History of Pelham

~ The Gateway of Opportunity ~

By Bobby Joe Seales

"Pelham Memories: A Pictorial History"
Presented By Bobby Joe & Diane Seales
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Area View of Pelham ~ Before 1909

Photo Description: A lay of the land of Pelham before 1909. Building No. 1 is the Rutherford High School; Building No. 2 is the Cumberland Presbyterian Church; Building No. 3 is the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Rutherford High School and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was destroyed by a "cyclone" on April 12, 1909. Note the Methodist Episcopal Church is facing North, it was later "turned around" to face U.S. Highway 31. The house in the photograph, in front of and between Building No. 2 and Building No. 3, is the Turpin Family house. The original of this photograph, along with many other "old" original photographs of Pelham, are in a collection owned by Bobby Joe and Diane Seales.

Shelby County was created by an act of the Alabama Territorial General Assembly on February 7, 1818, before Alabama became statehood on December 14, 1819. Shelby County was named for Isaac Shelby, Kentucky's soldier and first governor of Kentucky, who had been a Revolutionary War hero and had refused election to a second term as governor in order to fight the Indian Wars.

Pelham, Shelby County, Alabama acquired its name in approximately 1867. It was named after the “Gallant Pelham” who fought in the Confederate Army and was killed in action at Kelly's Ford, Virginia on March 17, 1863 at the young age of 24. It is my understanding and I believe to be a very reliable and accurate source of information, through a personal interview in 1971 with Mrs. Lula McClinton Smith Davis (1889-1983) from Pelham, that she had always heard and that her daddy (Samuel M. McClinton, 1869-1932) had always told her that Major John Pelham "helped set-up camp here in Pelham and camped overnight along with his troup in the bend of the creek" (she was referring to the "bend of the creek" at Peavine Creek, just below where it branches from Buck Creek). (Through later additional research her grandfather was James R. McClinton, born about 1831 in Shelby County Alabama, and her great-grandfather was James B. McClinton, born about 1811 in South Carolina, and they all were living in Shelby County Alabama within the 1840 census records.) In many other interviews I was told this same story from the "older residents" of Pelham, Shelby County, Alabama. Shortly after the Civil War ended this community in Shelby County, once known as Shelbyville, became known as Pelham, Alabama.

Before this time the first county courthouse, which was fashioned of logs, was located at Shelbyville, which has long since been deserted. However, it is known to have been located within the present day city limits of Pelham. The first county court was held “the fourth Monday in April 1818.” Records show that this courthouse was built complete with benches at a cost of $53.00. Although never intended as a permanent building, sessions were held there until 1826 when the county seat was moved to Columbia, which later became known as Columbiana.

The original old Shelby County courthouse records are currently maintained at the “Old 1854 Courthouse” located in Columbiana, Alabama, operated by the Shelby County Historical Society, Inc. The Shelby County Museum & Archives is housed in this 150+ year-old building that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Shelby Guide, Columbiana, Tuesday, April 23, 1872, “Letter from Pelham … Mr. Editor: Permit us to say a word in behalf of our little village, situated in the Cahaba Valley, (on the play ground of my childhood) on the South and North Railroad, two and a half miles below the wonderfully growing town of Helena, and nineteen miles from the famous city of Birmingham, fourteen miles from the anticipated city of Calera, and in a community that will rank with any in the State in point of intelligence – every man for miles around takes the Guide. About two weeks ago eight or ten lots were purchased jointly by Col. J.F. B. Jackson, the energetic contractor of the South and North Alabama Railroad and Mr. A. Shaw, the popular and efficient Assistant Superintendent of the S. & N. road, Col. J.C. Robinson, of Selma, Ala., all of whom are men of capital and influence. We now have one store owned by J.C. Robinson, he keeps everything usually kept in a village store; one physician, Dr. W.B. Cross, whose past skill and social disposition rarely fails to disperse all gloom from the sick room; one boarding house, kept by our worthy friend Alex. Richards, who offers to the public as good fare and on as reasonable terms as can be had at any station on the road; one picture gallery, by C.C. O'Bar, who does first-rate work; one blacksmith shop and a rock quarry. Our depot building, which is in state of completion, is said to be the best on the road. The energetic citizens of the village and vicinity have just completed a large and commodious Academy, built on the latest and most improved style, and have an interesting school under the superintendence of Rev. C.L. Kirksey, nearly fifty pupils – one-fifth from various parts of the County and State; also one grist and flouring mill, owned by W.C. Denson, and one by Mr. Lee; one brickyard by Capt. Ransom who now has several thousand brick out under the frying influence of “Old Sol.” And just as certain as “Old Sol” continues to shine, if we can get “Honest John” to come up and take an owl's eye view of the place and blow us an honest blast on his sonorous horn, we will eclipse Birmingham and take Helena in out of the cold, and have the court-house back within one quarter of a mile of where it formerly stood. But before we close a word of caution to – “But since Sip is dead” Nothing more should be said – peace to his memory and a long life to his “Friend.” Every yours honestly, Bilibus.”

