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.
In 1896, Ralph Spencer, made Zidonia, Alabama, a flag stop on the Southern Railway ten miles West of Tallapoosa, Georgia into a boom town devoted to wine production.
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
Abstract of Fruithurst land title
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
Love this place!
Is the train on time today Steve Akers?
And was once infamous as a major speed trap…ha!
Also was infamous in the 70’s for Speed trap. State took over the police dept. in 74!
[…] Alabama at the turn of the century, the other two were SilverHill in Baldwin County, Alabama and Fruithurst in Cleburne County, […]
[…] to 1894, a hotel was owned in Borden Springs by the Fruithurst Company, a group of Swedish families who came from Minnesota for the purpose of raising grapes for making […]
I friend’s grandmother lived there. I remember Grizzard’s store and I remember it being a notorious speed trap in the 70’s.
i married a joyce grizzard from heflin al dont know if she was related to the grizzards who had the store or not
My mom was born and raised there!
Two sets of my husband’s gg grandparents were among the Swedish settlers who lived in Fruithurst. They were there for a couple of years in the 1890’s before moving to Birmingham.
We visited there with our R.V. Club I bought a wine glass that I use all the time from a winery there.
It was also the most prolific “speed trap” in the 48 states. In the 1970’s they had sixteen police cruisers and a very big jail but less than 100 residents. The town officials were arrested and or relieved and administered by the state under the authority of the Attorney General of Alabama, Bill Baxley……This time frame was when it was necessary to leave I-20 in Heflin and drive old 78 to Villa Rica, Georgia to re-enter I-20. The interstate was all but completed, but was not open for many years due to a “boundary dispute” between Alabama and Georgia……………
I am a native of northwest Alabama and this is the first I have heard about this wine area. The speed trap bit rings a bell, though.
Probation killed the wine industry in all the eastern US south of NY and their only industry was preying on tourists.
[…] Shortly after the Civil War, a group of northern investors created the town of Fruithurst in Cleburne County as part of a wine-growing project. Fruithurst became a boomtown shortly afterward. (More about Fruithurst) […]