The Depot, a treasured landmark in the history and growth of Red Bay, was built by Illinois Central Railroad in 1907. The trains provided a lifetime for towns like Red Bay. They brought necessities like sugar, flour, cheese, canned goods, etc. The trains also brought heavy items such as automobiles, hardware, farm implements, and machinery. They were also means for local shipments of lumber, sand, cotton, and furniture.
A small Illinois Central passenger train with three coaches furnished the first dependable transportation that the people of northwest Alabama and northeast Mississippi had. It was called "Dude" or "Doodle Bug."
The City of Miami, Illinois Centrals crack passenger train came though Red Bay non-stop on its regular run from Chicago to Miami. It gave local residents a chance to get a "passing" look at this modern advance in railway passenger service.
Red Bay was served many years by two locals, one northbound and one southbound between Corinth, Mississippi and Haleyville, Alabama.
The Depot was a favorite place to "see the trains' as they rolled in and departed. Many folks were held captive over the years by the "iron horse" with its steam engine. Children played regularly in the ICRR Park across the tracks. The water tower where the engines were filled was located on the west side of the well-kept park. Children and adults were fascinated by the sight of the engine getting its water. The tower leaked, sprinkling down from high above, making it more attractive to park visitors, especially during hot weather.
At the ticket window, you could purchase a ticket to "anywhere" on the Seminole-north or south-with connections to "anywhere". It was a thrill boarding a train and sitting by the window waving to friends in anticipation of seeing the world go by. It was a joy to see a loved one step off the train. There was also sadness when many soldiers-to-be left in answer to their country's call, not knowing if they would return, and many did not. Sometimes a casket containing the body of a loved one was unloaded by gentle, careful hands to be received by a grieving family.
Orders were sent and received by telegraph there in the depot. A bulletin board on the wall told you if your train was late or on time. Folks would sit in the waiting rooms listening for the whistle signaling their train was coming. In the winter, you could keep warm by the depots "pot bellied" coal fire stove.
The last train rolled through Red Bay in 1990. Plans were in process to move and preserve the depot when it mysteriously burned.
The Red Bay Hotel is over 100 years old. The property dates back to 1838 when Littleberry Vincent was the owner. The hotel was built in 1907. It was then called Central Hotel. The building was torn down in 1924. A new hotel was built and the name changed to Hotel Red Bay. It was later changed to Red Bay Hotel.
The hotel had 30 rooms with walls 3 bricks thick. The lobby was nicely furnished. The front desk was rounded on one corner where the register books was kept. A key holder was on the wall where renters could get their own key. Mailboxes were behind the counter. There were 3 or 4 rooms on the ground floor used by the owners or managers. The staircase leading to the second floor was beside the front desk.
At the top of the steps were two halls that had a window fan in each and led to the rooms. A community bathroom was at the end of one of the halls. The rooms were furnished with iron beds, a dresser, "chifforobe" with mirror, and a washstand. They used white starched sheets. Transomes over the door were opened for a breeze.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served in the dining room which was entered from the lobby. The food was typical Southern food with delicious homemade rolls and deserts.
The main customer base for overnight guest were salespeople who worked out of Memphis and Birmingham and made regular stops through Red Bay. They could be seen in the lobby writing up orders. They were considered family. Others included railroad inspectors and maintenance crews, older men who boarded there after their wives had died, unmarried teachers, now and then, and construction crews who were laying a gas pipe line or working on other projects in Red Bay.
Some of the more interesting guest were touring country and western singers and movie stars booked by Bay Theater for live stage shows. Band members and stage hands for Tex Ritter, Don "Red" Berry, Earnest Tubb, Pinkie Lee, George "Gabby" Hayes, Smiley Burnett, Lash LeRue and many others stayed there.
After dinner in the evening, the atmosphere was like a big group of friends gathering in the lobby to play Checkers, Rook, Dominoes, or Canasta. The hotel was one of the first to get a television. Renters and locals would gather in the lobby to watch.
Off the Lobby was a barbershop and shoeshine stand. Joe Rogers and his brothers, Sam and Huben, were the first operators. A fourth chair was added and they were joined by Hardy Alverson. The front porch was a popular gathering place where people would gather to visit, kill time, or just watch people pass by.
Red Bay Hotel was a thriving business for many years. The Hotel closed it doors in 1977. The owner at that time was John Swindle. In later years, he donated the front desk, staircase, and many other items to Red Bay Museum where they can be seen today.
The Red Bay Hotel holds many pleasant memories for many people. It was purchased by a former resident who is in the process of restoring the hotel to its former glory. Hopefully, in the near future, the doors will open again.