A History of Wilsonville
Shelby County, Alabama

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The following was transcribed by me, John M. Gwin, from double-spaced, typewritten copy e.mailed to me in 2004 by Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Tinney Hill. Based on a statement on Mr. Bobby Joe Seale's Rootsweb webpage (see below), the text may have been composed and typed by a Mr. T. O. Smith to meet requirements for a Boy Scout merit badge. All the handwritten notes, shown here in brown type, appear in Mrs. Hill's hand on the pages of the text. The numbering of the original pages sent to me by Ms. Hill is shown below like this [pg. 1].

On the aforementioned Rootsweb page hosted by Mr. Bobby Joe Seales is a history of Wilsonville which appeared in the Friday, March 29, 1957, edition of the Shelby County Reporter and which was clearly taken from the same document Mrs. Hill sent to me. You can view the article in its entirety as transcribed by Mr. Seales at http://www.rootsweb.com/~alshelby/Wilsonville.html, where it is evident that the columnist who wrote the newspaper article edited out quite a bit of Mr. Smith's history (for example, a portion of the article is copied here, and I have boldfaced in blue those parts of the text below which appeared in that portion of the article, while that in black was evidently edited out for brevity).

The first two paragraphs from the 1957 newspaper article:

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.

The complete document as sent to me by Mrs. Hill with her handwritten notes:

[pg. 1] The first settler in the Wilsonville area was Henry W. Robertson, who brought his family from South Carolina in 1812 and settled one thousand acres on the location which includes the present farms of W. F. Robertson, James Robertson, and Ralph Robinson--the last being no relation to the Robertsons. At this time the closest neighbors were one family of settlers in the Easonville Area (a few miles south of Pell City) and one in the Montevallo area. Alabama became a state in 1819, and in 1822 a land office was opened in Tuscaloosa. Mr. Robertson, Mr. Wallace (who stayed with the Robertsons while picking the land he wished to claim), and other settlers rode horseback to Tuscaloosa to claim their land. The Wallace plantation house still stands four miles north of Wilsonville where Highway 76 connects with Highway 25.

The town of Wilsonville was begun about the time the Indians were driven out of the northern part of Alabama. Some are reported to have passed through the site on which the town is now located.

Notes from the Teague Memoirs of Shelby County tell of a man who lived on this side of the river at McGowan's Ferry (just south of the site of the Sego Steam Plant). He had an understanding with an Indian friend on the Talladega County side. The Indian had promised to warn his friend when his people were on a rampage. One night the white man saw the smoke signal and spread the alarm that the Indians were coming. It was related that

[pg. 2] ribbons, corsets, and many bits of paraphernalia were strewn along the road from Wilsonville to Montevallo as the residents left in great haste.

A Dutchman named Avehard "ran the first store" and was also the first resident. He was the first to be buried in Wilsonville Cemetery. One of the next settlers was Jack Owens, who "ran a store and a saloon" in a wooden building where the large brick one, owned by B. B. Mooney, [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: J.F. Pope Co.] now stands. By then, there were two more families in the community.

Wilsonville was named for Adam Wilson, who came to Shelby County very early. His son, James Wilson, was a farmer and physician. James Wilson's daughter, Rebecca Wilson, married Sampson Holland, another early settler who moved to Alabama from North Carolina. Their son, Elisha Wilson Holland, ran a grist mill and flour mill which was located between the present home of James Earl Campbell and wife Jeanette BoltonCampbell and the gin. [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: Originally owned by William Taylor. Later bought by Dewey Bolton.]

Mr. Holland later formed a partnership, "Weldon and Holland", to operate a general mercantile store. He was also a Justice of the Peace. His daughter, Perdie Holland, willed the home to the Wilsonville Methodist Church which removed it to build the present Methodist parsonage.

Wilsonville was situated on the old Montgomery stagecoach road. An elderly settler named Russell owned the mail route.  The mail was carried on horseback, and there was a relay station at the Macon Field, at the old steel bridge on the W. F. Robertson place.

Later, a wide gauge railroad was built with wooden

[pg. 3] rails through Wilsonville; Mrs. John Robertson, called "Big Ma", was the first woman to ride the train from Wilsonville to Talladega. The bridges were wooden, and watchmen were needed to keep them from burning.

