A Glimpse Into Africatown's Lewis Quarters

In the southwestern corner of Africatown, wedged between two sections of freshly cut new lumber produced by one of Mobile's most successful lumber companies, sits the remains of Africatown's Lewis Quarters. Lewis Quarters was aptly named because it was founded by and inhabited by descendants of Cudjoe Lewis, the youngest of the last shipment of slaves to be brought into this country in 1860. Lewis Quarters is just north of the deepest part of the Three Mile Creek and at one time encompassed all of that section of Africatown.

Photo - Street sign leading to Lewis Quarters  Credit: Karen Savage

The people acquired the land and made a decent life for themselves living off the land. As years passed, the original inhabitants passed away and businesses began to move into the area. The two larger businesses were Haas Davis Meat Packing Company and Gulf Lumber Company. Over time the area became known as "The Stockyard" because of the sounds of cattle and pigs being slaughtered and that "horrific" smell.

I don't know what smell was worse, the smell coming from "The Stockyard" or the scent coming from International Paper and Scott Paper Companies in the northern section of Africatown. In addition, poor pollution control laws allowed raw sewage to be dumped into Three Mile Creek, which flows about 1/2 mile from Lewis Quarters. Although the largest part of Africatown is at least two miles from the "Stockyard", the smell was still bad enough to make residents cover their nose with a piece of cloth any time the wind blew in our direction. One could only imagine what the scent was like to those that lived directly in the immediate area.

Folklore has it that a couple of cemeteries existed at one time in the area. If they did, there is no evidence of it today. Businesses, warehouses and trucking companies line both sides of Conception Street, which runs through Lewis Quarters. The Haas Davis Meat Packing Company was closed over 25 years ago and its land area was consumed mostly by Gulf Lumber Company and a small pallet company. Today if visitors want to view historic Lewis Quarters, I suggest they slow down as they near Gulf Lumber Company, or they might miss their turnoff.  All that exists is a small private dirt road that runs through the lumber yard and leads back to what is left of the Lewis Quarters Neighborhood.

There are about seven or eight houses that still remain in the historic Lewis Quarters neighborhood and their residents are strong and proud people. However, I often wonder if Gulf Lumber, the producer of both treated lumber and regular lumber, ever think about donating lumber to the residents of Lewis Quarters to assist their neighbors as they try to maintain their houses in peak condition. A brick wall would also be nice to help curb noise pollution. My grandfather worked as a driver for a business located near Gulf Lumber years ago called M.P. Lindsey Lumber Company. At times the owner would give away good (and bad) lumber to Africatown residents to help them maintain their property. Surely a company as successful as Gulf Lumber can offer to help Lewis Quarters stay in tip top condition.

As I observe Africatown and notice what heavy industry is trying to do, I often wonder if Lewis Quarters is a look into the future of what some business people would like for Africatown to become - a smaller version of what it started out as, surrounded by industry that not only doesn't contribute to the well-being of the community, but is waiting for everyone to fade away.