Early History of Calera


Early History of Calera, Alabama

By Bobby Joe Seales

Church Street ~ Calera, Alabama

Church Street ~ Calera, Alabama

The building in the above photo published on a post card by Peoples Drug Company, is Calera Baptist Church. The Calera Baptist Church was first constituted August 20, 1882 with four members and was received into the Shelby Baptist Association that same year. The first pastor was T.F. Thomasson. After the first church building burned, a new edifice was built in 1884. A rather peculiar characteristic of this building, as noted in the above photo, was its twin steeples, one round steeple and one square steeple. This building was remodeled and brick veneered in 1952.

Church Street ~ Calera, Alabama

Another view of Church Street ~ Calera, Alabama

The building in the above photo published on a post card for D.R. Shaw, Photographer, Calera, Ala. is Calera Methodist Church with the Calera Baptist Church in the far background. The first pastor in 1885 was R.A. Thompson as recorded in the Calera Methodist Church records and the earliest recorded member was Emma J. Saunders.

As indicated in "Early History of Calera, Alabama,"  by Barbara Baker Roberts, published in 1976 by Times Printing Company, Montevallo, Alabama, the first white settler in the vicinity of Calera, Shelby County Alabama, was John R. Gamble, 1792-1863. He was a native of Ireland and a soldier in the American Revolution. Public records indicate that on August 31, 1821 John R. Gamble bought over 100 acres of land, today located approximately one mile north of Calera. In 1825 he sold a parcel of land located in the Spring Creek area to William Wilson. However, John R. Gamble and his family were first indicated in the 1830 Shelby County Alabama census records. Apparently he decided to leave his Shelby County homestead, and on September 8, 1838 he applied for membership in the quarterly conference of the Methodist Church at Gold Mine Camp Ground near the Marion and Walker County line. He was assigned as a local Methodist preacher on the Blount Circuit of the Walker Mission and spent the rest of his life in Walker County Alabama.

In addition to John R. Gamble there were a few hardy pioneers, mainly from South Carolina, who made their stakes at or near Calera with "farming" as the major occupation. Names of other early landowners before 1850 were (1) William Watson, born about 1816 (2) Richard Green, probable son-in-law to Elijah Seale (3) Robert Hartley (4) Daniel Muse (5) Virgil N. Gardner (6) Samuel A. Wallace (7) Maraday Busby, a Methodist Minister, born about 1788 (8) William Moore (9) Elizabeth Fields (10) Thomas Crim, born about 1814 (11) Hardy Crim, born about 1795 (12) Robert H. Crim (13) Edmund King (14) John Brooks (15) Rev. William Seale.  Only a few families lived in Calera in early 1850, and the small community was called Buxahatchie. When the railroad arrived and lime workers came to settle, the place acquired the name of Limeville. A Confederate post office was established during the war years, the postmasters during this time were James A. Mullins, N. McQueen, and H.V. Boyd, and according to early records Daniel T. Seale served as a mail carrier. Again, some time during the war the name was changed to Lime Kilns, also referred to as Lime City and Lime Station. In 1860 "Limeville Baptist Church" was constituted with fifteen members. The pastor was Daniel T. Seale, son of one of the early settlers, Rev. William Seale.  According to railroad schedules and post office records, the community name was changed to Calera between February 21, 1869 and May 10, 1869, when the U.S. post office was established and the first postmaster was Almon B. Turner, Jr., followed on December 9, 1870 by Oscar Nabors. Calera comes from the Latin word "calx" meaning lime.

A major event in the history of Calera was the arrival of the first railroad, chartered March 4, 1848, and the tracks were laid in Calera sometime between January 1854 and June 15, 1855.  "The first through trains between Louisville, Kentucky and Montgomery, Alabama through Calera ran September 28, 1872."  Today you can travel back to the railroad age at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera. The museum contains a restored depot and railroad cars that sit outside the depot. A train, complete with snack and gift shop car, passenger cars from 1910-1950, engine, and caboose takes passengers down the rails through the forest.

