The first part of a transcribed serial article published in the Southern Star, Ozark, Ala., beginning May 10, 1899
EARLY HISTORY OF SOUTHEAST ALABAMA
By W. L. Andrewsi
This country when first found by the early settlers was open, the only growth being large trees, Even on the larger streams and creeks the growth consisted of oak, hickory, elm, ash and other trees, there being an entire absence of the small bushy growth now plentiful. In the lower stiff lands reed was abundant, and in places to this day reed is found growing.
Fine pasturage induced early settlers
It is natural in the absence of shade that grasses grow luxuriantly and furnish the finest pasturage for large game and the stock brought into the country. Indeed it was the stories of game and fine pasturage carried back by those who came over to spy the country that induced many of the early settlers to leave their native hearths for pastures new where adventure held a charm for every man.
Many men of wealth and influence together with those less fortunate in the race of life, came here by wagon train bringing their slaves, cattle, hogs, horses and other stock; and pitched their tents in the forest exposed to the raids of red skins and the ravages of bear, panther and other ferocious beasts. It took courage to face the new conditions, but these early settlers had nerve which soon developed a heroism of which their descendants feel proud.
Claybank Church established 1829 – log cabin built in 1852 is still standing and has been restored
Stock was missing
Among those who came here in the early Twenties was Allen Cooley of South Carolina. He brought his slaves as well as stock and among other things, his son William had an Indian pony mare, bereft of one ear. He settled three miles southeast of the town where the Ketchums now (1899) reside, and after belling his horses turned them on the range. One night when the stock came up “crap” was missing. She failed to come up the next day, and the day after Mr. Cooley instituted a search which revealed the fact that the animal had started away from her new home and gone in a northerly direction.
He and his son started to follow the trail. They took a hatchet along with which to blaze the trail so they might not get lost in the forest. They tracked her along by the spring heads west of the square, on up through old Ozark and up Henry Block’s two miles this side of Louisville where she had stopped and had been taken up. Neither family knew of the other at that time, but the incident served to make friends of them and they exchanged visits.
Road followed the Cooley trail
When Henry was divided and its territory became Dale and Henry counties the county seat at Old Richmond, or Wiggin’s Springs, ten miles east of Newton, ceased to be the judicial centre, the courthouse for Dale being located at Daleville and that for Henry at Columbia. Soon after a commission was appointed to view out a road from Daleville to Louisville with instructions to follow as closely as possible the Cooley trail after they reached it. The road then established with little change is the road now traveled between these two points by way of Ozark, opened up this immediate vicinity for its first settlements.
Among the first to traverse the expanded trail were John Merrick, Sr., and his son John Merrick Jr., who resided in Barbour county. Seeing this was a goodly land the Merricks decided to make it their home, and the senior Merrick entered the parcel of land on which the present town of Ozark is partly built and erected a log house in which to live in the midst of the street, a little north of the Andrews boarding house. That was the first settlement made in what is now Ozark.
The beginning of Ozark
Across the new road, near where Sheriff M. C. Dowling’s residence stands, Merrick built a small log house in which he kept whiskey. In those days there were many mighty and voracious reptiles in this country, and an antidote of this kind was considered the sine qui non of every household. This was the first mercantile venture for this section and the new locality was called Merrick’s. Having married Miss Anna Mathews, daughter of Moses Mathews, John Merrick, Jr., settled the place now owned and occupied by T. G. Blackman, Sr., and in 1837 built another log store there in which liquors were sold. He prospered and his wealth and honors increased.
Dowling-Murphree House in Ozark, Alabama built by Samuel Lawson Dowling ca. 1850-1874 National Register of Historic places(Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Citizen soldiery was the rage in those days and every beat was organized with its muster ground conveniently located where musters were held quarterly. The muster ground for this beat was at what- is now known as the Carroll church, though it was settled by Curtis Byrd in 1828.
John Merrick, Jr., was commissioned Colonel of the county militia in 1840. In 1844 John D. Worrell moved to Woodshop from Barbour county and opened a mercantile business on a more extensive scale, carrying dry goods and a general assortment of merchandise.
After a year or so he followed the early trend of settlers in this direction and built a small store on top of the hill where the residence of James Moseley now (1899) stands, It was not until the spring of 1851 that another mercantile venture was made when W. KL & F. M. Martin, brothers, built a small log house to the north of John Merrick’s establishment and put in a small stock. But they dissolved in the fall and quit business.
