Days Gone By - stories from the past

Hackleburg was almost leveled by tornadoes twice, but both times the citizens built back

In 2007, Hackleburg was named the “Best Small Town in America” by Country Music Television and it is probably for good reason. The citizens of Hackleburg, Alabama are resilient people. Hackleburg was almost leveled twice by tornadoes, once in 1943 and again in 2011, but both times they simply  picked up the pieces and built their town back, better than ever.


Hackleburg, Alabama is located in the northern part of Marion County one mile from Big Bear Creek, and 17 miles northeast of Hamilton. It was settled in the early 1800’s and is situated at the at a point that was once the intersection of the Russellville Pipe and the Allen’s Factory and Iuka stage coach road.

Bear creek, Marion County, Alabama map

Location of Hackleburg, Alabama

One of the first telegraph lines in the South

Northwest of Hackleburg are traces of the old Jackson Military Road which branched from the Natchez Trace at Columbia Tennessee, and crossed the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals. Along the Jackson Military Road was strung one of the first telegraph lines in the South in 1848.   Hackleburgs population in 1912 was 286. At the 2010 census, its population was 1,430.

cutting telegraph wire

Named for the thick growth of thorny plants called hackles

The town was named by the sheep-drovers of Tennessee, on account of the thick growth of thorny plants called hackles in the northern part of Marion County, which were destructive to the fleece and fatal to the sheep.

There are other large springs near Big Bear Creek, and this circumstance made Indian villages numerous in the neighborhood. Trees are still standing whose bark was carved by the Indians. There are also mortars in the rocks where they pounded their corn and wheat. Other carvings are to be seen on the bluff and the cliffs near the springs. Robert Cochrane, of Mecklenburg, N. C., was the first settler in the vicinity. He was soon followed by the Kennedy, Self, and Fredericks families.

Jackson's military road

First post office was called Chalk Bluff

Other early settlers were the Fredericks, Boyds, Osborns and Rowes.  The first post office near Hackleburg was called Chalk Bluff. It was about four miles south of town and was moved to what is known as old Hackleburg in 1885. W. W. Frederick was the first postmaster. W. W. Osborn started the first store in 1884 at old Hackleburg and had a cotton gin, saw mill, and grist mill.

First church was a simple log building

Congregational Methodist  was the first church and was simply a little log building about one mile south of town. Some of the early members were B. P. Cantrell, John Coleman and W. W. Frederick .  This church later was reorganized as the Methodist Church South and another building for the church was erected at town in 1889. It was named  Cedar Tree Methodist Church because of some large cedar trees  around the church.

Charter members of the he Baptist Church, organized July 5, 1908, included the families of J. M. Conden,, J. L. Vandiver and W. J. Bryan. The Church of Christ was organized about 1912 and the Church of God about 1920.

School building burned in 1921

Hackleburg’s first school was held in the little log house of the Congregational Methodist Church and later moved with the Methodist church when it moved to the Cedar Tree location. School was held there until another school was erected on the Boyd place near the present site of the high school and elementary school in 1913. This original building burned in 1921 and classes were taught in local churches until the building was erected across from the J. S. Walker residence in 1923.

Train construction brought an epidemic of small pox

Trains arrived around 1906 with the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad.  An epidemic of small pox swept through the construction camps and many men were killed. They were buried in the fields beside the track. In 1910, the train depot was built and manned by Jess Doty, Frank Osborn and W. E. Doty as depot agents.  A one-coach train, named the Doodle Bug, was popular transportation for the young and old as they attended FA SO LA singings on Sundays, attended school or shopped locally.

W. B. Mixon built the first store

The first store in Hackleburg was built by W. B. Mixon in 1906. Early doctors included Dr. Brooks, Dr. Robert Holcomb, Dr. J. B. Goggans, Dr. Pyle, Dr. Earnest West, Dr. W. B. Mixon, Dr. Matthews, Dr. J. L. Wilson, Dr. Wiser, and Dr. Sherman.

Among other early settlers in Hackleburg were: Baker, Barnwell, Brewer, Bureleson, Cantrell, Clark, Clay, Clement, Cole, Evans, Fincher, Fowler, Ford, Goggins, Gowder, Green, Gunnin, Holcomb, Holland, Hudson, Ingles, Isom, Jackson, Kennedy, Lunsford, Mann, Miller, Mixon, Parain,  Quillin, Quinn, Ray, Robinson, Spragin,  Spratlin, Stell, Taylor, Walker,  Wiginton, Wilson, Wood, Yeilding/

Tornado killed severely damaged the town in 1943

On April 12, 1943, a tornado almost leveled the town of Hackleburg, killing four persons, Mr. and Mrs. Alvin “Bud” Powell and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Mann and injuring approximately 50 people, many of them seriously. The three Mann children were injured, but not seriously. The tornado cut a path 200 yards wide and a half mile in length through the heart of the town. Approximately 400 persons had to be housed in Army tents. The town population at the time was 628.

Twenty-one homes were completely destroyed, and at least 40 more seriously damaged. The entire business district of the town including its three churches was leveled. The school building was seriously damaged. Mayor C. E. Fell estimated the property damage at approximately $500,000. The only building left standing in town was the bank, and it was heavily damaged.

Birthplace of Sonny James

Hackleburg was the birthplace of Sonny James, (aka the Southern Gentleman) born James Loden, son of Archie Loden and Della (Burleson) Loden. on May 1, 1929.   He is a Country music singer-songwriter best known for his 1957 smash hit, “Young Love”. Between 1953 and 1983 he scored an impressive 72 chart records, 43 reached the Top Ten and 23 went to #1. He was inducted into The Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

Sonny JamesSonny James (Wikipedia)

Another severe tornado of April 30, 2011 destroyed 75% of the town

After his success as a recording artist, he returned to Hackleburg in the 90’s and moved later to Nashville, Tennessee. He returned for the Neighbor Day Festival on April 25, 2009 to recognize the 100th birthday of the town of Hackleburg and performed on the main stage. James was planning to attend the Neighbor Day Festival in Hackleburg on April 30, 2011 but the F5 tornado arrived first on April 27, 2011 and according to the Red Cross destroyed 75% of the town.  Eighteen people were killed on that day. The town’s largest employer, the Wrangler jeans distribution facilitywas also destoryed. However, the company opened a new facility on April 29, 2013, almost exactly two years after the original plant was destroyed. Today, Hackleburg has made a long way to recovery.

Below is a longer film posted on YouTube by Random Videos that reveals scenes before and after the 2011 tornado.



  1. Polk’s Alabama Gazetteer. 1888-9, p. 402; Alabama Official and Statistical Register, 1915.
  2. The Journal-Record – Bicentennial Edition Thursday, July 1, 1976 Section C, Page 6
  3. Wikipedia
  4. The Tuscaloosa News – April 13, 1943

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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