(Transcribed from The Wetumpka Herald, Wetumpka, Alabama, May 1, 1947)
HISTORY OF WETUMPKA
DeSoto and his followers were the first white men of whom there is any record of having visited what is now Elmore County. It is recorded that DeSoto entered on September 1, 1540.
A relic of 140, a breech block of one of the cannons DeSoto brought with him on his ill-fated expedition, was found a number of years ago on the riverbank in Elmore County. Investigation revealed that at that time it was the oldest relic of European manufacture in America. Today (1947) the relic is in the possession of a Wetumpka citizen.
Centered Around the Indians
Wetumpka history centers around Indian history. The rushing waters were traversed by the Red man’s canoe and the forest beasts were hunted only by Indians from 1540 until 1714. This section was perhaps more densely peopled than any other section of the Creek nation. The first “Wetumpka” was situated somewhere on the Coosa River just above the location of the city today.
The French had a happy faculty of making friends with their red neighbors who were also friendly. Arriving at Coosada in 1714 Bienville explained through interpreters that the French were in search of a spot to build a fort not for military purposes but to be used as an outpost to help the Indians and whites who were to come into the section as traders. The Indians gladly took Bienville and some of his men into their canoes and went up the Alabama River, where they came to the spot where the Coosa and Tallapoosa flowed together.
Taking the left fork, or the Coosa he came about a mile and found just the point he sought. He seemed elated for he returned to Coosada and with his men poled the long boats up to old Fort Jackson. Time will not permit a recounting of stories about the men who garrisoned this fort. One true story is that Sehoy, princess of “The Tribe of the Wind”, and Commandant Marchand were married and were the grandparents of the famous Alexander McGillevery and William Weatherford. A marker stands now near Wetumpka, honoring these men who played outstanding parts in the state and nation.
English and American Traders Arrive
Time passed on and in 1763 English and American traders pushed their way into what is now Elmore. An old land map shows a number of persons who settled about Wetumpka on lands ceeded in 1814. Among the land holders we find the family names of Elmore, Fitzpatrick, Bullard, Loften, Gray, Rose, Weaver, Crommelin, and Leaks.
With the foregoing as a background, we shall think more about Wetumpka, our picturesque city. It is divided into two sections by the slowly flowing Coosa River on which early came river boats. Warehouses sprang up and early it became a thriving community. As early as 1820 records show that Jacob House, Charles Crommelin, Howell Rose, Ben Fitzpatrick, E. S. Ready, and the Trimble family had established plantations near by, Later settlers were Seth P. Storrs, Sampson W. Harris, the Beman, Yancy, Green, Williams, McNeal, and Judkins families. It is said that the Fitzpatrick family owned 10,000 acres between Elmore and Wetumpka.
By legal acts dated January 17 and 18, 1834, Wetumpka was incorporated as a town on the west bank of the Coosa. Soon settlements sprang up on the eastern side, a condition which necessitated a bridge and so one was demanded. In 1830 a bridge was completed at Wetumpka and was washed away in the flood of 1841. In 1842 a covered bridge was completed and was operated as a toll bridge until it was washed by high waters in 1886.
Mr. Horatio Robison, bridge keeper, was very happy over the fact that no one ever crossed the bridge without paying toll. Mr. Seth P. Storrs made a bet with friends in Tallassee that he would break Mr. Robison’s record and cross without paying. He harnessed up his two Texas mares, approached the west end of the bridge, applied the whip to his team, and gave all appearance of a runaway approaching. Mr. Robison heard the runaway team coming and in order to prevent the bridge being torn up, lifted the gates, and Mr. Storrs rushed by. He returned to Tallassee and collected the wager from his friends.
After this bridge was washed away, crossing was made by a ferry located below the government house and operated by the Wetumpka Bridge Company.
The new bridge was completed in 1889 and was replaced in 1931 by the present Bibb Graves Bridge.
Penitentiary and Schools
In 1839 a State Penitentiary was placed at Wetumpka and the original walls now stand though a disastrous fire swept the property. A new prison for women was erected and named for Julia Tutwiler, Alabama educator.
During these years a number of schools were thriving. One was the Masonic Female Institute where the home of Mrs. George Smooot now (1947) stands on West Bridge Street. Mr. Lewis Sedberry was the first co-ed and “sat in the desk with a girl”. Another was the Wetumpka Male and Female Institute, which stood for many years on the lot where Mr. and Mrs. Parker Sedberry reside. After years of usefulness both schools burned. Teachers who deserve honorable are Miss Hattie Johnson, known as Aunt Hattie, an Indian looking, dark haired, erect teacher, who had a one-room private school for boys on the lot near the Wetumpka General Hospital. In Aunt Hattie’s garden there grew one special tree to produce switches which she used on the boys of the Bates, Kid, Tulane, Sedberry, and other prominent families. Another school that thrived about 1860 was a boys’ school near Zion Church taught by Charlie Walker. Other teachers deserving honorable mention in later years were Miss Lovie Fielder and Miss Lizzie Hunter.
