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Shelby County, Alabama
County History

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ALABAMA, HER HISTORY - by Willis Brewer - 1872

ALABAMA AS IT IS - by Benjamin Riley - 1887

Shelby Cty History - by Smith and DeLand 1888

History of Helena, Shelby County Alabama - 1888


The History of Shelby County - Source: Alabama As It Is by Benjamin Franklin Riley, D. D., 1887 , Transcribed by C. Anthony

The county of Shelby was constituted in the year 1818. It received its name from Governor Isaac Shelby, of Kentucky. It is highly favored in location, climate, and mineral wealth. It is justly ranked one of the best counties of the State. Of late, rapid strides have been made in Shelby county in the development of her mineral wealth. Large interests of many kinds have been established and are in a thrifty condition. It has an area of 780 square miles.

Population in 1870, 12,218; population in 1880, 17,236. White, 12,253; colored, 4,983.

Tilled Land: 58,550 acres.—Area planted in cotton, 17,919 acres; in corn, 26,159 acres ; in oats, 4,764 acres; in wheat, 6,294 acres ; in tobacco, 10 acres ; in sweet potatoes, 346 acres.

Cotton Production : 6,643 bales.

The general surface of Shelby county is hilly and rough—features inseparable from a mineral district. Still, there are many valuable lands, for agricultural purposes, to be found. The northwestern portion of the county is formed by the coal measures of the famous Cahaba coalfield ; the central part by those of the Coosa coalfield Lying between these two natural divisions is the valley of the Coosa. Along these coal measures is to be found the usual rugged surface, and the soil is of a sandy character and not very fertile. The Coosa valley, which extends the distance of thirty miles through the county, is based upon mountain limestone. It varies in width from two to eight miles. The lower valley lands, formed of lime, clay, and vegetabic matter, are quite fertile ; the higher lands, of gravel and clay, are of inferior character. The lands in the valleys are esteemed altogether as good as those found in the famous Valley of the Tennessee. Corn and cotton grow luxuriantly here, and their yield, under favoring circumstances, is immense. In addition to these, Shelby produces oats, wheat, rye, barley, and indeed all crops grown in this latitude. Some portions of the county are peculiarly adapted to stock-raising. This is especially true of the region lying west of the valley already described.

On the western boundary of the county is the Cahaba Valley, the width of which varies as does that of the Coosa upon the east. The characteristics of soil are the same as in the valley first mentioned—fertile in the bottoms and thin and gravelly upon the highlands.

The conditions in many portions of Shelby are quite favorable to the production of fruit, and orchard culture is receiving, by degrees, more attention.

The prevailing timbers are oak, hickory, chestnut, mulberry, and pine. Along the numerous valleys that intersect each other throughout the county is to be found the short-leaf pine ; while the knolls and uplands are crowned with the long-leaf pine. During the greater part of the year water prevails in vast abundance in every section of the county.

The Coosa river forms the eastern boundary and receives the drainage of that portion of Shelby. Big and Little Cahaba rivers drain the western part.

Springs abound throughout the county. Issuing from beneath the pine-crowned ridges, that lie between the minor intersecting valleys, or else bursting from thousands of craggy mouths from the rocky hillsides, these springs flow down through the valleys in perennial streams supplying water in richest abundance to man and beast.

But the peculiar glory of Shelby is her broad domains of coal and iron, her vast treasures of stone, and her health-giving mineral waters. Extensive manufactories of iron exist at the Shelby Iron Works, which have been in successful operation for thirty years, and at Helena, where are located the Central Iron Works. In addition to these interests are found the Helena coal mines, and the Montevallo coal mines. Furthermore, there are considerable lime-works at Calera, Siluria, and Longview, in the county. Some of these furnish lime as far south as Galveston, and as far north as Louisville and Cairo.

In some of the limestone formations are to be found as superb building stone as exists in any quarter of the globe. Among these may be mentioned a light grayish-blue rock, dotted over with dark spots, black marble, yellow marble with black spots, gray and dove-colored marbles. These are quite durable, and serve admirably as ornamental building material. In the mountains, between the upper portion of Shelby and the St. Clair portion of the Cahaba valley, there is, in wonderful abundance, a beautiful sandstone that would serve for building purposes. Barytes and slate also exist.