The “Alabama State Gazetteer and Business Directory” dated 1887-1888, describes Pelham as follows: “Shelby County; L&N Railroad; A village, 20 miles northwest of Columbiana, the county seat, and 78 miles north of Montgomery; Bank at Birmingham; Population 250; Express, Southern; Mail daily, Wm. Oates, postmaster.” Businesses listed were: “C.C. O'Barr, dentist and shoemaker; M.J. O'Barr, hotel; E.F. Benson, physician; W.C. Benson, grist mill and justice; A.W. Cost, constable; James Cost & Son, general store; W.P. Cost, blacksmith; W.S. Cross, general store; Fuller & Harris, lumber manufacturers; W.R.K. Johnson, physician; Rev. T.B. McCain [Methodist]; Mackey, Benson & Co., general store; S.R. Oates, general store; Rev. E.H. Taul [Baptist]; Rev. D.Y. Wyatt [Presbyterian].”

On March 30, 1964 a public meeting was held in the Pelham School Building for discussing the incorporation of the Town of Pelham. Thirty-five people attended this meeting and Mr. Paul Yeager acted as the moderator. Pelham was officially incorporated as a Town on July 10, 1964, at which time they had a population within their boundaries of 654. A public election was held on September 1, 1964 and Paul Yeager was elected Mayor. The following received a majority vote in the race for Council: A.M. Hinds [Place No. 1], Allen Wilson [Place No. 2], J.T. Shelton [Place No. 3] and Joe Hodges [Place No. 5]. A runoff election for Place No. 4 was held between Burk Dunaway and Roy David Jowers. Burk Dunaway won. Pelham became the 11th incorporated municipality in the county. Mayor Yeager believed in the growth and progress of the Town and that the first major project of the Town would be to "put in a water system and have fire protection." Mayor Yeager called the first meeting of the Town Council on the 5th day of October 1964. Mrs. Willie Mae Lee Dennis (1922-2009) was elected Town Clerk. Mr. Allen Wilson was nominated as Mayor Pro Tempore. The Board of Education and the State of Alabama deeded the former Pelham Elementary School building and the property to the Town for a Town Hall. The Police Department was organized and a car purchased, fully equipped. Mr. L.A. Wilkerson was appointed to serve as the first policeman. Later Mr. James M. Coates served on a part-time basis. Founded in 1964 as a volunteer fire department, Roy David Jowers served as the first volunteer Fire Chief. For ten years Mr. O.C. Ray served as the second volunteer Fire Chief, until the fire department evolved into a full-time department with William A. “Bill” Bryars as the first full-time Fire Chief.

On March 1, 1965 the water system was the item of discussion. On December 6, 1965 Mr. Roy Damron accepted the job as Chief of Police and also became the Superintendent of the Water Works Board. In October 1965 a well was drilled on Town property but was not satisfactory. A new well had to be drilled. Mayor Yeager worked untiringly to secure every possible means of getting the water system installed. Mr. Ralph Sorrell and Mr. Willie Coates gave the land for the construction of the 300,000 gallon steel reservoir to be erected by Chicago Bridge & Iron Company of Birmingham, Alabama. The Town of Pelham was awarded a United States Water Loan on September 30, 1966. A second well was drilled in 1966 on this "newly" acquired property; and this well met all requirements. On Thursday, February 9, 1967, the huge tank was full of water and the dedication of the Water Works System was held. Mr. Kenneth Byrd, Engineer, Kenneth Byrd Company, turned the switch "for the system to be officially turned on."

