I have no idea why I went to Marked Tree, Alabama, except perhaps because of the name. Probably a matchbook. I’m looking at the first one I clipped long ago, and it’s not promising.

I’d say it was a bank once, right?

Perhaps I was intrigued by this: the odd street and elevated sidewalk, with a lone building surviving from a once . . . well, bigger main street district.

Someone tried


It’s as if it was ripped out, by angry violence.

Here’s a hint about why I was intrigued: that old glass sign.

The twin stores in one building. Someone was investing in Marked Tree.

Antiques now, of course. The detritus and flotsam of the farms always comes tumbling down to these old storefronts.

Evidence of something, and I’m not sure what.

Modernization! So long ago, but modern then.

Then, boom: something clean, a going concern.

I have a dim memory of that word, NYAL, and I think that was the matchbook that sent me here. You’ll find out some day.

Didn’t expect this, did you?

It’s almost history-proof. Its attempts to fit in made someone design it in a style that belongs in no decade.

That’s . . . different, as we passive-aggressive Minnesotans say.

E. Ritter, 1910.

Let's turn the corner:

Hmm. That sign on the left -

Hmm. That building -

Across the street . . .

Hey now

It’s all Ritter.

I conclude Mr. Ritter was something of a mover and shaker here abouts, don’t you?

Unto this day:

Arnold, 60, is the fourth-generation executive of E. Ritter & Co., the milling and agricultural enterprise begun in 1886 by great-granddad Ernest Herman Ritter, who begat Louis Vernon Ritter and a telephone utility. Ernest Herman Ritter is the documented “petitioner” of the Poinsett County Circuit Court to incorporate Marked Tree in 1897.

Ernest Ritter pursued the first municipal water system. He was also proprietor of the town’s first general store and pioneer of its electric lines.

One of Louis Vernon Ritter’s daughters is Mary Ann Ritter Arnold, the 88-year-old mayor of Marked Tree.

There's something so Dynasty about it, eh?