Days Gone By - stories from the past

Hung in Effigy in Greensboro, Alabama in 1843

Hung in Effigy in Greensboro, Alabama1

(written in 1908)

The cutting down of an oak tree and the filling of a well in 1843 in Greensboro came near causing a riot. Much bitter feeling was manifested over the incident.

Beautiful oak and public well

In the exact center of Main street at the intersection of Tuscaloosa street, was a public well covered by a square shelter with a four-sided roof; shading it was a large, thrifty, beautifully shaped oak, beneath the shade of which the inhabitants rested and whiled away the dull, hot summer days.

Greensboro, Alabama. Main street buildings and county courthouse cupola August 1936 by Walker Evans (Library of Congress)

In 1843, the Town Council, after deliberating over the matter, and coming to the conclusion that the well and the beautiful oak were unnecessary obstructions to the highway, had the well filled up and the tree cut down. So great was the indignation of the populace over this act of vandalism (as they regarded it) that the Intendant, who was instrumental in removing the ancient landmarks, was hung in effigy.

Old citizens recalled watering hole

At the time of the existence of the well referred to, there was another in the center of Main street very near the Greensboro hotel. This well was also filled up. About ten or twelve years ago, this old relic was brought to the attention of the public by a sinking of the soil at this point. The old inhabitants then recalled the watering place of the old days.

It is a fact that is not generally known, or at least not thought of by many, that a wound in the breast of old mother earth never heals if made beneath the top soil. The clay never runs together and forms again a Solid strata, but the cut always remains.

Buildings built

On January 27, 1845, an Act was passed to “Alter and amend the several Acts Incorporating the Town of Greensborough.” It somewhat enlarged the powers of the Intendant and Council. On February 12, 1850, another Act to amend the charter was passed, the main feature of which was authorizing the town to build a jail, or calaboose, for the detention of slaves.

The building erected is still standing in the rear of the old market house, located on the southern boundary line of the property of Gulley and Christian on Main street. It served as a county prison before the present jail was built, and many are the evil doers who have been detained within the narrow limits of the two little rooms composing the calaboose. It is still in use by the town as a city prison.

As a matter of historical interest, we record here that the town of Greensboro presented the county of Hale with the building now used as a jail immediately in the rear of the court house. This was done in accordance with the proposition Greensboro made the county to the effect that it would present the county with a court house and jail if the voters would make the town the county seat. The brick of which the jail is built was burned in 1868 by the town authorities, and it is claimed that considerable money was saved by the operation. Hugh Watt was the contractor.

Court House, Greensboro, Ala postcard dated July 2, 1909 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

In 1850, the town erected the building that is now used as the Fire Company’s House, as a public market, and all butchers and sellers of fresh meats were required by law to keep their places of business in stalls provided for the purpose. The stalls were rented to the butchers, and quite a neat sum was realized each year by the town from the rentals.

The bell in the little tower—now used as a fire alarm—was rung each morning between four and five o’clock to notify the people of Greensboro that the market was open and ready for business. In those days every one buying beef had to go or send for it, or else they went without.

Old Southern University, University Avenue and College Street, Greensboro, Alabama April 3, 1934 by W. N. Manning photographer (Library of Congress)

Liquor sales

On January 25, 1856, an Act incorporating the Southern University was passed. Sections 4, 5, and 6 of this Act forbids the sale of liquors within a radius of five miles of Greensboro, except by druggists. Governor Winston vetoed the bill, but the Legislature passed it over his protest. The exception in regard to druggists selling liquors was Soon taken advantage of, and for some years the drug stores sold whiskey without apparent restraint.

So flagrantly was the intent of the law violated, that at the Session of the Legislature 1884-5, the charter of the University was amended so as to prohibit the sale of liquor by the druggists. For nearly a quarter of a century, no liquor has been legally sold in Greensboro.

On January 1, 1887, the entire county of Hale became prohibition territory by Legislative enactment. It was not until the year 1858 that the limits of the town were extended beyond the original quarter section and the Marast lot. Acting under Sections 1220 and 1225 of the then General Statutes of Alabama, a petition was filed in the Probate Court of Greene county, praying that the matter of extending the corporate limits of Greensboro might be submitted to a vote of the qualified electors of said town.

The territory designated as an addition was the northeast, the southeast and Southwest quarters of Section 16. Considerable opposition to the proposed addition developed, and the election was quite exciting. However, the extensionists won, the vote standing sixty for, and forty-two against extension. The territory annexed came under the jurisdiction of the town authorities in April 1858.

Historic buildings in the city of Greensboro, Alabama 2010 (photographer Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress)

Charter amended

In 1859, the charter was again amended so as to authorize the imprisonment of white persons, and also made the Intendant elective by the people instead of by the Council as before. The office of marshal was also created. On March 1st, 1870, an Act was approved by the Legislature, by which all former Acts in regard to the Charter of the town of Greensboro were repealed, and the powers granted under the act of 1870, were regarded as the powers to be exercised by those in authority. New ordinances and new by-laws were enacted by the Mayor and Council.

Finally, the Legislature at its session of 1894-5 repealed all former Acts and gave the town its present charter. The corporate limits as set forth and defined therein are the same as the limits of today. The following is the territory embraced in the corporation: The West half of the Northwest quarter, the Southwest quarter and the West half of the Southeast quarter of Section 16; the East half and the Southwest quarter of Section 17; the North half of the Northwest quarter, and the Northwest quarter of the Northwest quarter of Section 20, and that part of Section 21 lying north of a line beginning at the Southeast corner of the Southern University grounds and running West to the Section line between Sections 20 and 21, all in Township 20, Range 5, East.

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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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