Name changed three times
In 1852 Tom Bullard came in and bought out the Merrick stand and continued business there for a short time and then built a small board store house near the road and opened up. The post office at Woodshop having been discontinued because it was much trouble with little compensation to the postmaster, the community asked the general government to establish an office at Bullard’s. The request was granted and Tom Bullard was appointed postmaster, the name Woodshop being retained.
On the 1st of Sept. 1853, Mr. E. T. Matthews bought an interest in Mr. Bullard’s business and they continued the enterprise under the firm name of Bullard & Matthews until the spring of 1855, when Mr. Matthews purchased Mr. Bullard’s interest and became sole proprietor. It was now necessary to have a new postmaster, and accompanying the petition was a request that the name be changed from Woodshop to Ozark.
The name occurred to Mr. E. T. Matthews from reading the history of the Ozark tribe of Indians which inhabited the section of country traversed by the Ozark mountains in Missouri and Arkansas. Mr. Matthews was appointed to succeed Mr. Bullard as postmaster. He then enlarged the building, a portion of which still stands and being of a wealthy family he readily found means to largely increase the capacity of his establishment for serving the public.
In 1856 Mr. J. H. Carroll, son of Major Jim Carroll, Sr., erected a building across the road and opened up a stock of groceries. In 1858, a partnership was formed between Jno. W. Dowling, Jr., F. M. Martin and J. H. Carroll, under the firm name of Carroll, Dowling & Martin. These firms continued business until the war broke out, when business became demoralized and one after the other of these gentlemen enlisted to fight for the cause of the Confederacy. The stirring, exciting scenes of the sixties are reserved for a special chapter, which will follow later.
Difficulties after Civil War
When the war closed those who had survived the storms of exposure to weather and the bullets of the enemy, returned home to find themselves almost on an equal footing in the race of life.
Farms had gone down, stock was scattered, and the broken families gathered about ruins of former plenty and comfort to weep, but not without hope. There was wealth in the soil and fortune stored in. the future for all who would grasp it.
New resolutions were formed and with that determined, calm courage for which the southerner is noted in poetry and song, the people went to work with a will to regain what had been lost in conflict. They succeeded and within a year signs of new life were visible on every hand.
During the last year of the war Mr. E. T. Matthews was furloughed on account of sickness and was with his family when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. During his absence the store had been looked after by Mrs. Matthews and her elder son. Mr. T. J. Matthews, who at that time was well up in his teens. In December that year he sold his interest here to Judge Ed Richards of Eufaula and removed with his family to Greenville, Ala., where he again embarked in business.
Earlier in the fall of the same year, Messrs. John Huff and Wm. Barrow came to Ozark from Henry county with their families. They bought the incompleted store started by John W. Dowling before the war south of the one erected by Carroll in 1856, completed it and opened up a stock of general merchandise under the firm name of Huff & Barrow.
Businesses left and others were started
In the year 1867 plans and specifications for a new Masonic Hall with stores below were submitted for bids and the building erected to the south and east of the Matthews store some fifty yards. In 1868 the firm of Huff & Barrow was dissolved by mutual consent, Mr. Barrow continued business at the old stand and Mr. Huff forming a partnership with Dr. J. C. Holman opened a business in the south half of the new Masonic building.
Mr. Cader Carroll and Mr. James Johnson formed a business partnership under the firm name of Carroll & Johnson and did business on the north side. The same year William Faust came to Ozark from Georgia and opened a grocery store in the building formerly occupied by Carroll, Dowling & Martin, This completed the commercial growth of what is now called old Ozark, and soon a new and unexpected era dawned upon this section which made it the center of the judicial as well as commercial interest of the county.
Question to remove courthouse
The question of removing the courthouse from Newton which had been discussed for several years was submitted to a vote of the people in 1869. At a meeting of the board of County Commissioners three places were placed in nomination before the Board—Newton, where the county seat was then located, Ozark, and the center of the county which was three miles south of the present site.
After a spirited discussion in which attorneys representing the several interests took part, it was decided to let the race be between Newton and Ozark, and the two rival towns were placed before the suffrages of the county. The contest was waged with vigor, even bitterly, Ozark winning out in the end. Immediately after the result was officially declared a new site was selected. Lands were bought from Mrs. Mary Gray, Rev. C. Smith and others, the purchases embracing the old Merrick settlement a half mile south of the old town. Daniel Munn was employed to lay off the new town and was assisted by Col. John Merrick. The contract for a new court house was let to Dr. W. L. Milligan and it was completed in 1870.
