This story is to be about Columbiana, seat of Shelby County, which has gotten more than its share of unpleasant notoriety during recent years because of a liquid product which the Shelbians claim is largely consumed in the neighboring counties.
For a long time they joked about it but at present they are getting a little weary of being looked upon as the chief source of supply of an unlawful beverage much in demand by outsiders who seem to regard Shelby County as an oasis in a land of drouth. They are beginning to say “we may make it but we don't drink it.”
This remind me of the story of the two Yale graduates in the same class who met after 10 years in a far Western town. A fast train was delayed and one of the passengers, to kill time, went into an eating place and ordered breakfast. On looking up he recognized his classmate, and said, “Bill, I'm certainly sorry to see you in such a 'dump'.” “Oh, don't worry about me.” Was the reply, “I only work here, I don't have to eat here.”
Believe it or not, but some months back at the Birmingham Pastors' Union, we heard a preacher, just returned from Florida, say that when he gave it out that he was from Birmingham, almost invariably he was asked, “How far is it from Shelby County?” It appeared to him that it was better known that the Magic City. A good housewife who recently went down to the curb market said that as she got out of her car a lad sitting on top of a load of roasting ears cried out, “Here is you Shelby County corn in the ear.”
Just say “Milwaukee” and the rest of the country immediately thinks of beer, and so when Shelby County is mentioned Birminghamians at once think of “corn.” Ed Norton, who attended the International Rotary convention at Milwaukee in June, brought back word that it had the lowest percentage of crime of any city of its size in the United States; and just because Shelby County has been played up on the front page on account of some sensational liquor raids is no reason to discredit the thousands of law abiding citizens whose home life and business life are above reproach.
Now if you think this article is going to deal with the lawlessness of Shelby County and feature “bootleggers” and “stills” you have another guess coming. For years we have been going to Shelby County and its citizens have every right to be proud of being Shelbians in spite of the unfavorable publicity they have been given at the hands of the funny paragraphers who estimate the corn crop not by the bushel but by the gallon.
Shelby County was originally a part of Montgomery County. It was, however, created by an act, Feb. 7, 1817 [error, should be 1818], some months before Alabama joined the federal union. Its territory was in the Creek cession of Fort Jackson, Aug. 9, 1814. When it was formed it embraced St. Clair County; Will's Creek was it northern boundary, and the southern boundary was the township line north of Columbiana, which, by the way, Columbia was the first name of the town, it being changed to Columbiana when the post office was established in 1826.
It bears the name of Isaac Shelby, first governor of Kentucky, who fought at Point Pleasant, and led a regiment at King's Mountain. It was during his second term that he led the Kentuckians in the fight on the Thames. In 1817 he declined the position of minister of war, and died July 18, 1826. Shelby was named after a real man.
Shelby lies just north of the center of the state, contiguous to Jefferson on the north and west, Talladega on the east, Chilton (formerly Baker) on the south, and Bibb on the southwest. We confess that the geography of Shelby County frequently upsets us as it seems impossible when we go south and strike it at Calera on the Louisville & Nashville that we will find it when going east on the Central of Georgia at Vincent.
Its area is 772 square miles or 499,200 acres. On the establishment of Baker (Chilton), the two lower tiers of townships were cut off. One studying the history of Alabama counties will soon learn that they have nearly all been cut up from time to time, slices being taken here and there from one and given to another. The elevation ranges from 600 feet in the valleys (Columbiana is only 426 feet above sea level), to 1,200 feet in the mountain sections. A variety of crops responds to cultivation in the valleys and A.A. Lauderdale, efficient county agent, is doing all in his power to get the farmers to diversify their crops more and more, although he put in hard work in organizing as many as he could into the Five-acre Cotton Club with the advice that they fertilize with the Auburn maximum and keep records on the costs of production and yields. He has long been behind a better poultry movement and is active in getting more of the farmers to take up dairying.
Shelby County is also rich in minerals. Coal, iron, marble, granite, limestone, slate and sandstone are her chief mineral productions, although even gold and copper have been found, but not in such quantities as to justify their being mined. Iron ore is abundant, and for years Shelby Iron Works did an extensive business. There was an iron foundry in Columbiana before the war, and during the war C.B. Churchill operated a foundry for the Confederate government. It was burned in 1865.
The county is well watered by the Coosa and Cahaba Rivers and their tributaries, among these the Bushsehatchee, Waxahatchee, Beeswax, Four Mile, Yellow Leaf, Kelly's Shoal and Valley Creek. Trees of the county are the long and short leaf pine, hickory, oak, chestnut and mulberry.
Emigrants are believed to have moved into Shelby County immediately following the Creek Indian War. (No Indian village, however, appears recorded on any ancient French or English map within the scope of Shelby County). In 1814 or 1815, Joseph Ray, a Tennessean, who had served under Gen. Jackson in the Indian campaigns, came with his family on horseback and their household goods on pack horses into the county. They followed the Indian trail that led from Ditto's Landing to Mud Town on the Cahaba River. Joseph Ray settled in the Cahaba Valley, remaining there several years, and then moved into the eastern section of the county where he assisted in organizing the Big Spring Baptist Church at Harpersville.
