Small Town USA, Alive and Well

Kameron Brown, reporting from Columbiana, Alabama

Shelby County Courthouse, Columbiana, Alabama

For every man and woman who grew up watching “The Andy Griffith Show”, the perpetual search for Mayberry began. A sense of belonging to a community where every neighbor seemed to love one another, crime was a source of humor, not fear, and time stopped in its tracks.

The invention of the interstate in 1956 fundamentally changed the landscape of the United States. By its completion in 1986, many small towns and communities were decimated. Route 66, once a bustling site of tourism and migration has now gone the way of the Oregon Trail; hardly visible and a testament to the dangers of industrialization.

In central Alabama, Birmingham’s highways burst out of the heart of downtown and extend in all directions like a rapacious sea creature. Urbanization has torn through, the once wooded hills of this section of the state and developed city after city.

According to WBRC News (, the I-65 highway has just been expanded from four lanes to six lanes in central Alabama to accommodate the influx of traffic.

Suburbs, like Alabaster, enjoyed the 25 miles between them and noisy Birmingham. However, the dark side of progress keeps marching down I-65 toward Alabaster. Many residents once enjoyed the small town feel but now the hunt for Mayberry continues.

Some may have found it in Columbiana, Alabama. Columbiana is an anomaly, a small town off the beaten path, situated equidistant from Birmingham’s major I-65 and 280 highways. The sweeping progress that follows the river of pavement seemingly cannot reach it.

Shelby County boasts of thriving cities like Alabaster, Pelham, Calera, and Hoover; but the county seat remains in Columbiana. Clad in cobblestone walkways, this little town appears almost as it did 50 years ago. The painted advertisement on the exterior wall of Main Street’s florist, offering a glass bottle of Coca-Cola for just five cents, serves as a reminder of days gone by.

The Drug Store on College Street, commonly known as Main Street, still offers milkshakes and hamburgers at the counter as it has for decades.

A barber’s pole rotates its patriotic pattern, calling to its steady stream of regulars.

The county courthouse, with tall Corinthian columns and marble steps shows no signs of aging with its clock tower still showing the correct time and flying a bright American flag.

The neighboring Columbiana United Methodist Church marquee details the town’s busy holiday schedule of events soon to come; a thanksgiving banquet on the 22nd, a tree lighting ceremony and Christmas parade on the fourth of December.

Here in Columbiana, small town USA is alive and well, and people traveled far and wide, in search of their Mayberry.

Returning to One’s Roots

Becky Mims traveled farther than most to get to Columbiana. It has been almost four years since she packed up her home in Midland, Texas, and moved to her property she bought sight unseen. Just outside of town, green pastures of tall grass and a little pond dotted with ducks called to Mims from across state lines and history.

This property, lovingly called “Mountain Meadows Farm,” belonged to Mims great-grandparents who owned the property in the 1800’s.

“In 1993, I was visiting family in Alabama and curiosity got the best of us and we went to see if the farm was still there. It was the first time I had ever been to the property but when I left, I told my aunt to let me know if it was ever for sale. 24 years later, it was for sale,” Mims said.

Mims, at the age of 67, moved from one end of the South to the other, to a small town where she did not know anyone and to a piece of land she had laid eyes on but once, 24 years prior to it actually being for sale.

“My husband died a couple of years ago, my kids are grown with families of their own, but I felt like my life wasn’t over. I have a new chapter that has not been written yet. I don’t rightly know what possessed me, but I have some family in Alabama, and I went to college at Auburn, so I thought, ‘why not?’” Mims said.

Though Mims was on her own, it was not long before she met her new neighbors.

“The first day I went to visit the property, I was standing by the pond and I noticed a man walking towards me, through the pasture. It was my new, next door neighbor, Milton Pointer.” Mims said.

The community soon welcomed Mims as one of their own and rapidly Mims felt the need to give back to it. Her new farm was missing something, it was missing purpose.

“I recognized a lot of the poverty in the community. Some people in this area were having trouble affording food. I thought, with all this land in this section of the state, someone should really operate a community garden. Then, as if God reminded me, I remembered I have a lot of land too.” Mims said.

She donated a portion of her property to the local non-profit, the Shelby Baptist Association, for the development of a community garden. Four years after its conception, the garden provides fresh fruits and vegetables to over 5,000 Shelby County residents through the food pantry within the Shelby Baptist Association.

“In true, small town fashion, Milton connected me with Keith Brown, the director of the Shelby Baptist Association. Before I knew it, we were producing everything from apples to corn.” Mims said.

Main Street, Columbiana, Alabama

Lending a Helping Hand

Life on Main Street in Columbiana is charming with its white picket fences and flower beds. Front porches are dotted with mums and sunflowers this time of year. Many pumpkins and even hay bales are artistically placed for the holiday season.

Christmas wreaths are just beginning to replace Autumn wreaths on front doors throughout town and one house has even begun the process of hanging Christmas lights.

Just outside of town though, the scenery is not so picturesque. In the rural sections of the county amidst tranquil farmland and rolling pastures, poverty can be found in rusted trailer parks and rotting houses.

“Shelby County is not the most impoverished county in the state, but it has the largest number of impoverished people in the state,” said Keith Brown, “Much of the poverty is concentrated in the outer bands of the county, and Columbiana is almost perfectly central to those needs.”