Just above Calera, on the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia railroad, are the Shelby Springs, a favorite watering resort. The location is high and healthful, and the waters have valuable medicinal properties.

The advantages of transportation in the county are excellent. At Calera there is an intersection of the Louisville and Nashville railroad, and the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia railroad. The former of these lines runs north and south through the county, and the other almost east and west. All the benefits accruing from competing lines are here afforded.

The points of greatest interest in the county are Columbiana, the county-seat, with a population of about 500, Calera, which is located at the intersection of the two railroads already mentioned, Wilsonville, Harpersville, Helena, and Montevallo. Excellent church and educational facilities exist at all these points. A common school system under favorable direction exists throughout the county.

The chief center of interest in the county is the growing town of Calera. Its name is of Spanish origin, and indicates the character of the surrounding region, Calera being the Spanish word for lime. It has a population possibly of 1,000, and for a number of years has been the location of a large foundry. Other important enterprises are being established, such as a charcoal iron furnace and a spoke and handle factory. Other manufacturing enterprises are talked of. The town supports good schools and churches, and has one of the best hotels in the State. It is located in the midst of coal, iron, lime, and excellent timber, and enjoys railroad facilities in all directions, being at the intersection of the Louisville and Nashville, and East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia railroads.

Throughout the county of Shelby there abound the facilities of human comfort, so great are the advantages of climate and the diversity of soils and mineral products.

Lands may be purchased at prices ranging from $2.50 to $25 per acre.

There exists 37,929 acres of government land in the county.


HISTORY OF SHELBY COUNTY

 

Source: "Alabama, her history, resources, war record, and public men : from 1540 to 1872"; by Willis Brewer; Montgomery, Ala.: Barrett & Brown, 1872 - transcribed by Jeanne Kalkwarf

 

            Shelby was established by an act passed Feb. 7, 1818, out of territory nominally taken from Montgomery.  As at first formed, it embraced St. Clair, and Wills creek was its north-east boundary; but the southern boundary line was the township line north of Columbia.  In November of the same year the dimensions of the county were fixed as they stood till the establishment of Baker, when the two lower tiers of townships were cut off.

            Shelby lies just north of the center of the State, contiguous to Jefferson on the north and west, Talladega on the east, Baker on the south, and Bibb on the southwest.

            It was named for Gov. Shelby* of Kentucky.

                        *Isaac Shelby was born near Hagerstown, Mad, in 1750.  He was a surveyor, and removed to northwest North Carolina in 1771.  He fought at Point Pleasant, and led a regiment at King’s Mountain.  He was the first governor of Kentucky, was re-elected in 1812, and during his second term he led the Kentuckians at the fight on the Thames.  In 1817 he declined the position of minister of war, and died July 18, 1826

 

            Its area is about 845 square miles.

            The following gives the population at regular intervals:

 

                                    1820                1830                1840                1850                1860      1870

 

            Whites......       2011                4549                4494                7153                8970       8840

            Blacks...........     405                1155                1618                2383                3648       3378

 

The assessed value of real estate in 1870 was $935,957; personalty $266,112; Total $1,202,069.

The cash value of farm lands -48,376 acres improved,  147,957 acres unimproved – was $516,136 in 1870.

The value of live stock – 1174 horses, 642 mules, 6603 neat cattle, 3524 sheep, 9787 hogs – was $311,018.

In 1869 the farm productions, valued at $692,9112 were 30,275 bushels of wheat, 221,618 bushels of corn, 26,189 bushels of oats, 24,960 bushels of potatoes, 73,099 pounds of butter, 3710 pounds of tobacco, 2194 bales of cotton, 6283 pounds of wool; and the value of animals slaughtered was $86,668.

 

The surface is hilly; the soil is generally light, with alluvial lowlands.  The county is between the mountainous and level region of the State.

