The photographer who took the photos was likely former Anniston federal judge Chandler Watson, who passed away last year. The book was inscribed to Watson, and his daughter, Harriet Lane, said her father had a collection of old cameras and was fond of recording home movies of his family. Watson would have been 15 years old when he received the book.
The story was accompanied by several of the mystery photos, and we asked readers to give us details if possible.
One caller added weight to the hypothesis that Chandler was the photographer. Jim Williams, 86, remembered seeing his neighbor Chandler Watson walking along Leighton Avenue as a young child, his legs encased in cumbersome metal braces.
Watson contracted polio at the age of 1 while swimming at Oxford Lake, said Watson’s cousin, Kathryn Miller, who also saw the photos in the Star and called in to provide more information.
To Williams, it just makes sense that a child with polio might take up photography as a hobby.
“It stands to reason,” Williams said. “He obviously couldn’t get out and do things that other kids did.”
Miller said Watson’s parents devoted themselves to their young son, taking him swimming to help rehabilitate his weakened legs.
“His mom told her husband, ‘We’re going to devote our whole lives to this one child, and if we can’t get his legs going, we’re going to develop his mind.’ And boy, she did,” Miller remembered.
After countless swimming sessions, one of Watson’s legs did regain its strength. Watson wore a brace on the other for the remainder of his life, Williams said.
As for the old photographs, Williams recognized a home in one, especially because the home he grew up in at 1500 Leighton Ave. looked almost exactly like it. “People often got the two houses mixed up,” Williams said.
The house in the old photo was located on the corner of Leighton and 14th Street, and was ultimately turned into a nursing home. William’s aunt lived in the nursing home before it was torn down years ago, Williams said.
In another old photo, a man and his dog stand near the ledge of a building. Williams knew right where that photograph was taken, because Watson lived there at the time.
The Leighton Court Apartments at 1401 Leighton Ave. must look very much like they did in the 1930s. The utilitarian red brick buildings where Watson lived as a child have side entrances with steps that lead down to the ground. The man and his dog in the old photograph may have known Watson, the familiar young boy with metal braces on his legs.
But it was a photograph of a rock bridge across a small creek that had most readers stumped. Guesses ranged from the frog pond at Fort McClellan to Germania Springs in Jacksonville.
To Williams, it looked like “somewhere they might have gone in a car, and taken that picture there.”
Williams is correct. The old rock bridge, it turns out, still carries people across the creek at Cave Springs, Ga.
Gloria Crider is from Rock Run and has lived in Anniston since 1975. When she saw the photo of the bridge, she knew right away where it was taken.
“I’ve been going there since I was a child,” said Crider. She walked across the bridge countless times at family reunions held creekside at Cave Springs.
People still carry their milk jugs there, to fill them with the clear, cold water that rushes out from the base of the mountain next to the cave, where any time of year it’s a good 30 degrees cooler inside than out.
Crider still takes her milk jugs to Cave Springs. “It’s the best water ever,” she said.
Miller said that Watson’s parents often took him swimming to help strengthen his legs. Most of those trips were to Oxford Lake, she said, but it’s always possible that, at least once, they took him to Cave Springs. And it’s always possible that Watson brought his camera along for the ride.
So it would seem that the mystery photos of early Anniston life, found in the book by a photographer whose job it is to record modern Anniston life, were taken by a young boy who couldn’t stray far from home, a boy who would go on to become a federal judge.
Mystery solved, perhaps.