The courthouse first stood at Shelbyville. In 1821, David Neal, Job Mason, Benjamin C. Haslett, Ezekiel Henry, Henry Avery, James Franklin and Thomas Beecher, Sr., were appointed to select the site for the courthouse. A year later Daniel McLaughlin, William Gilbert, Isaac Hutcheson, Edmund King, Bennet Ware, Webb Kidd and Abraham Smith were appointed for the same purpose. Now you may not be interested in this list of names, and yet we daresay that some leading citizens in the state can trace their lineage back to these pioneers.
Now for some of the first settlers at Columbiana which is situated in the Coosa Valley and in the rich mineral district of Shelby County. Joseph Howard was the first settler, followed by William Akin. The two for many years owned the lands on which the town is built. In the year 1826, when the courthouse was permanently located at Columbiana, came Leonard Tarrant.
You can see from the fact that Columbiana has been the county seat more than a century that it is an old town. The courthouse was built by Thomas Rogers, and Judge Joab Lawler was the first judge to preside in it. We do not know how many courthouse buildings Columbiana has had but we give pictures of the old and the new one. The new one is of marble and stone, handsome from the outside and well furnished within. We wish to compliment those having it care for it is immaculately clean, and the grounds are made attractive by proper planting. Owen's gives the following as among the prominent settlers and residents of the town: Thomas and Samuel Brasher, Isaaih George, first teacher; Dr. Carter Robert, first physician; David Owens, Abner and James Hughes, Isaac Williams, Fox Rushing, Lewis Sentell, John W. Teague, France Genet, Isaac Estill, William Johnston, Thomas Rogers, Jesse Roberts, Lemuel Moore, Jesse Roach and Joab Lawler.
Columbiana has a fine set of progressive men in it and they have determined to make a real town out of it, and their efforts are showing results. They have lovely homes, good churches, fine schools, a live Masonic Lodge, a hotel which clings to the old time custom of ringing a bell at noon which can be heard all over the business section, garages, filling stations, theater, and in fact everything needed by a progressive community.
We mentioned some of the old timers but we are going to add a few names which we got from G.T. Gullians, of Caledonia, Ark., who recently stopped off for a short visit with his old time neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. R.B. Posey, at Harpersville, as he returned to his hope from Charlotte, N.C., where he attended the annual reunion of United Confederate Veterans.
His visit to Columbiana was the first he had made in 57 years. He did not find a single man in the town who was in it in 1872, and as he remembers it the old courthouse was the only brick structure in the town at that time. He recalled, however, some of the old timers.
Frank Nelson was his comrade during the War Between the States. He also recalled Judge Sterrett and Leeper. He made the significant statement that of the men who served with him in the war, possibly 200 in all, only one man beside himself is living, referring to the Rev. R.A. Kidd, of Vincent. E.W. Holland, of Wilsonville, was the last of his comrades to die. He says the first paper he ever subscribed to was The Shelby County Guide, published at Columbiana.
We have seen that in Columbiana Isaiah George was the first teacher; that Dr. Carter Roberts was the first physician; and now we set down establishment of churches in the order in which they found root; Baptist in 1856; Methodist, in the same year; Presbyterian in 1873. At present the Rev. William Dean is pastor of the Baptist Church; the Rev. O.R. Burns pastor of the Methodist Church; while the Rev. John Milner is pastor of the Presbyterian Church. Columbiana is a church-going town, and the churches work beautifully together.
Columbiana is blessed with excellent schools and the grammar as well as the high school both have fine working plants. Shelby County High School is well located on large and attractive grounds and two wings added to the original building give it a wide frontage. We were glad to find that the grounds were well kept and that a number of attractive ornamental shrubs and trees had been planted to tie the structure to the land. The Columbiana City School has just been completed and is modern in every way.
Shelby County High School has on its faculty the following: T.H. Kirby, principal; Joe W. Stone, vocational agriculture; Miss Margaret Stowell, home economics; Miss Mary Peters, English; Miss Lilly Porter, science; and John Horn and Miss Irene Shirey, have charge of junior high classes. There are two literary societies. Donald Faulkner is president of the Edgar Allen Poe Society, and Sara Dycus is secretary; while Herbert Mason, is president of the Henry W. Longfellow Society, and Edna Richards is secretary. Theodore Perry, is president of the Vocational Agriculture Club, which is a member of the national organization the F.F.A. Elizabeth Carter is president of the Home Economics Club; while The Honor Club, consisting of 10 members, has for is president Charles McDaniel, and for its secretary Wilmer Hughes. These two officers and the eight following make up the roll of honor: Clyde Godwin, John Church, Beth Wallace, Louise Ellis, Wilmer Richard, Gladys McDonald, George Lee Green and Leroy Moody.
Five busses operated by Lee Carter, Jim Lovett, W.W. Stinson, H.W. Hayes and L.B Crawford bring the boys and girls in from the surrounding territory. The farthest route covers 6 miles, reaching out beyond Wilsonville.
