova. Their story appeared on an inside page of the Sept. 16 edition. Mr. Douglas apparently regaled an Eagle reporter and several other guests with this story. 

When the Douglases were married in 1875, nickels were just beginning to be circulated and a marriage license cost $2.50. 

When he had saved enough nickels, Mr. Douglas went to Probate Judge Bob Shepherd and counted them out one at a time. After 40 nickels, the judge said, "That's all right, John. That's enough."

"So he received a bargain of fifty cents in his marriage license and replaced the valued nickels in his red bandana and returned to marry a short time later," the Eagle reported.   

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.