Days Gone By - stories from the past

The small town of Arley, Alabama has a long and strong tradition with Sacred Harp Music

Early pioneers held in high esteem

Arley is located in the heart of Winston County, Alabama. Some early settlers in the area around 1832 were Byrd McDonald, James Blevins, Thomas Calvert, and John Hawkins. “The early pioneers are to be held in high esteem for their native skill, ability, ingenuity, and raw courage. The longevity of these early settlers was short. The exposure and hard work made old men out of young people. Families were large, the mother of the house was cook, nurse, gardener, seamstress, counselor, doctor, and you name her other responsibilities. It is easy to see why the were short lived. George W. Gibson, a minister in the area, had a son named Robert Arley Gibson, who the town was named after.”

Arley map, Alabama from Wikipedia

Town first named Dismal

The town was probably first named Dismal since the first post office with that name was located in the home of Thomas M. Wadsworth. The Dismal post office was closed in 1902 and a new one opened in 1903 near the Arley school, so the town took that name as well.i

Arley, Alabama Marker

Free state of Winston

A historical marker in Arley states the following. “On January 11, 1861 the State of Alabama seceded from the Union. Deeply perturbed, the people of Winston County held a political convention on July 4, 1861 at Looney’s Tavern, near Addison. A resolution was adopted to the effect that Alabama had no right to secede from the Union; but if she did have such right, then Winston County had the same right to secede from Alabama. Uncle Dick Payne, a Confederate sympathizer, remarked, “Oh, oh, Winston secedes! The Free State of Winston!’ Winston did not secede, but ever after she has been beloved of her sons and daughters and fondly known as “The Free State of Winston”.

Canning and Sacred Harp Singers

In 1908, a canning company called the Arley Canning Company operated in the town and was said to have put up one thousand cans per day.

Sacred harp singing has been an important part of Arley, Alabama for over 85 years as can be seen in the film below by the  Denson Quartet from Arley, Alabama.ii alm

Orin Adolphus Parris, who resided in Winston County, became a major figure in southern music as a publisher, teacher, and composer in varied styles for the Sacred Harp, Christian Harmony, and shape-note convention music. He was a quartet singer and a member of the Denson-Parris Quartet, which recorded for Columbia in 1934.

At the 2000 census, there were 290 people living in Arley with 123 households and 89 families residing in the town. In the 2010 census, the population had increased to 357.

Brushy Creek Point form

Brushy Creek Point (courtesty of

“Much of Arley is located within the east side of Bankhead National Forest, and it lies within a mile of Lewis Smith Lake. On the third Friday of March, Arley holds its annual Chittlin’ Supper as a fundraiser. The event focuses on recipes featuring the southern mainstay as well as other types of regional cooking.”


1.Historical marker in Arley, Alabama, in Winston County. Marker is on County Route 41, on the left when traveling north.Marker located next to Meek High School across from Arley Town Hall.


3.Encyclopedia of Alabama

4.Winston County, Alabama Newspaper Clippings 1901-1908

iFrom The New Era Newspaper 4 Jan 1901 – From Arley, Arley, Ala. Dec. 28, 1900 – We have a new post office recently established which will be a great convenience to the people. Arley is its name and is located 20 miles north of Jasper, on the new road leaving the Decatur and Jasper road near the Dismal post office crossing the river at the new bridge. Arley promises fair. We have two mercantile establishments already, M. L. Aaron and A. F. Farley, are the gentlemen in business. Mr. N. Dover has a saw and grist mill, cotton gin. J. O. Farley is our blacksmith. He can do any work required of a blacksmith.

iiFrom The Makers of the Sacred Harp by David Warren Steel, Richard H. Hulan – “In the early years of the twentieth century, Marion County in western Alabama supported many singings and conventions; both Tom and Seaborn Denson taught schools in the county. Among the singing families of the area, the Frederick family of Hackleburg produced three composers, all pupils of Tom Denson, whose works are represented in The Sacred Harp, Oscar H. Frederick, born in 1885, was the grandson of Marion County pioneers; he farmed, worked in insurance, and taught singing schools. His son Elbert Foy Frederick went to college, then returned to the county as a schoolteacher and agricultural agent. Oscar’s nephew Floyd Monroe Frederick was an active teacher until his death in 1960. Another Alabama family that contributed to the Sacred Harp was the Parris family. Hosea Anderson Parris, born in Georgia, moved at an early age to Winston County, where he lived near the Densons. He contributed an arrangement to the Union Harp (1909). His nephew Orin Adolphus Parris, who also resided in Winston County, became a major figure in southern music as a publisher, teacher, and composer in varied styles for the Sacred Harp, Christian Harmony, and shape-note convention music. He was a quartet singer and a member of the Denson-Parris Quartet, which recorded for Columbia in 1934. He served on the 1935 Sacred Harp revision committee, revised the Christian Harmony in 1954, and founded the Parris Music Company and the Convention Music Company.

Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) Inspired by true events and the Cottingham family that resided in 17th century Somerset, Maryland, and Delaware, colonial America comes alive with pirate attacks, religious discord, and governmental disagreements in the pre-Revolutionary War days of America. 

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. Alice Porter Hudgins

    Love this music, was raised listening to it

  2. Rejetta Balentine

    I have tried to sing along but if you don’t know the notes, it’s impossible!! They sing the notes and then sing the words. I love it!!!

  3. June Dorsett

    Sharon Hill this contains an interesting very old recording of some Sacred Heart singers of rural west Alabama.

  4. Andrea Fulmer

    I have old stock cents from sacred harp publishing that belonged to my grandparents. Also have a really old songbook. It’s hard to tell the date, it’s very faded. Best guess is that it was published in 1867.
    My mother’s family was really into sacred harp back in the day.

  5. Donna Hale

    My grandfather use to sing it and I loved hearing him sing

  6. Reba Sims Blackerby

    As a child, my sister and I were taken to one of these singings by my Aunt Ruby and my Grandmother Sims. We tried to sing along but could not keep up and we got tickled (MISTAKE!)…will never forget the look of “scorn” my aunt gave us. So we just listened and pretty soon we got the hang of it!

  7. Judy Womble

    My grandad could sing it some, I love that memory.

  8. Anna Mae Horn

    Susan Cherones, i thought of you when I saw this title 🙂 I didn’t read it, but you might want to

    1. Susan Cherones

      Look forward to watching it, I know some singers from Arly!

  9. Betty J. Copeland

    My great grandfather was a harp singer.

  10. Pamela Nail Rosser

    The Denson family in the recording is my family. We still carry on the tradition.

  11. Pamela Nail Rosser

    Dick Nail, Leah Nail Commer, and Pamela Nail Rosser are 5th and 6th generation Alabama Sacred Harp singers.

  12. I have lived in Arley 12 yrs. and haven t seen an advertisement in Arley for a singing as yet. hopeful one day soon.

  13. This is all very interesting! My family has been in Arley for 5 generations. Some of this information is new to me. I would love to know who owned the Arley Canning Company. Arley is the best place in the world to live! Very good article! Thanks for posting it!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Perhaps some reading can give us more information on the Canning plant.

      1. Do you mind telling me where you got your information for this article? I am doing some research for a school project. Thank you!

  14. Donna Moseley

    Kay Johnson thought you might want to read this!

  15. Marty Parris-Hembree

    As a teenaager I was taken to these singings and taught to sing by my Uncle O.A. Parris and Aunt Mae..Still love this music..Have the “Original Sacred Harp: Denson Revision 1966 edition song book published by Sacred Harp Publishing Company Cullman, Alabama First edition was 1844

  16. Both my grandparents on the Dean side of my Mother’s family were buried and this type of music was sung, very spiritual and sad.

  17. Frank Camp

    Nancy Wackerle Camp you might like this.

  18. Gene Cook

    Chris Harris Dena Manies Harris

  19. Becky Nesmith Cook

    I remember going with my Grandma to Liberty when I was real young. I wish I could remember more about it.

  20. Donna Blevins

    Annette Hammock Newton, Verenice Hawkins

    1. Verenice Hawkins

      They have it at Chestnut Grove at Ider in October.

    2. Annette Hammock Newton

      I would love to hear some. Hated when I was a kid but I appreciate the talent now.

    3. Donna Blevins

      Annette Hammock Newton , wish I had a video of Paw and Pete singing it.

    4. Annette Hammock Newton

      Me too. I can see see them in my mind. Still miss them.

  21. Mary Lou Mitchell Perry

    Nella Faye Mitchell-Fincher

  22. Patsi Hudson Carpenter
  23. Frank Camp

    Nancy Wackerle Camp

  24. Darla Carter Sargeant

    Used to live in Arley on Smith Lake.

  25. I am confused. My family lived near Arley at Falls City from 1907 to the 1940’s and they always referred to Arley has the town of “Meek” (not named for them but for another Meek) Now they did call it Arley by the late 1930’s but they did not know why it was called Meek or why the name was changed to Arley. I do know that there were others who reffered to Arley has the Meek name. Do you have any research on this or the reason for this discrepency?

  26. Joseph Meeks

    this town was once called “Meek”

  27. Alabama had to change the name of mostly everything in order to effect the fraud of adverse possession in order to defray the Federal Law called the Non-Intercourse Act and Worchester v. Georgia which made the entire State’s existence Repugnant to the Constitution, Treaties, Federal Acts, and Judicial Decree.

    But it has happened so far uncontested.

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