"The gateway of opportunity" began to open in August 1966 when Moore-Handley, Inc. moved their facilities into the area. The Bank of Pelham was organized and chartered in 1972 and it's building was located in the "new" Pelham Plaza Shopping Center. Today, Pelham is one of the fastest-growing cities of its size in Alabama. Located in the foothills of Oak Mountain, scenic neighborhoods offer a retreat from the busy world. It's a wonderful place to call home and a great place to visit. Businesses have discovered this ideal location and understand why people love this community. With the Pelham Civic Complex, world-class Pelham Racquet Club, Oak Mountain Amphitheater, Oak Mountain State Park and Ballantrae Golf Course, Pelham definitely has a wide variety of recreational opportunities for everyone to enjoy. As a leading community in Shelby County, Pelham is the perfect place to be. For further up-to-date information and what's available in Pelham visit their website City of Pelham.

The Shelby Sentinel, Columbiana, Thursday, October 9, 1879, “W. & A. Oats have bought the large store house recently built here by Mr. Thos. Johnson, and expect to move into it soon.” About 1900 the first telephone in the Pelham area was located in the Oates Store.

The first school building, which also served the community as a place of worship for many years, was known as Rutherford High School. On April 12, 1909 it was destroyed by a "cyclone" and was replaced that same year by a two-story wood structure. The second floor was occupied by the I.O.O. F. [Internal Order of Odd Fellows] and the school occupied the first floor.

The Peoples Advocate, Columbiana, Thursday, April 15, 1909, "Cyclone Strikes Pelham; Houses Are Blown Down... Pelham, Ala., April 13. - One of the heaviest wind and rain storms for many years passed over this place last night, causing considerable alarm and doing a great deal of damage. The Presbyterian church, the school house and the Odd Fellows hall at this place were blown down, and just across the mountain east of this place, the residence of Mr. Will Coats was also blown down, Mr Coats himself, receiving several painful but not serious injuries. Considerable other damage was done to fences, out-houses, etc., in different parts of the county."

In 1940-1941 the Pelham Elementary School [grades 1 through 6] was built. For grades 7 through 12 the students were transported to Thompson High School in nearby Siluria. In The Shelby County Reporter-Democrat, Columbiana, Thursday, April 26, 1951, Mrs. Zora Powell Dunnaway reports "... It [Pelham Elementary School building] was moved from Nualla [Newala is located between Calera and Montevallo] and rebuilt here. It consisted of four large classrooms, an auditorium, halls and lunch room ... The teachers are: Mrs. Sarah Walker, Principal; Mrs. Lesta Lucas, Mrs. Lucille Campbell, Mrs. Edith Eaves and Miss Alta Moore ...." This was the building that many of the older citizens today are familiar with. In 1964 the present-day Valley School replaced the Pelham Elementary School. Valley Elementary School closed it's doors at the end of 2015-2016 school year (May 27, 2016) for a new facility next school year. This was the end of the name "Valley Elementary School". The Town Hall operated from this old school building that was later torn-down and the existing Pelham City Hall was constructed in its location in 1975. The existing Pelham High School was constructed in 1973, opened in 1974, and the first graduating class was in 1978.

Felix A. Vann served the Pelham Methodist Circuit as pastor from November 23, 1896 to November 27, 1899. This Methodist Circuit was known as Pelham-Elyton Circuit. The parsonage was located in Helena on the Elyton-Montevallo Road. The church had grown with so many members they built their first church building and organized the New Methodist Episcopal Church, South with eighty-five members. Mr. Shell Cross deeded the property to the church. The dedication of the new building was held on November 19, 1898. The sanctuary today is built around the first building and on many occasions it served as the only church in Pelham. In 1970 Bobby Joe and Diane Seales compiled an extensive history of The Pelham Methodist Church.

In the year 1901 the Cumberland Presbyterians built them a place of worship; however, it was destroyed by a windstorm on April 11, 1909 and was never rebuilt. This was the second church organized and the second church building built in Pelham.

The first Alabama Baptist summer assembly, or encampment, was held at Shelby Springs in Shelby County Alabama on August 22-29, 1910. Each summer, beginning in 1912 and extending through 1918, the Alabama Baptist held their summer assemblies at Pelham Heights. James H. Chapman, Professor of Religion at Howard College in Birmingham and former Pastor at Tuscumbia and Assistant State Executive Secretary, was general manager of this encampment and its program. After holding summer assemblies at Pelham Heights with a good measure of success the auditorium fell into disrepair, the other buildings were in need of repair, and the water supply had never been adequate, it was necessary to have the 1919 assembly at Howard College. Later it was moved to Mentone Springs, Alabama.

