Georgia Fleming cannot remember a time when the Boll Weevil Monument was not the center of the City of Progress.
“In fact, when Enterprise is called the City of Progress, I think it was Bon’s doing. He was a man of progress,” Fleming said about her second cousin twice removed who died a year before she was born.
As Enterprise counts down to the Dec. 11 centennial celebration of the Boll Weevil Monument, his second cousin twice removed reflects on Roscoe Owen “Bon” Fleming’s impact on the history of Enterprise in the early 1900s.
Bon Fleming was a dry goods merchant in Enterprise from around 1910 to 1930 when he moved to Montgomery. He is the person credited with bringing the Boll Weevil Monument to Enterprise in 1919.
“Bon’s business, Silvertown, was on the corner of Main Street where H and R Block is now,” Fleming said. “My grandfather Roscoe’s business was next to where the radio station is so he and Bon would have been close friends.
“I remember my daddy would always say that Bon was a ‘man of ideas,’” Fleming said. “He told me Bon got the elementary school built, he was responsible for kick-starting the first paving of the roads, he was a city councilman, a county commissioner and a commissioner of public works.
“I remember my daddy telling me that when Bon Fleming was in business downtown one of the promotions he used to get customers in was to release guinea fowl in the store and if a customer caught one they got a discount,” Fleming recalled with a smile.
A predominantly agricultural town as the 1900s began, Enterprise was among the victims of the boll weevil bugs that ate through cotton fields from Mexico, through Texas and ultimately across the South.
Following the advice of Coffee County Agent John Pittman and Tuskegee Institute’s Dr. George Washington Carver, Coffee County farmers began to plant peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans and by 1917 harvested one of the largest peanut crops in the state. The positive economic impact was huge.
“Some of the men—probably at the barber shop—were talking about the difference in the price of peanuts over the price of cotton and said how grateful they were that the peanut crop was so much better than cotton crop, despite the boll weevil,” Fleming said. “Bon said, ‘You know, we ought to put up a monument to that bug.’
“He was half teasing but somebody else said, ‘That’s a good idea, why don’t you do that?’” Georgia Fleming said. “That’s the story I always heard.”
Bon Fleming started raising money to buy a monument, ordered the statue of a woman that arrived in Enterprise by train and ended up paying more than half the cost himself. “There were several other city projects that he had put a great deal of his own money into including the building of the elementary school and the paving of the roads,” Fleming said. “So he was willing to put his money where his mouth was.
“Bon was enough of a ‘man of progress’ to live with being unpopular,” Fleming said. “At one time there was even a restraining order brought against starting one of his projects because it was not fully funded.
“I believe that was the road paving which was delayed for a while,” she said. “He also had to work very hard to get the school built. They purchased the land and something like 250,000 bricks and it sat like that for a while waiting for the next step.
“He was always the pusher, the man who did not mind annoying people if he thought they could contribute more than they had or if they should contribute but hadn’t,” Fleming said. “But he always set the example, by paying as much as he could himself. I think that’s one of the personality traits of a true, dedicated ‘Person of Progress.’ You are willing to be unpopular to get your projects done. If he stayed here and not have gone to Montgomery there is no telling what he might have accomplished.”
The original monument was a working fountain with water spraying from the top. The addition of a boll weevil topper came some 30 years later.
“I spent a lot of time as a child downtown because my mother had a business on Main Street called The Criterion for many, many years,” Fleming said. “My father’s dry cleaners, which had been in that building for a long time, had moved to the corner of Lee and Rawls.
“I would go by my daddy’s place and he would give me a handful of quarters, maybe sometimes a dollar bill. Then I would walk downtown and go to my mother’s shop and I would walk up and down Main Street, buy comic books, go to the movies,” Fleming said. “I’d still have change left over.
“My mom would say, ‘Now don’t get too far from the monument,’” Fleming remembered. “The monument was the middle of the compass. Everything was measured from the monument. It was a landmark and a measuring tool.
“I’ve always felt a sense of pride in the monument,” Fleming added. “It’s sort of ‘ours’ in the sense that it belongs to Enterprise but it’s also in a little part my family’s.
“When I finished graduate school somebody asked me if I was going to look for work in Birmingham. I said, ‘No, I’m going home because I need to see that monument when I drive downtown,” Fleming said.
“Even coming home from other places when I sight the monument, I know I’m home,” she said. “It’s a source of pride.”