C.E. Matthews is athletic director. Basket ball, volley ball and track athletics are featured. The varsity teams have been cut out, as many of the boys live out in the country and have to return when the buss makes its start, and consequently they have no chance to practice. More and more attention is being paid to training all the students and less effort is being made to build up special teams for competitive games. The students find recreation and an opportunity to compete in the annual field day games.
You can search the state over and you will find no high school in a town larger than Columbiana where such an opportunity is given in musical instruction. A brass band with 19 pieces is being organized, P.F. Bria, Birmingham, is the leader. Charles McDaniel is president of the Shelby County High School bank, and A.B. Gordon, is secretary. There is a chorus class of 40 voices of which Clyde Godwin is president, and Beth Wallace secretary. The boys and girls also have a chance to take violin instruction under Mrs. W.L. Longshore.
There is one person whose influence in musical circles has not only been felt at home but abroad for Mildred White Wallace, who directs the music, is beloved in Columbiana, but much sought after in Alabama. Her presence on any musical program means a stellar attraction. The gods have been good to her as she is not only a great singer but has made fame and fortune as a composer. She composed the alma mater for Shelby County High School as well as the song for the City School. She is always featured at the Alabama Writers' Conclave held annually at Montevallo.
The Columbiana City School has the following faculty: Miss Frances Smith, Mrs. C.E. Niven, Miss Irene Bishop, Miss Ettie Smith and Miss Gertrude Bishop. Enrollment in each school averages about 150.
There is an active Parent-Teachers Association at Columbiana. The membership is around 100. Mrs. J.W. Letson is president, and Mrs. J.H. Crawford is secretary. Their good work can be seen inside and outside of both schools.
We had a pleasant visit with J.W. Letson, county superintendent of education. If you wish to know what progress Shelby County is making in educational development note the fact that in the last two years 66 new class rooms have been built and five auditoriums at a cost of more than $200,000. Miss Zera King is supervisor, and Marjory Beulah is in charge of welfare work, acting as attendance officer.
Columbiana is not without its literary activities as the Culture Club is functioning with a marked degree of success. Mrs. T.H. Kirby is president and Mrs. J.H. Crawford secretary.
The Shelby County Health Department was organized in January, 1929. At present it is specializing on school examinations and prophylactic clinics. Dr. R.W. Ball heads it. Miss Mamie Jo Harbin is nurse, while Mrs. Eunice Luttrell is secretary. The State Department of Health has lent for a while G.M. Tate, sanitary expert, who will aid in a campaign throughout the county.
Cage Head is judge of probate; Knox E. Wooley is sheriff, J.J. Faulkner is chief deputy, Steadman Wood is tax collector, L.E. Christian is tax assessor, W.T. Taylor, Jr., is circuit clerk, while J.M. Leonard, Jr. is register in chancery.
The board of commissioners are: W.E. Merrill, M.S.B. Jones, W.W. Wyatt, J.M. Frost and T.R. Nash.
W.F. Davis is mayor, Mrs. W.L. Christian is clerk, and the board of aldermen is made up of: Ed Atchinson, Mrs. W.L. Christian, L.L. Saxon and Max Lefkovitz.
The Masons of Columbiana have a right to be proud of their handsome new Masonic Hall, which occupies a prominent corner. Officers of the A.F. & A.M., Shelby Lodge No. 140, are L.H. Ellis, worshipful master; R.I. Dyer, senior warden; Cecil Faulkner, junior warden; T.R. Walton, treasurer; L.E. Christian, secretary, and R.J. Owens, tyler.
We attended the annual session of Exchange Clubs recently held at Columbiana, and to say that it treated the visitors royally is but to tell the simple truth. Nothing was too good for the “strangers within the gates.”
At the last election of the club, A.A. Lauderdale was elected president, his office having begun July 1. Other officers chosen to serve with Mr. Lauderdale are: J.W. Stone, teacher of vocational agriculture in the high school, vice president; T.H. Kirby, principal of the high school, secretary; W.L. Christian, cashier of Columbiana Savings Bank, treasurer. Mr. Christian has held his office continuously since the club was organized. Dr. R.W. Ball, E.W. Atchinson and T.R. Walton were elected to serve as members of the board of control.
The Columbiana Savings Bank has a capital of $35,000 and surplus and undivided profits, $15,000. W.F. Davis is president; W.W. Wallace vice president, and W.L. Christian cashier. These with the following compose the board of directors: T.S. Jackson, J.T. Finley and Max Lefkovitz.
The town is in the heard of a rich agricultural center as well as a mineral section, but its business is largely with farmers, although the Alabama Cooperage Company, with H.L. Nichols, local manager, has one of the finest and most modern equipped stave plants in the country. It employs about 50 men. There is also a large gin, and a cotton warehouse in town.
Of course we paid a visit to our friend Luther Fowler, editor and publisher of the Shelby County Reporter, and Joe M. Holladaye his business manager.
We visited Yamakita to get a look at the swimming pool and to drink some of the water which for more than a half century made Shelby Springs famous throughout Alabama.