Foley, Alabama: A Picturesque Small TownMarch 16, 2011 No Comments
Dad and I recently found ourselves in Summerdale, Alabama. We’re members of the Escapees RV club, and the Escapees campground in Summerdale was on our way from Florida to Louisiana. We didn’t expect much from small-town Alabama, but were pleasantly surprised at how much there was to do in the area. We spent most of a day in Foley, just 20 minutes from Summerdale.
In 1901, wealthy Chicagoan John Foley was in transit to the funeral for President McKinley when he heard good things about South Baldwin County, Alabama. He visited the area the next year and, liking what he saw, set out to build a town. Mr. Foley purchased nearly 50,000 acres and donated parcels to build schools and churches, selling much of the rest to settlers and businesses.
He paid for a train line to Foley from Bay Minette and set up a community wood bin. As people cleared their land, they donated the wood for fuel on the first train to service Foley. The original train station burned in 1908 and was replaced in 1909. That building is now Foley’s museum.
Today the community retains many of its historic buildings. As of the 2000 census, less than 7,600 people lived in Foley. A low crime rate, walkable downtown and friendly population, coupled with a picture-perfect look and feel, make Foley an ideal place for a family to spend a few days.
Foley Visitor Center and Holmes Medical Museum
As we drove into town, we spotted a visitor center. These are generally excellent places to get advice on everything from what to see to where to eat, so we headed inside. The rep was incredibly friendly and full of great tips. We could have spent a week just eating our way through Foley based on her recommendations!
Connected to the visitor center is the Holmes Medical Museum. Located inside Foley’s first hospital, the museum is free of charge. Stepping inside is truly like stepping back in time. There are endless displays of medical equipment, all carefully labeled, and many of the rooms are still decorated as they would have been in the 1930s and 1940s.
Take your time and make sure you don’t miss anything. I’m not sure if it’s the layout itself or the slightly eerie and disorienting feel of the place, but we ended up backtracking several times to see things that we missed. We spent over an hour exploring.
Foley Alabama Railroad Museum and Model Train Exhibit
This collection of exhibits is located diagonally across the street from the Medical Museum. As of 2011, the Model Train Exhibit is only open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10-2, so plan your visit carefully. Admission is free.
The Model Train Exhibit must be seen to be believed. An immense O-gauge model train layout, the display is 24 feet by 60 feet and utilizes more than a quarter of a mile of track. The layout depicts small-town Americana in the 1950s. Most of the display was donated by Alan Goldman of Montgomery, Alabama. The exhibit opened in Foley in 2006. The level of detail is startling, including a Robert Montgomery film showing on the screen at the Hub Drive-In, and several pieces of working machinery. Volunteers are on hand to point out various details and answer questions, while a short film gives more information on Mr. Goldman and the creation of the exhibit. If you or your kids are into trains, plan to spend at least an hour watching the trains and examining the display.
The Railroad Museum is filled with artifacts from Foley’s early years. I was most fascinated by an old handwritten log of traffic violations, while Dad became absorbed by the various pieces of machinery. Not everything is clearly labeled here, so be sure to ask about anything that catches your eye. The volunteers are quite knowledgeable and eager to share information on Foley’s past.
Stacey Rexall Drugs and Olde Tyme Soda Fountain
On the corner near the Medical Museum is an old-fashioned drug store that words can hardly describe. The place seems to be caught in a time warp where nothing has changed for half a century. Display cases along the walls are filled with turn-of-the-20th-century medicine bottles, and a model train runs overhead. In the back, an old-fashioned pharmacy still dispenses medications for local residents.
There is a small collection of gift items, but we were more interested in the soda fountain, where ten-cent coffee is still on the menu. Soda jerks dispense fountain drinks in the way they were meant to be, and Dad and I thoroughly enjoyed our chocolate Cokes (regular Coke for me, diet for him, each with a splash of chocolate syrup). I had a peanut butter and banana sandwich, while he chose a bagel with cream cheese. We chatted lightly and enjoyed the old jukebox, fortifying ourselves for the rest of our day.
We didn’t have the chance to explore the rest of Foley since we were on a tight schedule, but we wanted to go back for dinner a few nights later. Located in the more modern Foley suburbs, Lambert’s Café bills itself as the home of the “throwed rolls.” We love quaint Southern cafés, so we decided to give it a try.
The place is filled to overflowing with Southern kitsch. Check out the mural on the outside wall, the collection of license plates, and a variety of old signs and other artifacts. But keep an eye out, as you will receive your first “throwed roll” on the way to your table. Servers literally walk around the dining room gently tossing warm dinner rolls to customers. It’s a lot of fun.
I strongly recommend sharing food, rather than each person ordering his own. Dad and I split the meatloaf dinner, which comes with mashed potatoes and gravy and your choice of two additional sides. We ended up with the largest portion of meatloaf I have ever seen, half a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy, and overflowing bowls of coleslaw and corn. But that was only the beginning.
Lambert’s specializes in what they call “Pass Arounds.” In addition to the throwed rolls, servers circulate throughout the dining room offering okra, black eyed peas, pasta in tomato sauce, and a fried potato and onion mix. Although we split an entrée, we were given all the Pass Arounds we could eat. We also purchased an “individual” (easily big enough for two) apple pie for $2. Beverages are 32 ounces with free refills.
Dad and I ended up with enough food to split that night, and again for one more meal. Not bad, considering our total tab was $22 with tip. Everything tasted entirely homemade and slow cooked. There were a bunch of kids in the restaurant and everyone seemed to be happy with their food and having a wonderful time. It’s not fine dining by any means, but Lambert’s is a great place for authentic home-style Southern food and hospitality.
Tips for Parents
Foley is a picturesque small town with a highly walkable historic downtown and lots of interesting shops and attractions. While the crime rate is extremely low, always use common sense. Keep an eye on your kids, especially when crossing the street, and don’t let younger children wander off. Take advantage of Foley’s wealth of green space to run and play or have a picnic. Strike up a conversation with a friendly local or just wander around taking pictures. Whatever you decide to do, Foley offers a relaxing alternative to larger and more crowded cities.