At first, trains ran from Selma to Talladega. Their runs were extended at a later date to Rome, Georgia. Some time after, a depot was built--the first in Shelby County. It was put together with wooden pegs. Early carload shipments from the north had to be reloaded onto cars that could be used on the wide track. In the 1880's the track was narrowed to standard gauge, and finally steel rails replaced the wooden ones.

Throughout the early 1900's, all travel to and from Wilsonville was by train. Salesmen called "drummers" brought their samples in trunks and "put up" at the Henry Weldon Hotel, which is now the home of Mrs. Carroll Gardner. The Hugh Elzer Smith home, present home of Sherrell McClure, also furnished hotel accommodation. The James A. Spearman home was another hotel through the 1930's. This home is now owned by James Lewis Bolton.

During the twenties and thirties, there were six trains a day. One, made up of a small engine, a baggage car, and two coaches, was called "The Dude". It made a round trip every day between Wilton and Anniston. One of the pastimes of the early days was to "meet the train". Colonel W. T. Smith, grandfather of Oland D. and William Arthur Smith, was depot agent. He was instrumental in the organizational meeting of the Wilsonville Baptist Church which took place in

[pg. 4] the depot.

An agent was kept on duty until the end of 1954. Jerry N. Brantley was the last agent. The depot was removed in 1961 by W. F. Robertson who paid $51.19 for it.

During the Civil War, forts at the Yellowleaf Creek and Coosa River bridges, built by Capt. Andrew T. Smith of Bibb County (grandfather of Mrs. J. L Batson, Jr., and T. O . Smith, Jr.) were overrun by the Yankees. As they passed through the area, Yankee soldiers camped at the Fourmile Creek bridge site at the foot of Batton Hill. A family of Battons lived near from which the hill received its name.

After the war, the town of Wilsonville grew rapidly. The Jack Owens business was bought by Col. W. T. Smith, who later sold to J. F. Pope and a Mr. McGowen. The wooden building was torn down and a large brick building erected in 1895. This building still stands and houses the John Deere Tractor Co. (owned by B. B. Mooney and Joe Mooney), a washeteria, and Mooney Furniture Co. During the first quarter of a century, this was the largerst general mercantile store in Shelby County.

In 1900 the population had grown to 1,600, and Wilsonville was at that time the largest town in the county. There were a drug store (next to the railroad and across from the depot), three hotels, a bank, a Farmer's Alliance store, several other general merchandise stores, several blacksmith shops, a grist and flour mill, and other businesses that are not now in existence. Mr. Elisha Holland was the last miller.

One early family, the McQuaries, had a store and lived in the W. H. Pope home, later the home of Miss Aileen Pope, situated between the homes of Mrs. Amos Daniel, Jr., and the

[pg. 5] Baptist pastorium. This house burned in 1959. The Denslers had a general merchandise store [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: Is this the Riddle Bros'. store?] between the present Campbell's Sales Service and the railroad. The Denslers' home is now the home of Mrs. W. G. Weldon and is situated on Highway 25. [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: I am told William Tinney built this home and sold it?]

John Robertson, grandfather of W. F. Robertson, and Fate Ray owned a general merchandise store and sold school books, some of which are still in the community. This partnership firm handled another early business--that of making charcoal on land in the pineywoods area somewhere between the farms of J.  L. Batson, Jr., and Mr. E. B. Ray. Wagons hauled the charcoal to Wilsonville where it was loaded onto freight cars to ship to the Shelby Iron Works for fuel for the furnaces. Later a Mr. Elliott bought the Robertson Ray Store. It was situated where Highway 25 passes between Waldrop's Grocery and Campbells' Sales Service.

Mr. Reese Weldon, father of W. J. and Calvin Weldon and Mrs. Jack Story, bought the Farmer's Alliance store and made a general merchandise store of it.  It now houses the McCloud Real Estate office, Helone's Variety Store, and at the back "Servisoft", a water purifying service.

The Riddle Brothers, Walter and Will, had a store in the middle of the block of stores from the railroad to the Farmer's Alliance store, later Weldon's Store.