The Cahaba waters the western portion, and the Coosa is the eastern boundary, but neither is navigable.  The railway from Montgomery to Decatur crosses the southwestern portion for twenty miles, and the Selma and Rome Railroad passes over thirty-four miles of the southeastern portion.

Shelby is rich in natural productions, and they are better utilized than in any other county of the State.  Iron ore is abundant, and the Shelby Iron works do an extensive business.  Coal exists in exhaustless quantities, and much of it is exported.  Slate and Sand-stone, both of the best quality, and marble of an inferior kind, are plentiful.  There is much blue limestone, and three furnaces are now converting it into lime.  Even gold and copper have been found.  Of the mineral waters, Shelby springs have wide celebrity.

 

COLUMBIANA, the seat of justice, has about 45- inhabitants.  Shelbyville, where the courthouse first stood, is deserted.

Montevallo has about 650 inhabitants; Harpersville and Wilsonville about 250 each.

David Neal, Job Mason, Benj. C. Haslett, Ezekiel Henry, Henry Avery, James Franklin, and Thomas Beecher, sr., were appointed in 1821 to select the site for the courthouse; and, a year later, Daniel McLaughlin, Wm. Gilbert, Isaac Hutcheson, Edmund King, Bennett Ware, Webb Kidd, and Abraham Smith were appointed for the same purpose.

The army of Gen. Wilson passed through Shelby on its way to Selma in 1865.  The Cahaba Rolling Mills, the Red Mountain, Central, and Columbiana Iron-works, five collieries, and other valuable property, in the vicinity of Montevallo, were destroyed.  March 30, Wilson’s forces arrived at Montevallo.  Resuming the march, for several miles south they were engaged in a protracted skirmish with Rowdy’s and Crosland’s brigades, under Gen. Dan Adams, in which there was a number of casualties on each side.  The contending forces moved on to Selma, and had severe skirmishes on the way, in which Gen. Forrest was engaged in several daring personal encounters near Randolph and Maplesville, and a number of men were disabled and captured.

One of the earliest and most gifted public men of the State was SAMUEL W. MARDIS, of this county.  He came from Tennessee, and was probably a native of the State.  When a young man he came with his father, Mr. Reuben Mardis, a farmer, to the county, and opened a law office in Montevallo.  He represented the county in the legislature in 1823, and for several successive years.  In 1831 he was elected to congress, his competitors being Gen. Garth of Morgan and Col. Baylor of Tuskaloosa; and was re-elected over Hon. Elisha Young of Greene.  At the expiration of his second term, he removed to Mardisville, Talladega county , and continued the practice; but died there November 14, 1836, aged about forty years.  To a mind gifted above his fellow men, he added all the virtues of the purest heart.  With his gentlemanly bearing, high-toned feeling, Christian piety, and open-hearted generosity and benevolence, he won the esteem of all.  “His education, so far as books are concerned, was defective; but his knowledge of men, and of the motives which influence men, excelled that of any man I ever saw.  To his superiority in this respect, and to his quick and clear perception of the turning points of his cases, is mainly attributable his success at the bar”*  He married a daughter of Mr. Robert Taylor of this county  His half-brother, Judge N. B. Mardis, is a citizen of this county.

*Hon. W. Moody of Tuskaloosa.

DANIEL E. WATROUS came to Shelby about the year 1825.  A native of Vermont, he was born about the year of 1796, was well educated, and was an attorney when he settled at Montevallo.  He was a successful practitioner, and held the leading position at the bar of the county for many years.  In 1837 he entered the senate from Shelby and Bibb, and remained in that body by successive elections for sixteen years, save one session.  In 1845 he was the nominee of his party for congress, but Hon. W. L. Yancey was successful in the canvass that followed.  In 1856 he removed to Texas, where he died a few years ago.  Mr. Watrous was a sparely built man, with well-defined facial features.  He was a man of unsullied integrity, rigid sense of propriety, cultivated and scholarly mind, and with urbane manners.  There have been few citizens of Shelby so useful and exemplary.  His brother, Charles, was a federal district judge in Texas.