The first store set up at the new town was removed from Newton by Jesse Barnes to the northwest corner of the square where C. C. Beasley is now doing business. Wood & Carmichael, a prominent law firm, removing their two story law office to a lot next to Barne’s. Tobe Martin rented the lower room and opened a small stock of fancy groceries. These were followed by Manson D. Hart of Newton, Jake Ezell of this vicinity and Wm. Barrow. During the same year Jno. W. Dowling and James H. Garner formed a partnership and opened business in their new store on the north side of the public square, the stock being bought in August.
During the fall Joseph A. Adams removed the “Southern Star”, the county paper, from Newton to a building on the northwest corner of the square. The new town then had a newspaper and under an able and loyal editorial management did noble service for the young city in the pines. Many new residences and places of business followed in rapid succession and the new town soon began to assume the appearance of a prosperous little city.
In 1890 the north side of the square was visited by a destructive fire more than two-thirds of its business being reduced to ashes, including the mammoth mercantile establishment of Jno. W. Dowling. Only a few brick buildings were here then, but the fire demonstrated the necessity for brick instead of wood and the burnt district was rebuilt with brick and mortar. Many others followed in the next year.
In the summer of 1884, the courthouse built by Dr. Milligan was burned down and all official records destroyed. The contract for a new brick structure was let to Capt. M. M. Tye and built in 1885. Ever since the new county seat was laid off the question of getting a railroad built through this section had been agitated. Public meetings both at Newton and Ozark were held for the purpose of educating public sentiment up to offering material inducements to railroad management to build roads.
In the spring of 1890 the Central of Georgia completed its line to this point and in the fall the Alabama Midland ran its cars into the corporate limits of the town. The local limits of trade expanded to that of a central market for a large territory to the south and west. Instead of going to Montgomery, Greenville, Eufaula and river points farmers brought their staple to Ozark.
Ample provisions were made in the money and commercial markets for handling cotton and more than 20,000 bales were sold to local buyers, the merchants here securing the trade hitherto going elsewhere. They prospered, many of them growing wealthy, building new brick stores, magnificent residences and laying by small fortunes on which they and their families are yet living in comfort and enjoying the fruits of their keen business foresight.
i Lacking biographical material concerning Mr. W. L. Andrews, author of a series of articles published in the Southern Star, Ozark, Alabama, in May and June 1899, the Editor of this publication is reproducing a clipping from the Alabama Historical Society Collections, Volume 1. The Collections were edited by the late Thomas M. Owens, to whom Mr. Andrews had written as follows: “In 1885 I set out to write a history of this county (Dale), and since then have gathered complete information of its history from DeSoto’s landing at Tampa Bay, 1539. Of course, nothing much of importance attaches to this section prior to the territorial period of the State, except the settlement between foreign powers of the questions of jurisdiction, and finally the settlement of disputes which placed this section under the jurisdiction of Georgia. Up to this time, however, the facts are all of public record. Since that time none of its history has been published in book form. While my work has been directed more especially towards getting out a history of Dale County, that could not be done without involving the history of Henry, Geneva, Coffee, Pike and Barbour, because the first three, together with Dale, were organized in 1824 as “Henry County.” “Last summer (1899) I traveled all over these counties by private conveyance to gather such authentic information as I might find in the hands of the people. Of this I found much in the form of letters, documents, various records, and statements of persons who either took part in the events, or whose parents had. In this way I secured a complete list of all the county officers from 1824, the organization of the militia and its history, the first settlements, customs of the people, material development, Church and temperance history^ Indian war, Indian Massacres, with names of persons and particulars of their barbarities, capture of Indians, their disposal, Jackson’s march through the county, where he crossed the streams, first settler, and settlers, first house and houses, first mill, who raised first cotton: War period, — Invasion by the enemy, battles with them, people murdered by deserters, killing of Lieut. Spears, and the whole detail — Days of reconstruction and their horrors. Rise of the Populites, especially with reference to the fight of 1892 — subsequent history to date. Burning of court house, fights over county seats, questions affecting the early settlers on the subject. And much more.”