History of Wilsonville


History of Wilsonville

Shelby County Reporter
Thursday, April 4, 1957

~ and ~

The Childersburg News
Friday, March 29, 1957

INSERT: This history, as indicated in the Shelby County Reporter, was written by T.O. Smith, Jr. as a 13 year old Boy Scout in passing off requirements for a Scout Merit Badge. However, The Childersburg News, indicates  "The history of Wilsonville was written by Tom Smith, 17-year-old high school student of Wilsonville, son of Mr. and Mrs. T.O. Smith. Mrs. Smith is a sixth grade teacher at Childersburg and Mr. Smith is postmaster at Wilsonville (having served in this capacity for the past 20 years)."   In April 2000 Thomas Overton Smith, III, the writer of this article, was living in Aiken, South Carolina. He informed me that he was 13 years old at the time it was written.

Copied by Bobby Joe Seales

A Busy Day In Wilsonville, Alabama

A Busy Day in Wilsonville, Alabama

In 1905, about the time this photo was made, the following business houses were operating in Wilsonville: Black and Weldon, Druggist, Jos. B. Boyer, Physician, D.W. Edwards, Physician, Jackson & Sons, Saw Mill, Pennington & Smith, General Merchandise, J.F. Pope, General Merchandise, R.G. Weldon & Co., General Merchandise, Weldon & Holland, General Merchandise. At that time the population of Wilsonville was 1,095. At that time the population of Columbiana was 1,075. In 1950 the population of Wilsonville was 750. In 1957 there were about 18 business firms in Wilsonville. Miss Aileen Pope furnished the Shelby County Reporter with this photo and it appeared with the History of Wilsonville. An enlarged copy of this photograph now hangs in the Shelby County Museum and Archives.

The town of Wilsonville was started about the time the Indians were driven out of Alabama. A Dutchman named Avehord ran the first store in Wilsonville. He was also the first person to be buried in the Wilsonville Cemetery. One of the next settlers was named Jack Owens who ran a store and saloon in a wooden building where the John Deere Tractor Company is now located.

Wilsonville was on the old Montgomery stage coach road. An early settler named Russell owned the mail route. The mail was carried on horseback. There was a relay station at the Wallace Plantation, four miles north of Wilsonville. Then the railroad was built through Wilsonville to Talladega with wooden rails. It was later extended to Rome, Ga. The depot is the oldest one in Shelby County and was put together with wooden pegs. It is now (1957) half its former size. For many years there were six passenger trains a day. During the Civil War, forts at Yellow Leaf Creek Bridge and the Coosa River Bridge were over-run by the Yankees. After the war the town grew rapidly.

The Jack Owens business was bought out by Colonel Smith who was later bought out by J.T. Pope and Mr. Gowan. The cotton gin run by W.J. Taylor, originally had a coffee pot engine and ginned two bales a day. In 1923, 3700 bales of cotton were ginned. After that gin burned, the present one was built.

The town increased rapidly for many years. In 1900 the population was 1,600. Wilsonville had a drug store, hotel, bank, a Farmer's Alliance store, blacksmith shops, grist mills, flour mills and many other kinds of businesses that we do not have now.

Reese Weldon bought the Farmer's Alliance store and made a general store of it. The Rev. Terrel Edwards' grandfather was Wilsonville's first doctor.

The Presbyterian Church is now the Masonic Hall Building. The Methodist Church is the oldest church in the town. The old Baptist Church faced the road. In 1901 the present Baptist Church was built.

The telephone exchange was owned by the town. A few people had their own acetelyne light plants. On the hill where J.F. Helms, Grady Weaver, and Mrs. Annie Smith live, there was a very large sawmill owned by a Mr. Jackson. All of the workers had their homes close together, so it was called Jackson Town.

There was an old school in Mrs. Carrie Stewart's house about 65 years ago. A wooden school house was built in 1890 on the hill where the brick one now stands. It had only two rooms. Later more were added. In 1918 it burned and for the next year school was held in two vacant houses owned by W.J. Weldon in Jackson Town. Mr. Weldon, Dr. T.O. Smith and W.E. Riddle were trustees of the temporary school. In 1919 the brick building which is still used was built by the citizens of Wilsonville. The final payment was made in 1952. During World War II a wing was added to the West side of the building and a lunch room and rest rooms were added at the back in 1946.

Wilsonville was first incorporated in 1897. G.W. McGowan was the first mayor and Sam Thomas was the first marshal. The town limits included all within a two and one-half mile radius. In 1952 the limits were decreased to a radius of one mile.

The McGowan Ferry, one mile from Wilsonville on the Coosa River, ceased operation in 1939 and Marde's Ferry, two and one-half miles south of town operated until 1942. In 1932 the Wilsonville State Bank failed and since that time there have been fewer businesses. Fires have claimed many old homes and in 1953 a tornado demolished the homes of O.F. and Albert Lokey at Marde's Ferry and several homes of colored families nearby.

Many improvements have come through the years. In 1929 the Alabama Power Company brought us electricity. The highway (25) was paved in 1933. The towns streets were paved in 1936. The town of Wilsonville installed a water works system in 1939. Dr. K.N. Gould moved to the town in 1931 and established a clinic in the old J.T. Pope home, owned at the time by C.W. Williams. It burned in 1936 and for a year the clinic was housed in the old bank building. In 1937, Dr. Gould built the present brick clinic.

Although the population has steadily decreased during the 1900's the World War II period (1940-47) brought many war workers. Wilsonville was overrun, as was every neighboring town, with workers at the defense plants in Childersburg. There were two, three, or four families in nearly every house. A low-rent housing project was built in 1953, and a brick educational building was added to the Baptist Church in 1955.

