History of Shelby County Alabama

Heart of Dixie

Written By Bobby Joe Seales

A County Older Than Its State"

Welcome to Shelby County, "The Heart of Dixie". We're glad you're here taking a look at us, because we're proud of our county and like to show it off. While visiting this site, should you have any questions, comments, or need any assistance that I may help you with, please email me.

Shelby County is the geographic center of the state of Alabama. It is one of now seven counties comprising the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area. The others are Jefferson, Blount, and St. Clair counties and three new additions in June 2003 - Bibb, Chilton, and Walker. Shelby County is bounded by Jefferson and St. Clair counties to the north, by Talladega and Coosa counties to the east, and by Chilton and Bibb counties to the south and southwest.

Shelby County was created by an act of the Alabama Territorial General Assembly on 7 February 1818, from former Creek Indian territory ceded in the Treaty of Fort Jackson on 9 August 1814. Prior to this Creek Indian War of 1814 the land comprised today by the states of Alabama and Mississippi was technically the domain of the southeastern Indian tribes although an act of the United State government, in granting to the area the status of a territory, created on 7 April 1798 the Mississippi Territory with David Holmes Wyatt as governor. Shelby County when created became a part of the Alabama Territory, having been created by an act of Congress in March 1817, and was not granted statehood until 14 December 1819. Shelby County was formed out of the northern portion of what was then Montgomery County having been created 6 December 1816 from a portion of Monroe County that was created 29 June 1815. Originally, Shelby County was one of the largest counties in the state. However, the state legislature soon began carving up the area to create other counties, including St. Clair County, Jefferson, Talladega, and Chilton counties. The marker for the geographic center for the state of Alabama can be found on the steps of Main Hall at the University of Montevallo. The actual geographic center, however, is said to be located in the Richardson-Randall Cemetery, about 2 miles east of Montevallo.

The county was named for Isaac Shelby, a hero of the King's Mountain Battle during the Revolutionary War. Also, he was the first governor of the state of Kentucky, and had refused election to a second term as governor in order to fight the Indian wars. The first courthouse was fashioned of logs, and was located at Shelbyville, long since deserted, however, believed to have been located within the modern-day city of Pelham. It was selected as the county seat in 1820 and the county's first courthouse was built by Thomas Amis Rogers, Alabama's first Secretary of State [he died 22 September 1821], who, along with his neighbor George Phillips, represented the county in the state's first Constitutional Convention in 1819. Judge Thomas W. Smith was the first judge to preside in it. The Shelbyville courthouse, built at a cost of $53, was used until 1826, when the decision was made to move the courthouse and the county seat. 

In 1826 the location of the courthouse was moved to an old school building in Columbia, located in the central part of Shelby County. However, an act of the Legislature changed its name to Columbiana on 13 January 1832, and the county seat was then permanently located at Columbiana. The  "Petition to Incorporate Columbiana"  is found in Will Book "K" dated 10 August 1853 and was signed by A.A. Sterrett, Wm. M. Allen, B.O. Nabors, N.B. Mardis, R.H. Brasher, John T. McComic, A.M. Elliott, E.G. Lawley, J.A. Teague, Samuel Leeper, S. Brasher, H.V. Nabors, D.W. Caldwell, J.L. Wilson, D.N. McClanahan, A.J. Donus, A. Parnell, Jos. Roper, Jno. Baker, and L.F. Elliott. In 1854, the decision was made to build another courthouse, which is today referred to as the "old courthouse", and the Shelby County Historical Society and Shelby County Museum and Archives moved into it in 1982 and are still there today. Construction began on the current stone courthouse in 1905 at a then-price of $300,000. The contract was signed 11 September 1905 with B.C. Bynum Construction Company, contractors of Montgomery, Alabama, and "the plans, specifications and addenda" be prepared by Bruce Architectual Company of Birmingham, Alabama. The cornerstone ceremony was held 05 April 1906. An addition was completed in 1954 with E.C. Coston, Contractor and the Architect was Martin J. Lide. The Open House at the "New Court House Addition" was held Sunday, 9 January 1955. It received a multi-million dollar renovation in the early 1990's. On 04 March 2006 the contents were removed from the cornerstone and placed on display at the Shelby County Museum & Archives. The "100-year celebration and cornerstone ceremony" was held 24 June 2006. On 15 July 1983 the first "satellite license office" was opened in Pelham, Alabama. The second "satellite license office" was opened Monday, 17 July 2006 in the Inverness Corners shopping center on U.S. 280.