While the lime industry gave the community its name and played a dominant role in Calera's history, it was not until after the Confederate war did lime become an important commodity contributing to the rapid growth of the community.  "In 1865 this was the only site in the county burning and shipping lime."

Shelby Guide, dated Thursday, November 30, 1871, indicate "Calera. - This place is located at the crossing of the S., R. & D. R.R., and the South and North Railroad. Parties who may desire to establish themselves in business there, would do well to address R.C. Blichfeldt. The citizens desire a first class Drug Store, one first class Dry Goods Store, one first class Family Grocery, Hardware and Crockery, a family who will keep a private boarding house for 10 or 12 regular boarders, a Baker, a Watch Maker, a Blacksmith, a Wagon Maker, a Tinsmith, a Shoe Maker and a Barber. As mechanics, Scandivanians and Germans preferred. As an encouragement to those who may desire to settle there Mr. Blichfeldt agrees to give a lot in fee simple, to any one upon which to build a business house, provided the offer is accepted in six months. Lumber can be laid down at Calera at $12.50 per thousand."

The major industry in Calera continued to be the manufacture of lime. In 1882 several lime kilns were operating, owned by J.D. Hardy, N.B. Dare, R.E. O'Brien, and John W. Hardy. In 1883 they formed a corporation known as the Alabama Lime Company and as indicated in the Shelby Sentinel, dated January 1, 1885,  "Calera had grown to a small town of about 207 inhabitants."

Another successful industry was the Calera Shoe Factory, owned and operated by J.H. Dunstan. At the state fair in 1887 the Calera Shoe Factory won a prize for the best exhibit of Alabama manufactured shoes.

Calera was noted for its fine hotels, boarding houses and restaurants. The first hotel was built by Mr. Welch in the autumn of 1872. However, it burned in 1874. The three major hotels, all conveniently located near the train depot, were (1) The Moss House, owned by Mr. Henry C. Moss, 1847-1904, and operated by Elbert F. Horton. (2) The Calera House, or, as it was later called, The Calera Hotel or The Campbell House, probably the oldest of the three, was the major hotel in 1882. It was operated by Mrs. J.D. Campbell. As indicated in the Shelby Sentinel, dated May 11, 1882, "the building was rolled closer to the crossing." (3) The Vanderbilt was Calera's most renowned hotel. It was built in 1882 by Isaac N. Breazeale, 1831-1913, a noted hotel operator in Calera. A colorful account of Calera's Vanderbilt Hotel is given in Historic Alabama Hotels & Resorts, by James F. Sulzby, Jr., 1960, pages 255-258. Another noted hotel, The Commercial Hotel, was owned in 1885 by R.M. Pilgreen, 1839-1934. This hotel, opened under the name, The Commercial Hotel, was possibly the same as The Calera Hotel.

The Shelby Sentinel, dated January 18, 1883, indicated that there had been a school in Calera for "two or three years."  The Shelby Sentinel, dated December 11, 1884, indicated the following people on honor roll for teacher Mrs. E.C. Lawrence, "Jessie Breazeale, Minna Brame, Mary Mosteller, Carrie West, and Mamie Harrison."  On August 7, 1885 the citizens of Calera met to organize support for a permanent public high school. The first elected officials to serve on the school board were Henry C. Moss, 1847-1904, Jasper Holcomb, Thomas J. Wells, 1845-1921, Col. John P. West and Charlton C. Oliver, 1847-1911. Professor Jim Langston served as the first appointed principal.

"Calera is the best market in this part of the state for all kinds of produce," as indicated in the Shelby Sentinel, dated November 8, 1883.