JOHN STRONG STORRS was a prominent citizen of this county.  He was a younger brother of Judge Storrs of Autauga, and was born in Middlebury, Vermont, in 1810.  Graduated at the college there, he came to Montevallo about the year 1831, and read law under Hon. D. E. Watrous  He began the practice at once, and was quite successful.  In1841 he represented the county in the lower house of the legislature, and for ten successive years continued in the same position.  From 1857 to 1859 he represented Shelby and Jefferson in the senate.  He died in November 1862, leaving a reputation for usefulness, and a character for integrity and moral conduct.  He was short and stout, with prepossessing features.  His wife was a Miss Hazard, of the county, an accomplished lady.

GEORGE DAVID SHORTRIDGE, a distinguished citizen of this county, was the son of Hon. Eli Shortridge of Talladega, and was born in Montgomery county,  Kentucky, Nov. 10, 1814.  He came with his parents to Tuskaloosa in 1826, and had but a partial education when he accepted a clerkship in the office of the supreme court, two years later.  He was subsequently a clerk under Hon. J. I. Thornton of Greene, secretary of state, and was also a clerk in a book store.  He was one of the first students at the State University, but was not graduated.  While reading law in his father’s office he edited a newspaper.  Licenses as an attorney in 1834, he was elected solicitor the same winter, and removed to Montgomery.  There his talents soon brought him into notice, and he was twice elected mayor of the embryo city. In 1838 he represented Montgomery in the legislature.  Pecuniary reverses and ill-health soon after caused him to retire to his plantation in this county,  but he recuperated and resumed the practice here.  In 1846 the legislature elected him to the bench of the circuit court over Messrs. P.T. Harris, T. A. Walker, Lincoln Clarke, and J. W. Womack.  In 1850 he was continued on the bench by a large popular majority.  After holding the responsible office nine years, he resigned it in 1855 when nominated for governor.  His party was in a minority in the State, and he was defeated by Gov. Winston.  Soon after this he removed to Selma, and was the associate there in the practice with Hon. J. R. John.  He remained there a year or two, then returned to this county, which he represented in the constitutional convention of 1861.  This finished his public career.  The ruthless hand of war was laid heavily on him in the loss of his three sons and only son-in-law.  He died in 1870.  Possessed of a handsome person, an easy address, a wide range of knowledge, and a genial and ready wit, Judge Shortridge was one of the most interesting men of his day.  He was an able, upright, and patient judge; as  literateur he wielded a graceful pen; and as a gentleman he belonged to the best school.  His popularity was the result of kindness of heart, liberality, and an observance of the amenities due from man to man.  His wife was a daughter of Mr. Edmund King of this county.

George Phillips and Thomas A. Rodgers represented Shelby in the convention of 1819; George D. Shortridge and John M. McClanahan in that of 1861; and James T. Leeper and N. B. Mardis in that of 1865.

The following is a list of members of the legislature .

 1819 – Bennett Ware                                             1832 – Alexander Hill

1822 – Jack Shackelford                                          1834 – James M. Nabors

1825 – James Jackson                                             1837 – Daniel E. Watrous

1828 – Thomas Crawford                                        1840 – D. E. Watrous

1831 – Joab Lawler                                                  1843 – D. E. Watrous

1847 – James M. Nabors                                         1859 – H. W. Nelson

1849 – D. E. WATROUS                                           1861 – John P. Morgan

1853 – Moses Kelly                                                 1863 – M. T. Porter

1855 – H. W. Nelson                                               1865 – Gilbert T. Deason

1857 – John S. Storrs                                             (No election in 1867, or since)

 

Representatives

 

1819 – Jesse Wilson, Arthur Taylor                           1838 – John M. McClanahan, Wm. J. Peters

1820 – Benj. Davis, Jack Shackelford                   

1821 – Benj. Davis, Thos. McHenry                           1839 – James M. Nabors, Wade H.

