Old Opelika Cheshire family remembered for multiple businesses
By Fred Woods
The Cheshire family first came to Opelika from Georgia in the early 1870s: James Monroe Cheshire, his parents, Coleman and Lucinda, and four siblings. Coleman bought a hotel on North 7th Street, where the entire family lived and worked. Coleman also started the Cheshire Buggyworks across the street and trained son James in the buggy-making trade.
In 1875 James, then 19 years of age, married Sarah Newberry of Morgan, Ga., his boyhood sweetheart. James and Sarah had nine children: Coleman Monroe, Clifford, Eva, Wilbur, Walter (better known as Buster), Vesta, Minnie, Floyd and James Woody. No information is readily available as to what happened to James’ siblings.
The family continued to live in the hotel until they ordered a home “kit” from a Sears, Roebuck catalogue. The home was pre-cut and shipped to Opelika by rail from Chicago. It was assembled on North 7th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues, where the Cheshire family lived until Minnie, the last of the Cheshire children, died in 1981.
The “Sears, Roebuck house” was subsequently sold and moved to a site on Oakbowery Road, where it was reassembled and restored to its former self. It remains there today.
In addition to the hotel and Buggyworks, the family also owned and operated Opelika’s first bottling company, bottling three different kinds of soft drinks. This business was later sold to Coca Cola. They also owned a general store on 7th Street where they sold everything from groceries to hardware. The entire family joined together in the operation of all the family businesses.
Sarah managed the hotel. James Woody helped his dad in the buggyworks and blacksmith shop, which was on the first floor. Clifford managed one of several family farms, this one located on the Old Columbus Road adjoining Old Lebanon Church. Floyd was struck by lightning and killed, at age 11, at this farm. Walter (or Buster), Wilbur and Coleman ran the bottling company and the general store. The girls (Eva, Minnie and Vesta) all graduated from college and became teachers.
Only two of the nine children married. Coleman Monroe married Nina Mae Elliott of Opelika. They had three children. Coleman left the family businesses after several years and bought a small grocery store in Auburn, which he operated for a number of years until he died in 1939.
James Woody married Mattie Ola Ray, and they had five children. He died at the young age of 42.
According to Joe Dean, longtime Opelika resident and friend of the Cheshires, James died in 1908 and the older sons, Jim, Cliff and Coleman, kept the blacksmith shop going until Jim died in the late 1920s. At this point most of the family moved to Birmingham. On returning to Opelika about 1935, they opened a bicycle/blacksmith shop on the first floor of the former buggyworks (the second floor was closed).
Dean said, “Buster ran the bicycle shop and was better known than the others because there were more kids with bicycles than horses.” He added, “This location grew to be what many Opelikans think of as the area’s first daycare center. I say this because Cliff and Wilbur (the blacksmiths) and Buster (the bicycle man) kept the doors open for all the children of Opelika for many years.
“It was the only bicycle shop around and the best-known blacksmith shop. It was a magnet for kids. They stayed all day except for meal times. I well remember how all three brothers maintained strict discipline as to the young people’s behavior.
“Let me say, I liked the Cheshires. They were good for, and to, many people.”