Gus Mitchell photo

Gus Mitchell owned a store in Vilula that is now recognized as a historic site.

Before internet or even telephones, there was usually a place in the community where folks would gather to talk, to trade and just be together.

In a little community on Perry County Road 45 called Vilula, that place was Gus Mitchell’s store. And one man who grew up there is working to preserve the store and its history.

Tommie Bryant grew up in the Vilula community and knows how important Mitchell’s store was to the area. In 2010 he began restoring the store. As he worked to bring the building back to life, he decided he wanted to have the site listed as a historic site with the state. He hired Jeannetta Edwards to be his Project Manager in 2020.

“We made an application with the Alabama Historical Commission to be listed as an Alabama historical site,” Edwards said. “When their board met in August of 2020, they unanimously voted to list us with the state and recommended we also apply to be listed on the National Register of Historical sites, which we are in the process of doing.”

Edwards said they have had the Historic Marker for a while, but just had it installed Aug. 28. “At this point we are ready to move forward to turning the store into a museum,” she said. She said the plan is to restore the building and put back in it many of the artifacts that were originally in it when it was the hub of the community. Edwards explained that Gus Mitchell’s store sold “everything from chewing gum to automobile tires. And we have the gas pump that was in front of the store that will be reinstalled.”

Gus Mitchell was a prominent businessman and merchant farmer in Vilula in the early 20th century. His store became the “hub” of the community and served both black and white customers, many of whom were allowed to run a tab where they charged the things they needed and paid their bill when they harvested their crops. Along with the store, Gus Mitchell also had a grist mill on site where farmers would bring their grain to be ground into flour. In addition to owning several pieces of property in Vilula, Mitchell also had a cattle ranch and employed local residents as ranch hands.

The Fellowship Hall, where people in the community would gather for dances and celebrations and community meetings, was located next to the store. Every 4th of July and Labor Day, Gus Mitchell hosted a huge celebration for the entire community in the Fellowship Hall. People would come from as far away as Birmingham to enjoy the food, which included barbecue and whole roasted pigs as well as homemade cakes and pies. There were often local blues artists and bands.

Edwards said Bryant’s plan is to restore that building “and make it an educational center to house family histories of families in the area as well as artifacts.” She said it could also be used once again as a meeting place for the community.

“I was raised in that community, so I have some ideas about how I want it to be,” Bryant said. “I’m still kind of putting it together right now. Down the road, I may want to get input from some of the people in the community about what they would like to see there.”

He the store turned museum is to be open by fall of 2023.

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