The first authentic records regarding Shelby County date from 1820 when early white settlers held their lands by virtue of what was known as Squatter Sovereignty, and titles to their holdings were not granted by the government until 1821. The fear of an attack by marauding bands of Indians caused the settlers to be on the alert lest their possessions be stolen or burned. However, when government Land Offices were opened, farmers and others who had established themselves on choice plots of ground rushed in to apply for and receive title.

Most of the first settlers came from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky and returned to this region after the victorious Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. They brought their families and their household goods, traveling chiefly by pack horse, to remain in this section of Alabama. The first settlements in the area were at Montevallo, then known as Wilson's Hill, Harpersville, Wilsonville, and Shelbyville. As indicated in the 1820 Shelby County census records, two years after it was created, the county contained 2,492 people; 2,044 whites and 448 Negroes. Shelby County has experienced a 210 percent increase in population between 1970 and 1990. In 1992, the population was 107,261 in a land area of 646 square miles, an average of 166 people per square mile. The U.S. Bureau of Census lists Shelby County's 1998 population as 140,715, up from 135,752 in 1997, a 3.7 percent increase. According to the Census Bureau, Shelby County's population increased some 42 percent between 1990 and 1998 and is now the sixth largest county in Alabama. It is the fastest growing county in Alabama and among the fastest in the United States.

As indicated in the Shelby Guide, dated Tuesday, April 2, 1872, "Not only is the coal and the iron of Alabama superior to any found elsewhere in the United States, but the lime also. In Shelby County are very extensive lime works...."

The year 1923 will always be an important year in the history of Shelby County. The county was so deeply in debt that only the most optimistic could have found any sign that the debt would ever be paid. The treasury was empty; there was no money to carry on ordinary operating expenses. The situation could hardly have been worse. However, as indicated in the Shelby County Reporter-Democrat, dated Thursday, June 25, 1953, " July First Will See County Debt Free" ... and dated Thursday, June 11, 1953, "July 1, 1953 will be an important date in the history of Shelby County. On that day the Board of Revenue and Control will pay the last dollar of the county's indebtedness. For the first time in many long years, maybe the first time since Shelby County was organized, there will be no debt. Shelby County will be debt free."

Shelby County offers a variety of museums that cater to the interests of genealogists, world travelers, history buffs, railroad aficionados, or others who are simply interested in seeing and learning something new. The Shelby County Museum & Archives  and  Shelby County Historical Society, Inc. are located in the old courthouse in Columbiana. The building contains much more than old records, so those simply wanting to learn more about the county's history will find many artifacts donated by Shelby County families, as well as a collection of historical books. Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington located in the Mildred B. Harrison Regional Library in Columbiana houses the largest collection of George and Martha (Custis) Washington Memorabilia outside of Mount Vernon. 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. You will want to attend the annual "Shelby Iron Works Festival" in the Historic Shelby Iron Park, located along Shelby County Alabama Highway 42 in Shelby, Alabama. The Aldrich Coal Mine Museum housed in the Company Store of the former Montevallo Coal Mining Company, and the beautiful Farrington Hall, built by Mr. and Mrs. William Farrington Aldrich, houses many Aldrich items from its past and an enormous number of pictures and artifacts. In early 2012 two museums added in Shelby County were Kenneth R. Penhale City of Helena Museum and City of Chelsea Historical Museum.

Oak Mountain State Park is the largest state park in Alabama. It is located in Pelham, on the southernmost part of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

One of the most famous attractions in Shelby County, dedicated Tuesday, November 30, 1999, is The American Village, located on Highway 119 just north of Montevallo. It is Alabama's nationally-pioneering citizenship education center and historical park where visitors learn about the foundations of our Nation and the application of good citizenship in everyday life.

For further information concerning Shelby County Alabama visit Shelby County Alabama website and the Shelby County ALGenWeb website. To view more of Shelby County's History - "All In A Day's Drive" - Click Here.

Ya'll come back!



Life in the Past Lane

Copyright - Bobby Joe Seales - 2000

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