Each home has a story that is uniquely its own and Blue Willow Home & Farm is certainly no exception. Our “Arts and Crafts” style country home, once called Hillcrest, built in Shorter, Alabama in 1933 by Dr. and Mrs. Benson Booth is certainly steeped in rich history.
As I have said many times before, my love for old homes is a deeply rooted passion of mine. For me there are so many reasons to love them. As I enter an old home I love to ponder the possibilities. There is a special history that is attached to each home that should be embraced and honored. I love discovering the unique details and hidden surprises that are revealed as you spend time living in an old house. Within the walls, each room holds interesting stories about the families that raised their children and the adults that grew old within those walls. In this post I am going to share a few of the interesting stories that are deeply rooted in our country home, we call Blue Willow Home & Farm. Some of the stories we have been able to document while others are recollections that have been shared with us by people that lived in our community for many years.
Around 1906, a young surgeon, Benson Booth, from Prattville, Alabama moved to Shorter, Alabama, a small rural community in Macon County to establish his practice as a physician. When he first arrived he lived in the home of the area’s dentist, Dr. Letcher and his wife Patty. Their home was located on what at one time had been the Abercrombie plantation on the Old Federal Road. In 1912, Dr. Letcher passed away and the home and land were left to his widow Patty. In 1913, Mrs. Patty Letcher married Dr. Benson Booth. Despite our efforts, we were not able to find a lot of information about their life together after their marriage, other than the fact that he did continue his medical practice.
The story picks back up in 1933 when Dr. Booth and Patty built a new house across the road from the Abercrombie plantation. The house was named Hillcrest, as it sat at the top of a hill on the Old Federal Road. The house was constructed in the “Arts and Crafts” style and featured many details associated with the style. Features such as exposed rafter tails, chamfered gable ends, and tapered wooden posts with brick bases on the front porch were true to the “Arts and Crafts” style as were the windows with wide trim around them and vertical window panes. There was a screened side porch that has since been turned into a sunroom, and on the left side of the living quarters, they built an adjoining office for Dr. Booth's medical practice. There was also a small and rather odd foyer constructed in front of the main entrance on the front porch. I can only assume that it was used to greet patients that needed the doctor in the middle of the night. We removed the foyer after we purchased the house to give us more room on the front porch. Other than that change, the architectural details have remained very much intact to this day!
Our yard is filled with lots of large, mature camellia bushes of different varieties that were planted by Mrs. Booth and fortunately they still bloom each year. I like to think that Dr. Booth would be very happy to know that his beloved Hillcrest is still standing and is very much the same as it was when he lived there.
It has been said that Dr. Booth progressed from being a horseback doctor, to buggy doctor, to Model T doctor, to a Buick doctor. Even though he had the first automobile in Macon County, he still took the precaution of keeping four dependable horses in case the car didn’t crank. Many of the people he saw were poor and could not pay him immediately, if ever. During the depression, he, like so many other doctors, collected practically nothing. Some months he didn't collect enough to even pay for his gas but he continued to be there when his patients needed him. In an article written by Allen Rankin for the Alabama Journal in March of 1953, he shared memories of nights when he drove his buggy as far as the wheels would go into hills and swamps and then would be met and taken the rest of the way on horseback to care for someone in need.
According to a credible source, in March of 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived in Montgomery by train and while in route to Tuskegee and Auburn by automobile a decision was made to stop in Shorter to visit Dr. Booth. Apparently, President Roosevelt suffered with chronic sinus issues and on that day he needed to see a doctor. We do know that Dr. Booth was an Alabama delegate at the 1936 Democratic convention that helped nominate Roosevelt to a second term, but we have no way knowing whether or not this was a factor in the decision to see Dr. Booth. In any case, it certainly makes an interesting story. The President would have been seen in Dr. Booth's office, which is now our den. At times, I go in that room and try to imagine what it must have been like to have President Roosevelt there! We feel honored to be able to say that FDR visited our home!
In 1948, Dr. Booth’s first wife Patty died and a year later he wed his second wife Sarah, a local schoolteacher and later the Shorter post mistress. According to legend, everyday Sarah would dress up in her finery and when asked why, she said she always wanted to be prepared in the event company came calling. Perhaps her knowledge of the unexpected visit by President Roosevelt in 1936 was one reason she was always on high alert! We also know that Sarah had a device similar to a doorbell strategically located on the floor under the dining room table. When she entertained she could place her foot on the device to call for her housekeeper. We still have that doorbell, but it is no longer installed under the dining room table. Needless to say, she was a very proper Southern lady.
Also around the time Dr. Booth married Sarah, a new building was constructed to the right of the house, which served as the Shorter post office and Dr. Booth’s new office. Many patients were seen there including my own father in the early 1950s. After a car struck my father, he was taken to Dr. Booth’s office for stitches. According to my father, Dr. Booth was an early advocate of getting patients back on their feet and moving as soon after a procedure as possible. From stories I was told, my father wasn’t too happy about that fact. Growing up, I remember that my father often recited the story about that day, and being sewn up by old Dr. Booth. At the time, I certainly never imagined that the Booth property would some day be a place I called home.
On March 30, 1957, after practicing medicine for 51 years, Dr. Benson Booth passed away. His passing was felt throughout the community and he was greatly missed. He had been an elder in his church, a Mason and a Shriner. During his lifetime, he kept over half a million medical appointments and took care of countless numbers of patients. Mrs. Sarah Booth continued to live in the house until she was in her nineties when she decided to sell Hillcrest. After selling her home, she moved to a retirement home where she passed away a few years ago.
There are so many other stories I could share about the Booth family and the house; and as time goes by I will do just that! I hope this post will inspire you to take a deeper look into the history of your home and to share it with others! Thank you for taking the time to read about the Booth family and Hillcrest, what we now call Blue Willow Home & Farm.