Near the Alabama-Georgia border lies a small town named Fruithurst in Cleburne County with only a population of 284 in the 2010 census. However, it was once a ‘bustling and promising town’ before 1900.
The area was first called ‘Summit Cut’ because it required extensive grading by the Southern Railway. Scotch-Irish farm families settled in the area chose the name Zidonia (pronounced Zidonee).
Fruithurst Railroad Depot
Northern speculators bought the Scotch-Irish farms and the families moved to Sand Mountain, Alabama.
To attract immigrants to the new town, the Alabama Fruit Growers and Winery Association, of which Ralph Spencer belonged, awarded $25 to a woman who proposed the new name of Fruithurst.
Click on the link below to see an abstract of title for land belonging to the Alabama Fruit Growing and Winery Association in Fruithurst, Alabama from May 20, 1896
Spencer planned to create a 1,240 acre town. His goal was to create a colony of about 36 square miles.
Around the same time, people of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian extraction were looking for new homes in the south. Droughts, grasshopper swarms, and prairie fires, in the northwest of the United States, plus depressed prices that hit farmers around 1890 caused them to think about moving again. The town of Fruithurst seemed ideal.
Fruithurst was incorporated by the legislature December 9, 1896. It is located on the old public road from Talladega to Atlanta. The town itself occupied 500 acres, well laid out in streets and parks. It soon became the center of the “Vineyard Colony,” and at one time contained more than 150 attractive homes and 15 business houses.
Fruithurst, Methodist Church
Among the first settlers were C. W. Fox, N. C. Mathews, R. L. Spencer, R. E. Pineo, J. B. Merrill, L. D. Philips and W. W. Summerlin, all of them stockholders in the Fruithurst Association. Later names revealed the heritage of the new settlers: for example, Hokanson, Keirsala, Hizar, Boalch, and DeGraf.
“The first child born to members of the colony was christened Lizzie Fruithurst Youda.” Many of these Swedish-Americans came from Minnesota.
The town thrived. “A Victorian building, the Fruithurst Inn, was a showplace that attracted visitors and business representatives from around the world. It had eighty guestrooms, a bowling alley, billiard room with a rotunda lobby large enough to accommodate musicales or a full orchestra. The inn was renowned for its cuisine.”
A Grape packing house – Fruithurst Alabama
Land sharks advertised far and wide among the Swedish-Americans concerning the great opportunities awaiting them in Fruithurst. Land seekers’ excursions were run weekly. A village grew up like a mushroom over night. However, when prohibition was made law, the town declined.
For years no financial returns were realized on the grapes shipped to the markets. Eventually these conditions brought about an exodus which was nearly as great as the influx of people had been a few years before.
Many of the residents Anniston because of the lack of educational facilities in Fruithurst. By 1898, the property of the Alabama Fruit Growing Winery Association was sold at a sheriff’s sale. Anniston attorney J. J. Willett bought the property as a representative of the C. C. Curtice Company of Brockton, New York.
The hotel and land was sold to the Borden-Wheeler Company, composed of twelve men from Atlanta, Newnan and Carrolton, Georgia from the Wheeler family around 1900. They purchased the clubhouse and employed J. C. Bass of Carrollton, Georgia, to dismantle the structure, move it sixteen miles to Borden Springs, and reconstruct it as the Borden-Wheeler Hotel. The moving was accomplished with mules and wagons.
The glory day of Fruithurst were brief and now only a few remnants of the once blossoming colony are left. However, today, it may be making a come back with a new winery that has opened. Named the Fruithurst Winery, it operates in conjunction with Laminack Vineyards and offers an array of different table wines.
“Its name comes from one of the original wineries in the state. Surrounded by fifteen acres of muscadine vineyards, now owned and operated by two cousins, it carries the elegance and culture of what was then and will forever be the vineyard village.”
- History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, Volume 1 By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie Bankhead Owen
- The Lutheran Companion, Volume 27 Augustana Book Concern, 1919
- Alabama Department of Archives and History