Keith and Katrina Brown devoted their lives to ministry. Keith Brown is the director of a non-profit organization called the Shelby Baptist Association. It is located on Walton Street directly adjacent to Main Street and plays a vital role in the community.

When the couple moved to Columbiana last October, they saw it as an opportunity to serve the community and surrounding areas.

“Keith has been the director of the Association for almost 15 years but now that we have actually moved to the area, I have had a chance to take a more hands on role in volunteering,” said Brown.

The couple sees their recent move as a chance to be more ministerial and generous in their new community together. They are using their new home to host missionaries and reach others through what they call, Columbiana’s natural southern hospitality.

“In Columbiana, it is easier to talk to strangers and easier to help them too. It is a social community and unlike most places, that crosses most socioeconomic barriers,” said Brown.

Everyone at the Shelby Baptist Association actively serves Shelby County with their food pantry and community garden, thrift store and clothing ministries, disaster relief team and much more. Open five days a week, the Shelby Baptist Association welcomes those in need to find a helping hand in the halls of their offices.

In Columbiana, the importance of community and helping one another is a constant theme in every household. A helping hand can be found in most neighbors and at the Brown’s non-profit, headquartered in the heart of town.

The Richest Man in Columbiana

Milton Pointer has been called the richest man in Columbiana by his neighbors. Not because of his wealth, but because of his generosity of spirit and wide circle of friends.

Just outside of town behind black, iron gates is the Pointer estate. Rolling green hills and round bales of hay encircle a red brick antebellum-style home with towering white columns on a wide front porch.

Pointer’s home, since its construction in 1998, has had an open-door policy to everyone in the community.

“My wife and I built this place for one purpose, to serve Jesus and our community. We have had weddings here, Christmas bazaars, parties, teas, dinners, photoshoots, holidays, church programs, the parade of homes, you name it!” Pointer said.

Pointer’s wife, who died in August of this year after complications with a rare disease called mitochondrial myopathy, never went to college and never needed to, according to Pointer.

“She was amazing. She designed this whole place, inside and out, from decorating to architectural construction. She could do anything, and she built this place and operated it,” Pointer said, with tears forming in the corners of his eyes.

The estate often serves as a glittering backdrop for many important events, but never has the Pointer family charged a cent for its use.

The private home is furnished with antiques and precious heirlooms, dating back centuries. Black walnut chairs, ornately carved, taken from a castle in Germany on one of Pointer’s wife Joan’s trips abroad, sit on either side of the white marble fireplace in the living room. The whole place feels as though one has stepped back in time.

“I received an award one year for being North America’s number one salesmen. I traveled all over the country for work and when I received that award I thought ‘it’s time to slow down!’” Pointer said.

After years of hard work, Pointer quit traveling and he and his wife Joan moved out of the city and into the country where they built their dream home in the little town of Columbiana.

“Moving out here was one of the best decisions we ever made. We were able to spend so much time together and with other people. Life stopped being about money and started being about others when we came to Columbiana,” Pointer said.

The couple became active in their church, Bethel Baptist Church, and their community. Every year, Pointer drives his antique, green, ‘59 Chevrolet pickup truck in the Christmas parade through Main Street. Before her passing, Joan led an active weekly bible study in the community and also an art class.

According to Katrina Brown, their philanthropy and social nature made them prominent members in the community. “Cornerstone Christian School and Bethel Baptist Church has a new roof by their contributions alone,” Brown said. 

Though Pointer lives alone now, he remains committed to his wife’s legacy as being a benevolent host. The home remains open to the community that outpoured their kindness on Pointer this past August when his wife died.

“Though the funeral had to be socially distanced because of the coronavirus, that couldn’t stop the community from caring for me and my family when Joan died. That was almost four months ago but I still receive meals almost every week from neighbors and church members,” said Pointer.

According to Pointer, Columbiana has one central rule: to love thy neighbor.

Finding a Safe Haven

Kirk and Michelle Colburn lived in Alabaster for 26 years. Over the course of that time, they raised their son Nicholas in the local school system and through his college years.

Suddenly, the couple who arrived in Alabaster newlyweds were now empty nesters, in a house that had seen dozens rise up alongside it in the past few years. Property taxes also rose, traffic rose, crime and the town’s population rose. Alabaster is a boom town and a seller’s market.

“I had been thinking of the small-town life for some time, but I never thought Michelle would go for it. Then one day, someone driving by asked if we were interested in selling our house. I asked Michelle if she would be interested in down-sizing and living on Main Street in Columbiana.” Colburn said.

Their new home is a 1920’s red brick cottage directly next to Shelby County Highschool. Like most of the Columbiana, their home shares in the rich history of the county.

“The house was originally a boarding house for teachers, who at the time of its construction were not allowed to be married. That is why each bedroom has an exterior door so they could leave for school early and return late without disturbing one another,” said Colburn.

Colburn, a kindergarten teacher herself, found their Columbiana cottage to be more than a house, but a safe haven in which to spend the next chapter of life.

“We had not finished unpacking before neighbors were knocking on our door, welcoming us to the neighborhood, inviting us to church, asking us to join committees, and participate in the arts council. It was refreshing to feel wanted and valued,” said Colburn.

It was their son Nicholas Colburn who ultimately shed light on the significance of choosing Columbiana as their new home. “This home is a blessing for many reasons,” said their son.

In this small town, many residents have found their Mayberry. A truly unique community filled with charming history and charming people. Despite the clatter of 21st century life, small town USA is alive and well in Columbiana, Alabama.