Jones Bakery and the Family That Invested in This Community
Usually it is the patriarch of the family who starts a business, and quite often his sons and daughters join him when they become adults and the legacy of a family business is begun. Not so with Jones Bakery. John R. and Ethel Jones had ten children and were living in Talladega where he had several interests: insurance and a dairy farm. Their son, Sydney Jones started a bakery there, and it was very successful. Soon his brothers, James, Lonnie, and Thomas joined him; and another bakery was opened in Sylacauga about 1936 or thereabouts. Their father, John R., joined them in the business when Sydney sold his interest to his brothers and started another business. Lonnie then became prominent in the Talladega bakery and James and Tommie worked together in Sylacauga.
A little nest egg from Tommie’s wife Margaret Hubbard Jones makes a sweet addition to the story. Not long after Margaret and Tommie married she won jackpot night at a Talladega theater, and the $280 she won was a lot of money in those days. It was her idea to put this prize money into the new bakery, and for many years she worked there and helped make it successful. Success came, and the girls in the family became part of the bakery family. James Jones was the manager of the Sylacauga bakery when my Daddy came to work there. He had worked for a Greek family bakery in Mobile, and so this job was a perfect fit for him. Ethel Jones Smelley, Fannie Burroughs (Sister), Hattie Jones Miller, and Pauline Jones Slay were all involved from time to time, as well as James’ wife, Edith. Pat Jones Brannen, James Jones’ daughter, remembers her grandfather wearing a big white apron with “Papa Jones” on it when he worked in the bakery.
Tommie heard of an opportunity for a propane gas company in Sylacauga and he and his brother, Johnnie P., began Automatic Gas Company as partners. After a few years Johnnie bought Tommie’s share of the business, and John P. Jones operated that company until his death. It has remained a family business with Charles Vawter, Janet Jones Vawter’s husband taking the reins. I remember the Jones house on Main Avenue, a big white house with a wrap-around porch located where the Methodist Church Kindergarten playground is now. Tommie and James married the girls of their dreams, and they had a good business going for them, but life always hands us both good and bad, and they were not exceptions. Tommie later opened the Coffee Pot Café, known by many in Sylacauga as the Bus Station, but he continued to be involved in the bakery; and he and Margaret adopted one daughter, Janelle. James had kidney disease that would end his life at age 40 on May 28, 1954. He and his wife, Edith had two children, Pat, and a son, Jimmie. Jimmie died very young from lung cancer. Edith remarried in 1955 and sold the bakery to the Jimmy Gardners. James had been his friend and mentor. James Jones died very young, but both my own memory and my research bear out the facts that he lived a very rich and full life in those few short years. He invested his life in the lives of other people and was involved heavily, along with Bill Irby, in the Boys’ Club, Golden Gloves Boxing, Boy Scouts, Little League, and Pony League. He was an accomplished pilot and loved to fly his own airplane (which later burned in the hangar at The Sylacauga Airport). He believed in community, in living and shopping in the town where you live. Bill Irby considered James Jones as his dearest friend and wrote unashamedly how there was only one James Jones. Bill wrote about a conversation he had with my Daddy, Shorty George, and said, “Shorty was telling me how he had come to depend on James over the years in hundreds of different ways. He relied completely on the judgment of James in so many ways, and he had come to respect the Jones judgment in all things.” I wish I knew more about that friendship, but I already knew it was very special. Even in the hospital, prior to his death, James valued the good care that he received from the student nurses at the newly built Sylacauga Hospital School of Nursing. Wanting to do something to show his appreciation to them, James promised them a cake for their graduation. It was not to be just any cake, but a replica of the School of Nursing building. This was a wish carried out after James Jones passed away before graduation day, a promise carried out by his wife Edith and sister, Ethel. Perhaps another Sylacauga icon, Jep Greer, said it best with an editorial he wrote after James Jones passed from this life, “Having a loved one pass away is rather like taking a leaf out of the old family table. While it is terrible to lose a loved one, it clearly succeeds in drawing the rest of the family closer together.
With special thanks to Janet Jones Vawter and Patricia Jones Brannen, I will continue with a few more memories related to James Jones, Jones Bakery, and Sylacauga in the forties and fifties next time. In the meantime, Be sweet! (By the way Pat says the doughnuts made here were her Dad’s own recipe). They were yummy!!!