The Pelham Baptist Church was accepted into the Shelby County Baptist Association in 1909. It was organized with 15 charter members; Rev. J.L. McRemey was Pastor and Mr. G.H. Price was the Church Clerk. When the church report was given on August 31, 1909 it was shown to have a membership of 17. In a personal interview in 1970 with Mrs. Lula Davis of Pelham she related to me that she and her husband joined the Baptist Church in August 1909. In 1909 she was Mrs. Lula Smith and her husband was Mr. Cleve Smith. If this were correct, which I feel as though it is, it would account for the increase of two in membership as reported on August 31, 1909. Thus, Mr. and Mrs. Cleve Smith were not charter members, but were the first two to join the Baptist Church after it was organized. Rev. McRemey pastored Pelham Baptist Church for only a short period of time and after he left the church ceased. In late 1912 the Baptist Church was reorganized and Rev. S.A. Taylor served as Pastor. This would have been after the first encampment at Pelham Heights in the summer of 1912. They held their services in the Methodist Church building until they built their place of worship. James A. and Mollie Johnston sold this property to the Baptist Church on July 22, 1915. As reported at the Southern Baptist Church Conference on August 4, 1915, "S.A. Taylor, Pastor; Mr. L.D. West, Church Clerk; Forty-three present number of members, 18 of them were males; Present population within three miles were 600; Regular preaching was once a month; Value of the church house and lot when completed would be $1,160.00, and would accommodate 300 with sittings." In 1970 Bobby Joe and Diane Seales compiled an extensive history on The First Baptist Church of Pelham. In 1932 Mr. John Payne Lee, Sr., better known as Judge Lee, was one of the men to reorganize the Baptist Church and worked for many years to "keep it going." In 1932 he was appointed by the Governor of Alabama to be the Justice of the Peace and he served on this job in Pelham for 28 years. His courthouse is still standing on the home place on Lee Street where he held court on Saturday afternoons. On September 8, 1965, after the Town of Pelham had become a municipality, the name Pelham Baptist Church was changed to The First Baptist Church of Pelham. Bobby Joe Seales was voted by the church on October 4, 1967 to serve as Music & Youth Director. He was accepted into the full fellowship of the church on November 8, 1967; his church membership was moved from Concord Baptist Church in Calera, Shelby County, Alabama.

Pelham is located on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and the Seaboard Coastline Railroad. In early days the L&N Railroad served as their major transportation line in and out of the area. A depot was once located between the L&N Railroad and what is now known as Lee Street.

Lee Street is congruent to what once was known as The Montevallo-Ashville Road, which served as their major stagecoach road of travel. For many years U.S. Highway 31, first a two-lane highway and much later a four-lane highway, was the only highway that would carry you through Pelham from the North and South directions. Today, there is also Interstate 65.

Visit Pelham City Cemetery Census for additional information and facts about Pelham.

The first postmaster to serve the Pelham area was Mr. William “Bill” Oates. His term ended in 1893 and Mrs. Cynthia Allen O'Barr began her term. In 1915 she began operating the Post Office under the Civil Service Act. Other early postmistresses were Mrs. Mary McGuire Walton, served from April 20, 1920 to April 30, 1954, and Mrs. Willie Brasher Yeager, served from May 1, 1954 until her retirement in January 1976. Other nearby post offices, now located in the "present-day" city limits of Pelham, were: Highland Post Office, established August 6, 1850, discontinued on July 25, 1866, re-established on June 23, 1874 and discontinued on October 31, 1900. Richard S. Griffin served as the first postmaster beginning August 6, 1850. Other postmasters were Squire H. Burgess, Edward Bailey, Alvah Payne, William L. Cross, Matthew J.T. Harper, Thomas B. Miller and James T. McGlown. Quito Post Office, established February 14, 1889 and discontinued on February 29, 1916. Susan V. Johnson was appointmed the first postmistress on February 14, 1889. Other postmasters included Isaac Johnson, William M. Allan, Walter E. Cross and William M. Allan. Also, at one time the Keystone community had their own post office. Visit Keystone Lime Company's Plant, one of the greatest of its kind in all the Southern States.

The Shelby Sentinel, Columbiana, Thursday, February 6, 1879, "On Tuesday last we made a flying trip to the village of Pelham, located on the S. & N. railroad in this county. We found it thoroughly permeated with life, activity and enterprise. Its stirring merchants, Messrs. W. & A. Oates and James Cost & Son, are doing a fine business. The farmers of all that section of Shelby, as well as numbers of them from the adjoining counties of Jefferson and St. Clair, now find this village an excellent market, both for selling their cotton and purchasing goods, and are availing themselves of it. A thousand or twelve hundred bales will be shipped from this point the present season. We noticed, also that Messrs. T. & J. Johnson have a large and commodious storehouse in process of erection. When completed it will be one of the largest business houses in the county. We noticed also two new residences recently completed. The Pelham school under the management of Mr. Shell Cross, we learn, is in a flourishing condition, numbering about 45 pupils in regular attendance. The ring of the saw and hammer, the cotton wagons coming and going, the wagons hauling in the lime rock for shipment to Oxmoor, the busy merchants, the frequently passing trains, all tended to give this place an air of thrift, energy and enterprise not surpassed by any village in this section of the State. Hurrah for Pelham."