1822 – Benjamin Davis                                                                                                   Griffin

                1823 – Samuel W. Mardis                                      1840 – W. J. Peters, Wade H. Griffin

                1824 – Samuel W. Mardis                                      1841 – W. H. Griffin, John S. Storrs

                1825 – Samuel W. Mardis                                      1842 – John S. Storrs, Wm. M. Kidd

                1826 – Joab Lawler                                                 1843 – John S. Storrs, David Owen

                1827 – Joab Lawler                                                 1844 – John Storrs, Wm. M. Kidd

                1828 – Joab Lawler, Sam’l W. Mardis                    1845 – John S. Storrs, Joseph Roper

                1829 -  Joab Lawler, Sam’l  W. Mardis                   1847 – John S. Storrs, T. H. Brazier

                1830 – Joab Lawler, Sam’l W. Mardis                    1849 – John S. Storrs, Thomas H. Brazier

                1831 – Leonard Tarrant, James M.

                                                Nabors                                    1851 – W. L. Prentice, Joseph Roper

                1832 – Leonard Tarrant, George Hill                      1853 – A. A. Sterrett, T. P. Lawrence

                1833 – James M. Nabors, George Hill                    1855 – J. M. McClanahan,N. R. King

                1834 – Martin H. McHenry, Alphonzo A.                 1857 – N. B. Mardis, J. P. Morgan

                                                                Sterrett                     1859 – D. T. Seal, W. G. Bowden

                1835 – M. H. McHenry, A. A. Sterrett                       1861 – J. P. West, S. Brashier

                1836 – M H. McHenry, John M. McClanahan           1863 – J. Keenan, Samuel Leeper

                1837 – John M. McClanahan, John T.                        1865 – J. C. Hand, Samuel Leeper

                                 Primm                                                        1867 – No Election

                                                                                                   1870 – Burwell B. Lewis


Source: Northern Alabama - Historical and Biographical by Smith & De Land, Birmingham, Ala 1888 - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney

 SHELBY COUNTY.

Population : White l2,800; colored 4,500. Area 780 square miles. Woodland, all. Valley lands and coal fields 780 square miles.

Acres - In cotton (approximately) 17,900; in corn 26,170; in oats 4,765; in wheat 6,295; in tobacco 10; in sweet potatoes 350. Approximate number of bales of cotton 6,750.

County Seat - Columbiana; population, 600; located 73 miles northeast of Selma, Ala., on East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad.

Newspaper published at County Seat - Shelby Chronicle (Democrat). At Calera Shelby Sentinel, Democrat, and Alliance-News.

Post offices in the County - Aldrich, Bridgeton, Calera, Cobb, Columbiana, Harpersville, Helena, Highland, Hot Spur, Knight, Lewis, Longview, Montevallo, Pelham, Shelby Iron Works, Siluria, Spradley, Sterrett, Weldon, Wilsonville.

The county of Shelby was constituted in the year 1819. It received its name from Governor Isaac Shelby, of Kentucky. It is highly favored in location, wealth and mineral wealth. It is justly ranked one of the best counties of the State. Of late, rapid strides have been made in Shelby County in the development of her mineral wealth. Large interests of many kinds have been established and are in a thriving condition.

The general surface of the county is hilly and rough - features inseparable from a mineral district. Still, there are many valuable lands for agricultural purposes to be found. The north-western portion of the county is formed by the coal measures of the famous Cahaba coal field; the central portion by those of the Coosa coal field. Lying between these two natural divisions is the Valley of the Coosa. Along these coal measures is to be found the usual rugged surface, and the soil is of a sandy character, and not very fertile. The Coosa Valley, which extends the distance of thirty miles through the county, is based upon mountain limestone. It varies in width from two to eight miles. The lower valley lands, formed of lime, clay, and vegetable matter, are' quite fertile; the higher lands, of gravel and clay, are of inferior character. The lands in the valleys are deemed altogether as good as those found in the famous Valley of the Tennessee. Corn and cotton grow luxuriantly here, and the yield, under favorable circumstances, is immense. In addition to these Shelby produces oats, wheat, rye, barley, and indeed all crops grown in this latitude. Some portions of the valley are peculiarly adapted to stock raising. This is especially true of the region lying west of the valley already described.

