Days Gone By - stories from the past

The city of Hamilton in Marion County, Alabama was first known as Toll Gate & was site of the first toll road

Hamilton is located in the center of Marion County along Andrew Jackson’s Military Road which was carved out of the wilds of Alabama by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee in order to create a short cut between New Orleans to Nashville. The soldiers were returning home from victory over the British at New Orleans in 1815. Once constructed, the Military Road shortened the route by 200 miles and made the movement of supply and artillery wagons easier.

The Military Road and Gaines Trace, (the road to Cotton Gin Port), intersected at one point and gradually people began to settle in the area. William Ragsdale was the first in 1818 and more settlers soon followed. Other early settlers included John D. Terrell, Robert Clark, Morris Hall, and the Crenshaw, Holloway, Mackay, Meadows and McFadden families.

Since both roads were traveled frequently, the Alabama Legislature selected the site of the intersection as the first toll gate to help maintain the road in 1821. “Judge John Dabney Terrell Sr. (Marion County’s founding father and framer of the Alabama constitution), was the President of the Alabama Senate during selection.”i

Hamilton map

Map of location of Hamilton, Marion County, Alabama (Wikipedia)

According to the city of Hamilton, “Tolls included: 75 cents for each wagon and team, 50 cents for each 2-wheel pleasure carriage, 12 cents for each man on horse, 4 cents for each head of cattle, and 2 cents for each hog or sheep. There was no charge for the U.S. Mail, people traveling on foot, and for those going to mill or preaching. The toll house became a rest station for the stagecoaches that where traveling between Washington, DC and New Orleans. The stage sounded a horn for each passenger before arriving to let the station know how many passengers where needing refreshment.”

Soon the community became known as Toll Gate and a post office was established there in 1838. The change in name occurred when Captain Albert J. Hamilton (Judge Terrell’s son-in-law) donated 40 acres to be sold in lots to the town of Toll Gate. The money used by the sale of lots was then used to construct a new county courthouse in Toll Gate. The town was re-named Hamilton in his honor in 1882.

With the assistance of W. C. Davis, Captain Hamilton also secured the location of the Sixth District Agricultural School. Among other early builders of Hamilton were Col. Helvingston, Gen. Gholsan, Dr. M. H. Key, David Hubbard, and the Frazier and Sargent families.

Scene at White Rock, Hamilton, Ala May 15, 1908 postcard (Alabama Department of Archives and History) Q8688Scene at White Rock, Hamilton, Ala May 15, 1908 postcard (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

About 3 miles south of Hamilton, a number of Indian burial mounds are located on the Buttahatchee River. Judge Terrell is buried in the Chickasaw burial mounds. Before being “demolished in the 1970’s the toll house and the stage station became the Bolin House. One partially burned timber (rescued from a cleanup fire in 1974) is on display at the Nix Library in Hamilton.”


Students in a farm mechanics class at an agricultural school in Hamilton, Alabama ca. 1900 (Alabama Department of Archives and History) Q5534

Students in a farm mechanics class at an agricultural school in Hamilton, Alabama ca. 1900 (Alabama Department of Archives and History) 

On October 31, 2015, the Chamber of Commerce of Hamilton hosts their 10th annual Butthatchee River Fall Fest starting at 9:00 A. M. in downtown Hamilton, Alabama. Highlighting the annual Buttahatchee River Fall Fest is the living village of the Echota Indians. Indigenous to northwest Alabama and specifically to Marion County and the Buttahatchee River region, the descendants of the original tribe members demonstrate the activities of daily living of their forefathers.



  1. Hamilton Chamber of Commerce
  2. Encyclopedia of Alabama
  3. Wikipedia
  4. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, Volume 1 By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie Bankhead Owen 1921


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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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  1. Harry Simon

    When I think of Hamilton I always think of the divorce scandal.

    1. Linda Owen Waide

      I have a lot of good memories growing up in Hamilton. Alot of wonderful friends and some family.

    2. tell us more

    3. Harry Simon

      It was in the 50’s or 60’s . Alabama used to be a quickie divorce State. Many famous people came to Hamilton to get one . Onasis and some others. It turned out that the lawyer was just throwing the papers in a closet and years later the people found out that they were not divorced .

    4. Harry Simon

      I even heard that they built the runway in Hamilton long enough for private jets.

      1. Also the Long Runway was for fighter jets, in the early 60’s we had fighter jets fly in and out during training….. That is why we have the long runway ….Yes Hamilton di have quickie divorces so the story goes..

  2. John H. Allen

    Very interesting read. My grandfather, traveling from Itawamba County, Mississippi, looking for timber stands, planted his portable sawmill west of Hamilton for a time during the Great Depression, before moving on to Walker County.

  3. Brenda Haase

    I love your site. It’s interesting to be able to see history thru the eyes of those who experienced it.

  4. I
    really enjoy the site, because I like history and especially Alabama history

  5. My 3rd great grandfather, John Valentine Bull D.1840 buried near Bear Creek, had a gun shop on the this road on Bull’s Mountain. It was once named Warrior Mountain. G grandfather, Thomas Washington Carpenter, settled in Hamilton bout 1850. I’ m looking for anything on my Shelton side. G grandfather was Mathew Downs Shelton. His father I think was Joshua L Shelton and mother unknown Downs.

    1. I’m from the area and like history. Old timers (years ago) told me that your G grandfather buried rifles in oil filled drums somewhere on Bull Mountain; this was to prevent the Union soldiers from destroying them and also give him a chance to start over after the Civil War. An area legend perhaps.

  6. Jenny Lynn Palmer

    My in-laws are from Hamilton.

  7. My childhood home, built by GGGrandfather Wood, sat very close to the Military Ford to which this story refers. John Bibb Wood built the house beside a stream/branch that emptied into the Buttahatchie River, where Andrew Jackson’s troops crossed. The area was known as Wood’s Creek Community. Robert Clark’s father William ‘Bill’ Clark brought his family, including sons Robert, Jasper (another of my GGGrandfathers, William, and wife Chloe Baxley Clark, to the area when Alabama Territory opened. I love the area where I grew up.

  8. Cathy Eshmont

    Where can I learn more about Andrew Jackson’s road? Does a current AL route largely follow Jackson’s road?

  9. Highway 43, NW Alabama follows Jackson Road.

  10. The runway was at one time the 2nd longest runway in the state behind Huntsvilles. Rankin Fite who at one time was one of if not the most powerful man in the state ruled it and seen that Hamilton was the quickie divorce capitol of the nation. Desi and Lucille Ball, Onasis as mentioned above plus numerous more got divorces in Hamilton and a few select attorneys got the cash.

  11. I was HHS Band president for the class of 1965. For our band banquet that year, I looked in old yearbooks and found pictures of the HHS Band officers from 1915 and was able to locate one of the members (or maybe he was the band director? I can’t remember.) At any rate, several band members and I went to visit him and wrote down his recollections of being an HHS Band member. We printed his story and included it as an insert in the program at the banquet. We also invited him and he was our special guest at the banquet that year. As I remember, the school was more like an agricultural school in his days, and one of their football games was against Auburn University. I just wonder if there’s a copy of this program on file at the high school now.

  12. The HAMILTON-SULLENS house sits across the street from the United Methodist Church in Hamilton. It has been renovated and will be open for touring the last Saturday of October during Hamilton’s Fall Festival. So proud to live in Hamilton, Capt Hamilton’s have, located in the City Cemetary, not far from the renovated home has a beautiful tombstone with inscribed history about Captian Hamilton himself.

  13. Nice information on the City of Hamilton. It was good to see the vintage photos of the people. Great post!

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