History on display
Permanent markers tell stories about an area’s past
By Allison Griffin
They’re often overlooked by motorists flying down the highway, but the historic markers that dot Alabama’s roadsides are a valuable, permanent resource for history buffs and travelers alike.
Two groups in Alabama have had historical marker programs. The Alabama Historical Commission, a state-funded agency based in Montgomery, started its marker program in 1975 to help educate the public about historically significant sites, structures, buildings, objects, cemeteries and districts in Alabama. The marker program is no longer active due to budget cuts.
Any requests for markers that come now are referred to the Alabama Historical Association (AHA), a non-profit, volunteer-led and membership-supported organization based in Livingston, whose historical markers program dates to the 1950s. A committee of the AHA helps interested groups in the purchase and erection of markers for historical sites, and checks the accuracy of information of the proposed marker texts and attests to a site’s historic importance.
The AHA’s program is still active, and the group’s website (www.alabamahistory.net) has an index of existing markers with addresses, arranged by county.
Families and groups interested in erecting a historical marker should note that they must pay for such markers (which can cost in the $2,000 range), and they must do their own research to verify the potential site’s significance.
In our April issue, we asked readers to submit photos and memories associated with their favorite markers, and we received responses from all parts of the state. We have published a selection of those submissions.
Sandy Whisenant of Joppa submitted the Corbin Homestead marker in northeast Cullman County. In 2001, Whisenant became friends with Mrs. Anne Ferguson Humphries, who spent much of her childhood at the Corbin Homestead, and it held a special place in Humphries’ heart. Humphries died in 2012 at the age of 82, but Whisenant said that Humphries always wanted the home place to be seen and appreciated by the public.
Bettye Matkin and Carolyn Chunn Glenn spent two years working to get this Morgan County marker erected, with monetary help from the community and out-of-state friends. Glenn writes: “On very old maps, this was ‘Chunn Springs,’ a health resort with a three-story hotel and many visitors from America and Europe. There were seven springs, one containing iodine water – at that time, the only iodine water found in America.”
Meredith Brunson, tourism director for the city of Enterprise, submitted a marker to the well-known boll weevil: “Enterprise is steeped in rich history, but the historic marker that sits downtown on the southeast corner of Main and College streets really tells the story of the city’s claim to fame. Enterprise is the only city in the world with a monument honoring an insect. The Boll Weevil Monument in the heart of downtown pays tribute to the bug that destroyed the thriving cotton crop, leading to the area’s diversification into peanut farming, which remains a staple of the local economy. It is our favorite marker because without the boll weevil, Enterprise might not be the ‘City of Progress’ that we know and love today.”
Ann Biggs-Williams submitted this marker, dedicated to the town of Lottie: “The Lottie, Alabama historical marker at the crossroads of County Roads 47 and 61 in Baldwin County is my favorite historical marker. Seeing the marker instantly takes me back to 2010 when the entire community came together to plan a Memorial Day event that recognized veterans and placed flags on the community’s graves of area residents that had served in the military. … Having researched the text for the marker, it is a special blessing to pass and see someone reading or photographing our marker.”
From Agnes Windsor of Slocomb, whose great-grandparents founded Countyline Missionary Baptist Church and cemetery: “(The) cemetery is my favorite historic marker because it tells many stories. The marker is a reminder of many who have lived here. … A brief history is inscribed on the marker as to who donated the land to the colored people of Countyline and names the oldest grave in the cemetery of 1892 (as) that of Novie Miller Copeland. This is truly a preservation of history and is the third or fourth to be established in Geneva County and the first in Slocomb.”
This is from the town of Silas, in southwest Alabama: “The Choctaw County Board of Education built Silas Elementary School in 1936 with support from the Alabama State Department of Education. Students attended the school from 1936-2005. After nearly 70 years as a school, the building took on a new purpose in 2005 when the town of Silas purchased the property from the board of education. The town restored the building and opened it in 2009 as the Silas Municipal Complex. The Alabama Historical Commission added Silas Elementary School to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on June 20, 2013.”
From Darrell Brock, a member of Cullman Electric Cooperative: “The little white church and its cemetery, sitting way up on a hill top, so far from the hustle and bustle of normal life, takes me back to an earlier time. A time when the first settlers of the little community in the valley below drove their horses and wagons to the little church to worship and praise God for the many blessings he had given them. If you close your eyes you can almost hear the church hymns ringing out from the church and down to the community below. It is a place to be close to both God and the past. That is why I love Shady Grove Church.”
Another submission from the Cullman area: Old Houston, located a few miles away from present day Houston, was the first county seat for Winston County. In the late 1850s, a log jail was constructed. Pro-Union men who were trying to prevent fellow citizens that refused to enlist in the Confederate Army from being imprisoned burned the jail twice during the Civil War. It was rebuilt a third time in 1868 from hand-hewn hardwood logs. … Cullman County was created partly out of Winston County in 1877. Houston was no longer in the center of Winston, so the county seat moved to Double Springs, effective July 23, 1883. Sometime after the move, the jail was sold to others and privately owned and used as a house until the early 1960s. The jail was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. A comprehensive restoration project on the jail was completed in 2008.
Margaret Gaston, curator of the Hank Williams Museum in Georgiana, offered this: “The Hank Williams Boyhood Home in Georgiana became one of several sites in Alabama assigned by Alabama Department of Tourism as part of their Hank Trail tourist attractions in 2006. This marker was unveiled at the June 6, 2006 Hank Williams Festival. The reverse side of the marker tells the story of Thigpen’s Log Cabin, a roadhouse a half-mile north of the museum on old U.S. 31. The salvageable remains of the log cabin were dismantled and rebuilt within the Hank Williams Park, adjacent to the museum. Hank & the Driftin’ Cowboys played at Thigpen’s regularly beginning in late 1930s and early 1940s.”
A.J. Wright of Pelham sent this photo and a link to his blog post: “Near Pelham City Hall stands a historical marker that includes the following text: ‘Near this site stood Shelbyville, A.T., first county seat of Shelby County; named for Isaac Shelby, governor of Tennessee. Shelby County was established February 7, 1818 by an act of the Alabama Territorial Legislature.’ Yes, the first seat of county government was located where Pelham is now. And yes, the community and the county existed before Alabama became a state.”