The Souvenir First Edition of the weekly "Pelham Sun" - Vol. 1, No. 1, dated November 19, 1975 was brought to Pelham, Helena and the Cahaba Valley by Publisher Arthur P. Cook of The Sun Newspapers. The Pelham Sun joined the rapidly-growing family of Sun Newspapers which included The Homewood Sun, The Vestavia Sun, The Hoover Sun, The Shades Valley Sun, The Bessemer Sun and The Hueytown Sun.

In 2009 the weekly newspaper publication, The Pelham Reporter came into existence with the first issue dated August 8, 2009.

“The new educational facility will be ready for grades seven, eight and nine in September of 1974. The students will number approximately 400 in the seventh, eight and ninth grades in September of 1974, with a total enrollment by 1977 of about 1,000 students. The class facilities are designed for the traditional class room as well as the open concept in some areas. Pelham High School is located on Bearden Road about three quarters of a mile west of Highway 31.”

For an effort so long in the making, the actual arrival of the Pelham City School System came quickly September 9, 2013. The Pelham City Council gave birth to the city school system. On November 18, 2013 the Pelham City Council appointed Pelham residents Paul Howell, Angie Hester, Brian Long, Dr. Barbara Regan and Rick Rhoades to serve on the city's first school board, which will work to negotiate the city’s split with the Shelby County School System. The council held a swearing-in ceremony for the five board members on December 3, 2013 at the Pelham City Hall. The separation agreement, which was approved by both the Shelby County and Pelham Boards of Education on June 5,2014 will enable the Pelham Board of Education to begin operating as an independent school district on July 1, 2014. The first official day of school for the Pelham City School System was August 7, 2014.

Please continue to check back often, as I am continually updating and adding more information, for your enjoyment, to the  "History of Pelham ~ The Gateway of Opportunity."

 Click here for "PELHAM - MORE HISTORY THAN YOU THINK!" by A.J. Wright New

In Memory

Thursday, July 10, 1980, Shelby County News, "The city of Pelham was in mourning this week for the death of Paul Lloyd Yeager, the city's first mayor and the man who guided Shelby County's fastest growing municipality for 12 years. Yeager, age 66, died Thursday, July 3. Funeral services for the civic leader were held Saturday at Pelham United Methodist Church, with city, county, and other officials attending the services. An overflow crowd attended the services. burial followed in Pelham Cemetery with Valley Chapel directing. Yeager was first elected mayor of Pelham in 1964. He was re-elected to that post in 1968 and again in 1972. He helped guide Pelham during its early years and during the rapid growth years of the city in the late 1960's and 1970's... Survivors include his wife, Mrs. Willie Lavera Brasher Yeager; three sons, James Austin Yeager of Washington, D.C., David Winston Yeager of Virginia Beach, Va., and William Paul Yeager of Pelham; a daughter, Miss Patricia Anne Yeager of Pelham; a brother, Henry Yeager of Meridian, Miss.; and a sister, Mrs. Mableton Easterling."

Thursday, February 16, 2011, Shelby County Reporter, "Alton Burk Dunaway, Jr., age 79, native and life-long resident of Shelby County, passed away Wednesday night, Feb. 9, 2011. He served on the original Pelham City Council for 12 years and was the city’s second mayor for eight years. A U.S. Navy veteran, he was a member of Lakeview Pelham’s First United Methodist Church. Burk was preceded in death by his father and mother, Alton Burk Dunaway Sr. and Clara Ocie Braswell Dunaway. Survivors include Burk’s wife, Fay Dunaway; daughter, Kristie Thornton (Jason); son, Michael Dunaway (Shannon); grandchildren, Patrick Dunaway, Kenley Thornton and Zac Hinds; sister, Carrie Sue Hinds; and many cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. The funeral service was at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011, in the chapel of Ridout’s Southern Heritage Funeral Home, Pelham, with Rev. Stephen Strange officiating. Burial, Pelham City Cemetery."