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 »  Home  »  History  »  (E) Descendants of Croatian Stavemakers Reunite in Alabama
(E) Descendants of Croatian Stavemakers Reunite in Alabama
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  07/21/2005 | History | Unrated
(E) Descendants of Croatian Stavemakers Reunite in Alabama

 

Stavemakers gather Croatians in Alabama

Croatian immigrant John Erzen with accordion / Alice and John Pezent in their latter years

Over 80 descendants of the Erzens, Turks, Pezents and Pongeraytors pose for a reunion photo on the porch of the Clarke County Museum in Grove Hill Saturday. Klepac descendants were the only Croatian family not represented at the event.

 

Charles Pezent, left, listens as John Erzen shares memories with the group of his father and the other stavemakers who immigrated to south Alabama.

These old-timers would probably smile at their off-spring striking a pose similar to this photograph from early in the 20th century

Stavemaker descendants demonstrated their ancestors’ skills for other family members during the reunion.
 

Story and photos by Jim Cox

Older men just one generation removed from Eastern Europe, their sons and grandsons, nephews and cousins took broad axes, hammers, mallets and drawing knives in hand Saturday to demonstrate the skills that brought their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers to America.

What started out to be a simple demonstration of stavemaking techniques, quickly turned into a “Stavemakers’ Reunion� of descendants of the Croatian families of Pezents, Erzens, Turks and Pongeraytors. The Klepacs were also stavemakers who lived in the county but they were not represented Saturday.

The Clarke County Museum had received a grant to document stavemaking history. Children of the original immigrants have been interviewed and a demonstration was set up at the museum so that some descendants could be filmed doing the work of their ancestors.

But other descendants, many who had never seen the work done, wanted to come too and over 80 turned out for a day of fun and reminiscing.

Charles Pezent, left, listens as John Erzen shares memories with the group of his father and the other stavemakers who immigrated to south Alabama.

Croatian stavemakers from the “old country� came to the United States around the turn of the 20th century in
search of white oak timber used to make staves for barrel-making.

The hardwood trees in Europe had been depleted but America’s southern forests were filled with huge specimens
and they lured the Europeans here.

Croatian immigrant John Erzen with accordion.

As many as 30 or 40 of these Europeans were in Clarke County making staves in the early 1900s. There were others throughout the south at the same time.

A stave crew consisted of four men, each with his own set of hand tools. Trees were cut and the blocks hewn into standard lengths. They were stacked to dry and then carried, mostly by wagon but sometimes by Model T Ford trucks, to river landings and railroad stations for shipment to Mobile and New Orleans where they were
loaded on ships and taken to Europe to be made into barrels that were used for storing and aging Spanish and French wines, Scotch whiskey and palm oil in Italy and Lebanon.

Alice and John Pezent in their latter years.

Stavemaking was busiest from about 1900 until around 1930. World War I slowed the business a bit. Many of the young, unmarried men stayed in Clarke County and married local women. They blended their European ways with the American South to make a unique heritage. Immigrant John Erzen, who lived near Grove Hill, was known far and wide all his life for his accordion playing. His son, John, joked Saturday. “Daddy played that thing all his life and my mother was a Harrison (a local family known for their musical ability), but I can’t hardly play the radio!�


Over 80 descendants of the Erzens, Turks, Pezents and Pongeraytors pose for a reunion photo on the porch of the Clarke County Museum in Grove Hill Saturday. Klepac descendants were the only Croatian family not represented at the event.

Many of the descendants have reconnected with their European cousins. Charles Pezent has been to his father’s boyhood hometown and slept in the house and in the bed that his father was born in.

Erica Pezent, who graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in business in May, has just returned from an European trip and said it was fascinating to visit with distant cousins and to see the countryside and villages where her forefathers lived.

Saturday, descendants shared memories, marveled at the hard work and skills it took to produce staves and enjoyed a bountiful southern meal.

Editor’s note: Information for this piece was taken from an article written by Charles Pezent for “Historical Sketches of Clarke County, Alabama� in 1977.

http://www.clarkecountydemocrat.com/news/2005/0721/Community/040.html

 

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