On the western boundary of the county is the Cahaba Valley, the width of which varies as does that of the Coosa on the east. The characteristics of the soil are the same as in the valley first mentioned - fertile in the bottoms, and thin and gravelly upon the high lands.

The conditions in many portions of Shelby are quite favorable to the production of fruit, and orchard culture is receiving, by degrees, more attention. The prevailing timbers are hickory, oak, chestnut, mulberry and pine. Along the numerous valleys that intersect each other throughout the county is to be found the short-leaf pine; while the knolls and the uplands are crowned with the long-leaf pine. During the greater part of the year water prevails in great abundant in every section of the county.
The Coosa river forms the eastern boundary, and receives the drainage of that portion of Shelby. Big and Little Cahabaa rivers drain the western part.

Springs abound throughout the county. Issuing from beneath pine-crowned ridges that lie between the minor intersecting valleys, or else bursting from thousands of craggy mouths from the rocky hillsides, these springs flow down through the valleys in perennial streams, supplying water in richest abundance to man and beast.

But the peculiar glory of Shelby is her broad domain of coal and iron, her vast treasures of stone, marble and timber, and her health-giving mineral waters.

Extensive manufactories of iron exist at the Shelby Iron Works, which have been in successful operation for thirty years, and at Helena, where are located the Central Iron Works. In addition to these interests are found the Helena coal mines, and the Montevallo coal mines. Furthermore there are considerable lime-works at Calera, Siluria, and Longview, in the county. Some of these furnish lime as far south as Galveston, and as far north as Louisville and Cairo. Sawmills are also numerous.

In some of the Limestone formations are to be found as superb building stone as exists in any quarter of the globe. Among these may be mentioned a light grayish-blue rock, dotted over with dark spots, black marble, yellow marble with black spots, gray and dove-colored marbles. These are very durable, and serve admirably as ornamental building material. In the mountains between the upper portion of Shelby and the St. Clair portion of the Cahaba valley, there is, in wonderful abundance. A beautiful sand-stone that would serve for building purposes. Barytes and slate also exist.

Just above Calera, on the East Tennessee Virginia & Georgia Railroad are the Shelby Springs, a favorite watering resort. The location is high and healthful, and the waters have valuable medicinal properties. At Helena and also near Bridgeton there are valuable mineral springs.

The advantages of transportation are excellent in this county. At Calera, there is an intersection of the Louisville & Nashville and the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroads. The former of these lines runs north and south through the county, and the other almost east and west. All the benefits accruing from the competing lines are here afforded .

The points of greatest interest are Columbiana, the county seat, with a population of about 500, Calera, which is located at the intersection of the two railroads already mentioned, Wilsonville, Harpersville, Helena, and Montevallo. Excellent church and educational advantages exist at all of these places. A common-school system, under favorable direction, exists throughout the county.

The chief center of interest in the county is the growing town of Calera. Its name is of Spanish origin, and indicates the character of the surrounding region, Calera being the Spanish name for lime. It has a population of possibly 2,000 and for a number of years has been the location of a large foundry.

Other important enterprises have already been established. The Charcoal and Furnace Company have a magnificent plant and one of the finest wells in the State. The two shoe factories are turning out daily a very superior quality of shoes that compare very favorably with the best of eastern factories, and are sold at prices that defy competition, and they are consequently crowded with orders. The Spoke and Handle Factory is a paying institution, and their products are shipped to every portion of the Union, as they are finely finished and made of the most perfect timber. Two large steam brickworks are in operation, and have orders ahead for several weeks. Another spoke and handle factory will soon be established. The waterworks are now nearly completed, and negotiations are now pending for the erection of a fine academy.

The town supports good schools, and has two of the best hotels in the State. It is located in the midst of coal, iron, lime and excellent timber, and enjoys railroad facilities in all directions, being the intersection of the Louisville & Nashville and East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroads.

Throughout the county of Shelby there abound the facilities of human comfort, so great are advantages of climate and the diversity of soils and mineral products.

Lands may be purchased at prices ranging from $2.50 to $25 per acre.

There exist 37,929 acres of Government land in the county, which is being rapidly entered as homesteads by actual settlers.


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