There was also a store [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: Owned by William Tinney] north of the Wilsonville Baptist Church, facing the Fourmile Road.  It was run by Jim Ray, later by a Jewish citizen, and then by the GinnBrothers [John M. Gwin Note:  Mary Elizabeth Tinney Hill has this name underscorered several times--is this name supposed to be Gwin? I know that some of Grandpa Sutt Gwin's sons (my granduncles) worked in Wilsonville.] who also

[pg. 6] peddled wares from the store with horses and a wagon. Next to this store was the small office building [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: owned by William Tinney] of Dr. T. O. Smith. Behind these was [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: William] Tinney's [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: blacksmith] shop. It was a combination blacksmith and cabinet shop. Many fancy bannisters, rails, and outside house trim decorations were cut there.

Earlier, Dr. Edwards' office stood facing the Fourmile Road but back from it where the swings are located behind the present housing [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: William Tinney bought Dr. Edwards' property--].

The J. F. Pope home stood where the late Mrs. Juanita Williams home stands. It was recently sold to Robert Ray [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: then Buchannon] and faces the W. F. Weldon home on Highway 25.

The Thayer blacksmith shop, at first situated on the Lee Reinhardt place, was moved to town. The last blacksmith was Tint Merrill, father of Mrs. Chrisitine Fulmer.

James Wilson, son of Adam Wilson for whom the town was named, was a physician as mentioned earlier. Another early doctor was Dr. Edwards, grandfather of the late Rev. W. T. Edwards, Rev. Ivey, and Claud Edwards, and a great-grandfather of Paul Edwards. Dr. J. B. [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: Joseph Buford] Boyer moved to Wilsonville from Kentucky in the early 1900's. His home was adjacent to the school and was torn down in recent years. Dr. O. [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: Orlando] E. Black, brother of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, served the town in the early 1900's until his death in 1906. He owned the second automobile in Wilsonville (Claude Jackson owned the first). A Dr. Sorrell practiced dentistry and lived in the Ernest Robinson house [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: Hugh Elzer Smith owned 1900-19__]. Dr. T. O.  Smith moved from Bibb Co. in 1914 and practiced until retirement in 1944. A Dr. Reeves served the community for a

[pg. 7] few years before the 1920's. During the 1920's Dr. H. T. Dickens moved to Wilsonville and did general practice. Dr. K. N. [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: Kenneth Newton] Gould came in 1931 and established a clinic in the old J. G. Pope home, owned at the time by Charles W. Williams. It burned in 1936, and for a year the clinic was housed in the bank building acoss from the Wilsonville Baptist Church. In 1937 Dr. Gould built a clinic, which was converted into apartmnents several years after he moved to Chattanooga in 1950. For a short while Dr. Marian Morgan was the town's doctor. She was followed by Dr. Cobb, a retired navy doctor who stayed only a few years [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: who seemed to have a drug problem?]. Since the mid-fifties, the town has had no doctor.

Berry Robertson built the first gin in the area. It was situated between the James and W. F. Robertson homes. It was similar to a sorghum mill and turned by mule power. It took, a day and night to gin a bale. After the crops were "laid-by", long poplar logs were cut and a raft constructed on Yellowleaf Creek on which bales of cotton were floated, during high enough water to clear the river shoals, to Wetumpka to sell. The raft, too, was sold--for fifty cents. John Bolin, on whose land stands Chapel Church, owned the first lumber mill. [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note:  His daughter Sallie Brown Bolin married William Joseph Tinney.]

Col. W. T. Smith was born in Petersburg, Va., in 1844 and moved to Wilsonville between 1876 and 1878. He built his home south of Wilsonville. It still stands (1968) and is known as the "Aunt Bet" Weaver place. Col. Smith ran a lumber mill and owned land with the town proper. He donated the land for the Wilsonville Baptist Church. He is mentioned earlier as a merchant and depot agent.

[pg. 8] Colonel Smith also ran the first cotton gin in the town. This gin was later bought by W. J. Taylor, father of Henry Taylor. It had a coffee pot engine and ginned two bales a day. Later, a better engine was installed which could gin a hundred bales in a day and night. In 1923, 3700 bales of cotton were ginned. This gin burned, and the one now standing was built. It has been modernized with the latest electrical equipment and is ownd by D. F. Bolton [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: Dewey Franklin]. A feed mill now stands beside the gin, owned by Sherrell McClure.

The Methodist church is the oldest church in Wilsonville. The first building stood in the old part of the cemetery. Later the Methodists built the church which still stands on the hill across the Fourmile Road from the cemetery. It faces the town and is adjacent to the school. The first parsonage stood between the church and the Fourmmile Road. It was removed in 1961 The presetn parsonage stands in front of the school and faces the Post Office.

