A History of Silverhill, Alabama


         During the last half of the nineteenth century, over a million people from Sweden settled in the Northern and Midwestern United States. Leaving behind poverty, they settled around the industrial growth of the factories of the Great Lakes. Being a farming people, they looked for affordable land to purchase.

         In 1896, several Swedish families in Chicago, Illinois formed the Svea (Swedish) Land Company to search for land that would be suitable for farming. Following much research, they finally decided to locate a colony in a mild climate with plentiful natural resources. The Illinois Central Railroad offered free transportation as far south as Nashville, Tennessee. Oscar Johnson, John Linden, C. Swanson, C.O. Carlson, and Carl A. Vallentin made the trip then bought tickets to Montgomery. Where they studied maps and literature of agricultural lands for sale around Mobile.

         The men looked at land for sale in Mobile County before coming to Baldwin County where they were driven around by a Mr. Smith who had come all the way to the county from Ohio by horse and wagon. Lumber companies had been cutting the ancient forests of Central and South Baldwin turning the land into a rural agricultural area rather than one of forest industries. Left behind were tangled underbrush with tall stands of timber in the wetter bottomlands. There were no roads, only small trails passable only on foot. They made another trip to Mobile County lands then back to Baldwin County to finally agree to purchase land in central Baldwin in June of 1896.

         The land spanned the area from Fish River on the west to what is now Robertsdale on the east. Robertsdale (founded in 1905) did not exist at this time and later grew up around the Silverhill train depot. Three of the men returned to Chicago. Oscar Johnson and John Linden remained and were joined by Dr. E.C. Slosson to complete transactions, record deeds and obtain abstracts.

         Dr. and Mrs. E.C. Slosson and two daughters (later Mrs. Ellen Slosson Bouse and Mrs. Lois Slosson Sundberg) lived south of Silverhill since 1888, where they raised sheep. They were originally from Illinois. They maintained a home open to travellers and to land seekers. Some of the land purchased by the Svea Land Company was owned by Dr. Slosson.

         The men then made plans to return to Chicago for their families only to find the entire Gulf Coast's transportation system shut down because of a Yellow Fever epidemic. They walked to Bay Minette hoping to catch a train out of the area, but instead found the train's doors and windows tightly sealed, waiting for the quarantine to be lifted that stretched from Mobile to Pensacola. Instead of traveling to Chicago, they returned to Silverhill to begin work on their new houses. The first family arrived in Silverhill before the end of the year 1897.

         The Land Company printed booklets and brochures in Swedish for distribution in Chicago and throughout the Midwest advertising Silverhill's best qualities, in the hopes of attracting more families. Many people moved to Silverhill during the next few years. Some came only during the mild winter months. Others came to stay and face the hard work that all American pioneers have endured.

         Along with the houses that were being built, people were building places of business and public buildings including the Land Company Office, three churches, a school, two hotels, stores, saw mill, sugar cane mill, and a brick yard.

         The Swedish farmers were now farming in completely different conditions than what they had been. Years of trial and error were ahead of them. Finding the right crop to bring them a profit would prove to be one of their hardest tasks.

         One of the crops they tried was peach. The farmers planted a total of 11,500 peach trees through out the colony. The immature trees took several years to grow and bear fruit only to be attacked by disease and insects. Entire orchards became sickly and had to be uprooted.

         The farmers had hoped the Louisville & Nashville Railroad would continue building their tracks directly south though Silverhill, giving the farmers a central location to ship their produce. However, the railroad favored a drier route than the one Silverhill had to offer and decided to build the Silverhill Depot a few miles to the east of town.

         The destruction caused by the hurricane of 1906 proved too much for some farmers. Many gave up and left the area.

         In the spring of 1907, a representative of Newhall & Son of Chicago offered to supply the farmers all the equipment needed to raise cucumbers, including the seed, fertilizer, and baskets for harvesting. In return, the farmers would grow and harvest the crop, then ship the produce. The crop turned out to be a good one this time, but when the numbers were all added up, the farmers found they owed Newhall & Son money.

         The next year the farmers made a contract with a firm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to grow more cucumbers and Irish potatoes. Again they had a good crop yield and this time even made a small profit.

         Dr. O.F.E. Winberg, a veterinarian and horticulturist, was living in the Silverhill area at this time. He had graduated from a school of veterinary medicine in Germany before coming to Chicago and then to Silverhill. Dr. Winberg encouraged the farmers in cattle raising. He spent many hours teaching the farmers how to treat, feed, and breed their herds. Some of the farmers raised their cattle to be sold to the meat industry and others to produce milk. The dairy and creamery in Silverhill was the first established creamery in the state of Alabama.

         Dr. Winberg was also responsible for developing sweet varieties of kumquat and satsumas. One variety is the Silverhill Satsuma Mandarin, which he developed by cross-pollination of the satsuma orange with the sweet orange. Even today it is considered to be a superior strain and has shown somewhat more resistance to cold than the other satsuma varieties. Dr. Winberg and other farmers planted many acres of satsumas. Warm winters encouraged large satsuma yields for many years.

         Electricity was introduced to Silverhill by three men who built a gasoline-powered generator. It supplied electricity to several homes and businesses in the center of town. As more people asked to have electricity brought to their homes, plans were drawn to build a dam and generating plant on Fish River to the west of town. Construction on the dam began, but before completion, the power company sold its franchise to the Town of Foley.

         Between 1909 and 1914, Czechoslovakian settlers migrated to Silverhill. They built the first public hall in the area. Located southwest of Silverhill, it was a meeting place for Czech people. Known as Bohemian Hall or Little Hall, it also served as a school building for farm children in the area.

         In 1926, as part of a petition to incorporate the Town of Silverhill, an enumeration was conducted. 288 names were listed on the enumeration document. An election was held with 36 votes cast for incorporation and 4 cast against. The Town of Silverhill was incorporated August 13, 1926.

         In October of 1933, Silverhill was reduced in size after a petition presented by a group of people living in the southern section of town. A one-half square mile area was taken out of the town limits.

Information taken from "Vignettes of Baldwin County", published 1983 by the Gulf Telephone Company.