A very popular social activity in Calera was fancy dress balls. The Shelby News, dated April 2, 1891, indicate that one was given at The Commercial Hotel in March 1891. Featuring a live band, this occasion was called the "most entertaining and brilliant event in the history of Calera." The Calera Journal, dated December 25, 1891, indicated that Mr. and Mrs. T.R. Wagner led the grand march at a Christmas ball held at Black's Hall, which was festively decorated with "evergreens and lanterns" for the occasion. Young couples from other towns often attended these dances.

Games were a favorite form of amusement for the people of Calera. Euchre was apparently a popular game, as the town had a Euchre Club. Tiddledywinks and checkers were also played. The Shelby News, dated June 11, 1891, indicate, "Three of the town's avid checker players are John P. West, Dock Bailey, and Dr. Armstrong."

As Calera grew and progressed, citizens felt the need to organize a town government. On December 21, 1881 R.M. Pilgreen and nineteen other male inhabitants filed a petition for incorporation. At that time, the residents were not in total accord on the matter of incorporation. It was not until January 29, 1885 that a petition was presented in the state legislature for the incorporation of Calera. The election took place "the first Tuesday in June 1887," and Calera's first elected officials, as indicated in the Shelby Sentinel, dated June 7, 1887, were mayor, John H. Dunstan; aldermen from Ward One: H.C. Moss (two years) and John Black (one year); Ward Two: Joseph V. Teague (two years) and W.H. Whatley (one year); Ward Three: John Pilgreen (two years) and E.T. Seale (one year); Ward Four: J.D. Hardy (two years) and W.H. Huston (one year).

Several newspapers have been published in Calera over the years: the Shelby Sentinel, the Tariff and Labor Advocate, the Farmers' Alliance, the Shelby News, the Calera Journal, all of the nineteenth century; the Calera News, the Shelby County Review, and the Calera Independent, published in the twentieth century. The earliest of these, the Shelby Sentinel, formerly called the Shelby Guide, was first published by P.T. Wagner in Columbiana in 1875 and moved its offices to Calera in late 1883 and "acquired new headquarters upstairs in the Holcomb building."

If you have any further historical information or photographs concerning Calera or if you have further information on any of the people, dates, or events mentioned above please contact Akridge Arboretum & Calera Historical Society, P.O. Box 699, Calera, AL 35040.

Click Here  for order information on "Early History of Calera, Alabama"  by Barbara Baker Roberts. Limited quantity remaining.

Visit City of Calera website.

In Memory
Dr. Barbara Baker Roberts
Sunday, November 29, 1992 ~ Mrs. Barbara Baker Roberts, 58, of Vestavia Hills died Friday. She was a member of Cahaba Heights United Methodist Church and the Alabama Historical Society, and received degrees from the University of Montevallo, Samford University and the University of Alabama. She was a retired teacher from Samford, past president and co-founder of Shelby County Historical Society, and a writer. Funeral will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday at Valley Chapel, with burial in Jones Bailey Cemetery...."

Calera Railroad Map ~ 1904

In 1904 Calera was the "Railroad Center of Shelby County"
from the Shelby County Sentinel published in Calera, Alabama

A Picture of Old Calera
By  Mary Nichols Curtis

I may never see a picture of old Calera
But I carry one in my mind -
A collage from my early days
Entwined with family tales:
Small frame houses and the old drugstore,
Backyard gardens with poppies and marigolds,
The taste of cool water from the well,
The Salem Cemetery on the hill
With old graves and wild flowers,
The L&N train roaring in to the old depot,
And tiny simple churches,
Winding country roads
Around mounds of Cherokee roses,
And arrowheads from ancient days
And a covered bridge
And the cooperage with its fragrance of yellow pine,
And the great lime kiln that towered high,
Sifting its fine white powder over all.
Bleak and ugly, sometimes - that lime kiln -
But at other times
Caught in light against a dark blue sky,
Stark and dramatic and unforgettable,
To be stored away in memories
And sometimes brought out
To get one through the day.

~ Appeared in 1978 ALALITCOM, the publication of The Alabama Ariters' Conclave ~