In 1946 the Methodist Church was remodeled, a kitchen and Sunday School rooms were added at the rear, and in 1966 stained glass windows were installed [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: by Mrs. Charles W. Williams]. Facing the Fourmile road in the newer part of the cemetery was Campbellite church." ("Hardshells" are now the Primitive Baptist group.)

The Presbyterian church was originally about four miles north of Wilsonville on Yellowleaf Creek. This building later became the Scotts' Grove church. Flooding, due to spring "freshets" caused the Presbyterian congregation to build elsewhere. This church building is now the Masonic Hall, situated in front of the home of Mrs. Mertye Daniel [Mary E. Tinney Hill Note: and husband Amos Daniel. She was a Cooper.]. Their

[pg. 9] Pages misplaced--work to find them in progress.

[Mary E. Tinney Hill Note:  ]
[John M. Gwin Note:  ]

Last night I tried to reread Virgie Boyer's letter to me years ago.  She says Mr. Gwin served as postmaster in Wilsomville.  Her writing is not clear.  This is what I could see.  I will leave blank spaces for the words I could not make out.  This is rather long.  I hope It will come to you by E-mail.

Dear Mary Elizabeth,

Wilsonville as best as I can give it from year of 1887 as I can remember hearing my mother and father, Dr. and Mrs. J. B. Boyer, gave it when they came to Wilsonville up to 1940 when I left there.

My Mother and Father, Dr. and Mrs. J. B. Boyer moved from  Olmstead, Ky. to W'ville.

There were three stores, a depot and churches Methodist and Baptist where they now stand. And then the Baptist has been rebuilt and added to.

When Mama and Papa got there they couldn't get a house to live in. Mr. Pope had a store Mr. Densler and Mr. Jo Bannister. Those were there 3 stores. Mr. Pope let them have back end of his store used for hardware to live in until could get a house.

So they moved from the depot to store house. It was 1 large room so Mama put  some material and curtained off rooms. They used oil lamps when they got ready for bed at night everybody had to--------then lights. They did it--------------children played

The store had a porch across the front. Had plank boards. At night the goats would all go up on the porch and sleep. There was no------------threw their----------

There was  a------------store, P.O.---------------by Mr. Densler and his sister Miss Mattie Densler P.O.

In the center of the little town there was the ole country well. A big trough by side of it so when-------------came to town which all did on Saturday afternoon could water their stock------------------or-------------------two trains a day. The Baptist had preaching 2 Sundays a month, the Methodist had first Sunday also prayer meeting at one or the other every Wednesday night.

As time went on Wilsonville began to grow. The Presbyterians had a church also. The Hardshell Baptist as was called had 14 in all.

Then a drugstore opened up. Mr. Pope. Mr. Sutt Gwin was the Justice of Pease, and when Miss Matt Densler gave up the P. O., Mr. Gwin took it. [John M. Gwin Note: This is my grandpa, William Sutton Gwin, whose daughter, Nelle Densler Gwin, was named, I believe, for this postmistress.] I remember my mother and father  speak of the Denslers, Browns, and lots of others right now can't call to mind. As I've said as time went by the little town grew. More stores Mr. Henry Weldon, Mr. Reese Weldon, Riddle and Cooper P. O. Popes store grew and enlarged as time went on.

Then there was a Livery Stable there and when anything was shipped by train the dray as was called horse hitched to it, did the hauling and as there was no cars----------There is a person wanted to go several miles out would hire a horse up from the livery stable.

Mr. Jack Barnett had a blacksmith shop and after he gave up Mr. Tinney and his son John Tinney took it. After that Mr. Tint Merrill took over. There was a grist mill there owned by Mr. Elisha Holland. Most people---------their corn and brought it in to be ground.

My fasther was a good country Dr. and he took lots of corn, cornmeal, syrup, peanuts, potatoes etc., on accounts. 

There were two doctors there. My father and Dr. Edwards. They did all their practices by foot or horse and buggy. My father had a two wheel cart. He practiced all way up and down the Narrows. ---------------which  were the narrows--------for only-------------and person could---------------If you met anyone you had to back out and let the other one go their side.  Drs. and Preachers had the right of way. Later another dr. came in, a Dr. Black.He died, and a Dr. Reeves came in, but he, too, died. Then Dr. T. O. Smith came there and was there for a long time and a good man. He and my father were real close friends. His son T. O. Smith Jr. and his wife (who is Mr. Will Pope's daughter are good citizens living there now.

