Scenes from Chelsea: From Creek settlement to fastest-growing city in Shelby County

 
Kelly Kazek | kkazek@al.comBy Kelly Kazek | kkazek@al.com 
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on August 10, 2016 at 8:30 AM, updated August 10, 2016 at 10:00 AM
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Many people traveling southeast from Birmingham have seen signs for the community of Chelsea, along with a few scattered businesses. Those who leave the main highways will find a growing Birmingham suburb of more than 9,000 people but this isn't a Mini-Metro: Chelsea has the personality and community spirit of a small town, complete with an iconic general store building situated perfectly in a bend where county highways 47 and 39 meet.

According to a historic marker in town, Chelsea was part of millions of acres of Creek land taken by Andrew Jackson after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in the War of 1812. "Soon afterward, white settlers began flocking into the area, and by the mid-1800s, several pioneer homesteads were located among these hills and hollows," the marker states. "When the railroad came through in 1908, people began moving closer to the tracks and the town of Chelsea, first called Melrose, was born. Early businesses included a drugstore, saw mill, grist mill, planer mill, cotton gin, blacksmith shop, barber shop, general store and a post office. Prominent store owners included George Washington Weldon and brothers C.W. and Frank P. Chesser."

The Old Weldon Store

Today, the plain-but-picturesque general store in the bend of the road, whose walls hold so many community memories, sits empty and in danger of deteriorating.

"The building is currently unsafe," said Chelsea Mayor Earl Niven. If the City Council approves a plan to eliminate the traffic light in front of the store and reroute County Road 39 so that it no longer meets CR 47, the store will be moved or torn down, Niven said. 

(The Weldon store) is part of Chelsea history and is important to us and to future generations.
 

But Judy Isbell Galamore, granddaughter of original owner George Washington Weldon, hopes to rally community support to preserve the store. She is asking people to visit her Facebook page to share memories and sign a petition.

"It should be declared as a historical site because it is part of Chelsea history and is important to us and to future generations," Galamore says. "It is one of the oldest businesses in Chelsea and served Chelsea for over 100 years. I plan to start a petition in order to bring a collective, united, voice to our leaders' attention just prior to this election period. I would like to express our concern about this deserving site that is so much a part of Chelsea's heritage." Click here to read Galamore's letter in its entirety.

Galamore said old ledgers show many residents were extended credit during the Great Depression to shop at the store, which sold "groceries, dry goods, candy, ice cream, overalls, shoes, animal feed and even caskets. The caskets were sold upstairs in the second story when it wasn't being lived in."

Chelsea today

Chelsea was incorporated in 1996 with 908 residents. Within a dozen years, it grew to a population of more than 9,000, making it one of the fastest-growing towns in Alabama.

A spacious City Hall was built and the area now boasts retail shopping, restaurants, medical offices, five schools in the Shelby County system, a 29-acre park with softball, football and soccer fields, a walking trail and playgrounds. A large building along U.S. highway 280 houses the Chelsea General Store, where a variety of candies, crafts and clothing are for sale. Next door is an antiques mall.

In 2012, a history museum opened in City Hall. Other than the Weldon store, the town includes several historic homes although none are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to theEncyclopedia of Alabama, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, built ca.-1905, is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.

"Scenes from ..." is a photo feature of small towns throughout Alabama. To suggest a town to be featured, email Kelly Kazek at kkazek@al.com. Follow her Scenes from Alabama Towns on Pinterest.