At present (1957) the population is about 900. S.S. McEwen, D.F. Bolton, Braxton Mooney, Mrs. Helene Weaver, Mrs. Juanita Williams, Mrs. Minnie Storey, and R.G. Weaver are the leading merchants. Austin Mitchell is the town mayor and Robert Foster is the town marshall. Among the outstanding organizations are the Civitan Club, P.T.A., Boy Scouts, American Legion, Masonic Lodge and the Eastern Star.

~ ~ ~
The Childersburg News
Friday, March 29, 1957

 "Wilsonville To Get $150,000,000 Steam Plant On The Coosa River"

~ ~ ~

Shelby County Reporter
Thursday, July 1, 1976

Wilsonville Had County's First Railroad

The first settler of the Wilsonville area was Henry W. Robertson who brought his family from South Carolina in 1812. In 1819, when Alabama became a state, a Mr. Sam Wallace rode horseback to Tuscaloosa with Robertson to be ready to file claim for their lands, approximately 1,000 acres each, when the land office opened in 1821.

The town was named for Adam Wilson, a farmer who moved in shortly after the Robertsons and lived where Wilsonville now stands. His son, Dr. James Wilson, was a farmer and physician.

INSERT: Published in an early issue of The Alabama Historical Review, "The Early Towns Of Shelby County Alabama" ... "Wilsonville. This was an old community named for Dr. Elisha Wilson, the first settler (and related to the Wilsons of the Montevallo community). It was situated on the Southern Railway nine miles northeast of Columbiana and on the Montevallo-Vincent Highway. It was an important point on the old stage route from Montgomery to Huntsville. Around the turn of the century it was the trading point for two excellent farming sections, one known as Four Mile and the other The Kingdom. The largest mercantile establishment in the county was conducted here by Mr. J.F. Pope, probably the largest individual taxpayer in the county at the time."

Another early settler was Sampson Holland who built a flour and grist mill.

The first post office was established in 1834, with Martin K. Ryan as postmaster. Before that an inn served as a post road stop on Robertson's land, called the Macon Field. This Huntsville-to-Montgomery stagecoach road also stopped at Red Lawn, the plantation owned by J.D. Teague. That home is now the home of Mrs. C.D. Whitten, about three miles west of Wilsonville.

When Wilson's Raiders threatened the Coosa at Yellowleaf Creek Forks in 1865, a log cabin was hastily erected at Wilsonville and the Yellowleaf telegraph lines were extended to Wilsonville in order to keep up with the movements of the Confederate and Union armies.

After Wilson's raids, the railroad, called the E. Tennessee, Va., and Ga. was bankrupt and the Shelby County portion was taken over by the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad Co. They replaced the cabin with the first depot in the county. It was put together with pegs.

It is said a Dutchman, Averhard, opened the first store in Wilsonville and was the first buried in the cemetery. Other early families were the Hawkins, Brashers, Selfs, Gwins and McLeods. Later arrivals were the Bolins who owned 1,000 acres reaching from Old Chapel church to Four Mile Creek. The Jones, Owens, Fowlers, Dunkins, Daniels, Denslers and Popes can in the latter part of the century.

Toward the end of the 1800's J.F. Pope bought Col. W.B. Smith's mercantile business and had the large wooden building rolled on logs pulled by oxen to its present location. He built the large brick store in the center of town. It was the largest general merchandise store in the area and by 1923 was still said to be the third largest of its type in the state.

After J.F. Pope's death, his brother W.H. Pope continued as manager. It weathered the Great Depression of the 1930's and carried many farmers to whom the future seemed hopeless. Some of those and their sons are wealthy landowners and planters today in the eastern part of Shelby County.

The Four Mile church is the oldest in the area, organized in 1823. Early families there were the Riddles, Spearmans, McEwens, Stones, Rays and Moores.

The Methodist church is the oldest in Wilsonville. The Wilsonville Baptist Church was organized in 1879. In the latter 1800's a Presbyterian church was build.

The first school was called Wilsonville Academy. A Miss Arthur was the teacher. Around the turn of the century a two-story frame school was built. A number of excellent educators taught the area children and others who came to Wilsonville to board in order to attend.

The building burned in 1917. By the fall of 1918 the citizens had built and paid for a brick building, which is the older part of the present Wilsonville elementary school.

A number of notables have at one time claimed Wilsonville as home. Some of these are Dr. E.B. Teague: Governor Brandon, who was born here when his father was minister of the Methodist Church: Guy Ray, U.S. diplomatic service: Noble McEwen, educator at Duke: Tom Houston, who made a fortune in "Tom's Toasted Peanuts."

Medical doctors here were Dr. J.B. Boyer who came in 1895 and practiced until 1939: Dr. O.E. Black, brother of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black: Dr. T.O. Smith who came in the 1940's.

In 1900 population was close to 1,600. In 1911 it went to 1,095. City limits were drawn in during the 1930's and it went down to 600. Because part of the river front has been annexed the population is now approximately 1,000.

The Archers and Taylors built the first cotton gins in Wilsonville to serve the rich agricultural area surrounding the town.

A major influence in modern Wilsonville is the Gaston steam plant, built in the 1950's by the Southern Electric Generating Company on the banks of the Coosa. The plant is so large and its value so high that for many years the taxes paid by its owners equaled the sum of all the taxes paid by all other landowners in Shelby County. Electricity produced here is used throughout the state and Southeast.

Worldwide attention has recently focused on the pioneer research program at the plant, which liquefies coal for production of electricity without pollution.