Later on in the history Mrs. John Hill and his wife moved from their farm to W'ville and Miss Mamie Hill, their daughter and Stinson Hill and wife who was Mary Elizabeth Tinney,) Mr. Hill's grandson) are all living there and good citizens.

Colonel Smith, Colonel Hebb, and Major Bolin were some of the good older citizens who lived there and have passed on.

Later on still Mr. Claude, Mr. Arlin, and Mr. Henry Jackson moved in and opened up a big sawmill and a commissary, and where they opened up was called Jackson Town. Mr. Reese Weldon who is Mrs. Minnie Story's father, good citizen, added to his store and so did Pope and had a millenary part to the store.

Now as best I can remember Mr. Claude Jackson had the first car in W-ville. A big 2 seat one and high up off the ground. No top and had to crank it, and by the way was a red one. He took lots of people for rides in it. When he carried his three girls and myself (we were little) put us on the back seat and Miss Mattie, his wife, would say, "Now children keep still and hold on" Every few minutes she'd look back to see if we were there and alright.

The schoolhouse was a small frame building but like all the rest, it and different, added to it and made larger one, but it burned down and now there is a nice pretty brick one.

W'ville had 3 cotton gins but they all burned down. The Taylors had charge of it.

Telephones came along and most everybody had one. They were the cranking kind, fastened on the wall and would have to call "central" as was called then--give her your no. and she'd call them for you.

Then the Victorolas, cranking ones, came along, get your records, put 1 on, crank her up, and let her play, and when that one was over or the Victorola ran down put on another record, crank her up, and let her go again. After that when the radios came along, o brother, we were on top of the ladder, Ha, ha--

Wilsonville is 1 1/2 miles from Coosa River and the steam plant.
Your friend,
Virgie Boyer

Mary Elizabeth Hill

John, here is the picture that I said I would send you. Dr. Boyer wore that straw turtle shell anytime he went out. It had a wire frame underneath that held it above his head. I have only seen thus one ever. It was so cool on his head. Mary Virginia, dau. of Virgie, was a best childhood friend of mine. We have many happy memories. The Boyer home was a two-story home--there were only three in the Wilsonville area, located to the left of the school. Dr. Boyer was a brilliant man.

Notice the Bolin history I sent you. For the name Pope, I see Harvey Clark Pope and Mary F. Watters, son of Hopson S. Pope and ________Crawford.

A Phillip Whitfield Waters and #3 wife Sarah M. Pope (called Sallie).

This might be Pope connection to the ones you mentioned. Then there is the John Franklin Pope who was owner of the large brick store across street from the Baptist church. Note the wooden store that belonged to William Tinney was medium size and faced the street leading to the cemetery where you entered. I have one picture that shows a small area at back of this store. When I come across it, I will send you a copy.

In Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Tinney Hill's hand, below picture:

Family funerals here:

Clem Smith
Hugh Elzer Smith
wife Louisa E. Lowery, S.
Osie Ola Tinney, husband of Ethel Smith Tinney
son Frank M. Tinney
Osie's bro. Oscar Tinney of Anniston, Ala.
  "   bro. Claude Tinney of Talladega Ala.
Mrs. William Tinney (Martha Jane Mashburn) whose property was behind church
Hugh Elzer Smith #2 home located across street from brick educational bldg. of Bapt. Ch. on left side. William Tinney home next door.
The stained glass windows were given to Colored ch. nearby.

Wilsonville School, Wilsonville, AL, ca. 1914-1916. This photo was sent to me by Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Tinney Hill; on the back she listed the names of most of the people pictured: "I have listed on the back who these are. The principal boarded with Hugh Elzer Smith (my grandfather). He ran a boarding house for the sellers coming to the stores to sell goods--the Drummer's Home. The Jessie Taylor Home. I must send you a picture of this, too."

Here is one of a later period of Wilsonville School. Notice there is John Vardaman shown here. His dad was named Bennett Vardaman--a wonderful family. John's son Jack Vardaman lives in Birmingham today (2004).