Wetumpka Lost by One Vote
Old records reveal that stores stood for many years on the strip between the Presbyterian and Baptist Churches.
For a number of years the Honorable William L. Yancy, the silver tongued orator of the South and leader of cessation, was a resident of Wetumpka. He published the “Wetumpka Argus” and made it pay. Some of his greatest editorials were written in Wetumpka papers. He was a lawyer of ability and was a confederate state’s Senator at the time of his death in 1863. One half mile south of Wetumpka near the old Yancy home, a marker was erected in 1940 by the Wetumpka chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
In 1846, dissatisfaction arose as to the location of the state capitol at Tuscaloosa. Wetumpka and Montgomery were proposed as central location. When the final vote was taken. Wetumpka lost by one vote.
In early days there were three churches; The Baptist organized May 26, 1821, and located on the Holtville Road where the Bradley stock farm was developed, now (1947) owned by the Cousins’ family. The second location was in Frog Level near the late Joe Sanford Home. The present (1947) structure was erected upon a parcel of ground given in 1845 by Honorable Seth P. Storrs, while the building itself was not dedicated until 1852.
The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1836 and has a balcony recessed over the vestibule, extending six feet over the auditorium. It was restored to its immaculate state of beauty in 1936 when it celebrated its centennial. In the summer of 1947, erection will begin of a modern Sunday School building identical in design with the church building. Within its quiet portals have preached some really great ministers and within its walls worshiped some of the truly great men of our nation. A former pastor was Dr. Foster, an uncle of Miss Lucy and Nonie Lull, and Mrs. H. A. Robison. It is said that the first wedding in this church was that of Miss Narcissus Douglass and James Montgomery Smith on November 28, 1865. The following year Honorable John H. Bankhead and Tallulah James Brockman were married.
The Methodist Church was erected in 1854 and for a number of years before the war, the colored members were permitted to worship downstairs, where the Sunday School is conducted at present. (1947) About 1909 and also in the past few years the structure was remodeled inside and many modern conveniences installed. Recently an expansive building program has been launched to include a new parsonage and Sunday School rooms.
Wetumpka Light Guards
On April 27, 1861, the Wetumpka Light Guards were quick to respond to the call to arms in the War Between the States and left for Montgomery on the steamboat “Dick Keys”. The farewell sermon to the Light Guards was preached in the Presbyterian Church April 1861. In Montgomery they became a part of the Third Alabama Infantry and were among the first to reach the front. Their service was memoralized with the huge granite boulder near the bridge. The first officers were Captain E. S. Ready; Louie L. Hill, First Lieutenant; Henry S. Storrs, second Lieutenant; and William C. Harris, third Lieutenant. Lieutenant Storrs was accidentally killed in Virginia and his position was taken by Cpl. Ben K. Melton.
Buildings and Residences
In 1932 a magnificent courthouse building was completed and a modern post office of native stone stands on the Montgomery highway.
In the Birmingham News dated Sunday, April 7, 1935, the following Wetumpka homes were listed: Kelly Fitzpatrick, Meriweather Moore Masion, General John A. Elmore home, Governor Benjamin Fitzpatrick, Marie Bankhead Owens, The J. D. Reese home of temple character, the Jessie Enslen House, the Storrs -Farrow home, the Cantelou home on Tuskeena Street, and the Emma Smoot house. In the same issue there were pictures of the three churches already described.
Many prominent people have distinguished themselves during recent years. Two of our boys graduated first in their class at Annapolis. They were George S. Storrs with the class of 1858, who served as a major in the confederate army, and Charles H. McMorris, now (1947) an Admiral in the U. S. Navy. Wetumpka is the home of the Crommelin family which holds the distinction of being the only family in the United States to have five sons, all graduates of Annapolis and all holding high ranking position in World War II. Two of these made the supreme sacrifice.
Wetumpka is the home of Florence Golson Bateman, nationally known composer, singer and teacher. Kelly Fitzpatrick, organizer of Dixie Art Colony and art teacher, the home of Alabama’s outstanding woman citizen, Marie Bankhead Owens, the late John H. Bankhead, Henry Bankhead and Tallulah Bankhead, the actress. Among the beautiful gardens here is Jasmine Hill, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Fitzpatrick.
THE DOTHAN EAGLE, HOUSTON COUNTY, ALABAMA 1908 NEWSPAPER ABSTRACTS
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Some surnames mentioned – ADAMSON, AIREY, ANDERSON, ARMSTEAD, ARMSTRONG, ARNOLD, ASKEW, AUGUSTINE, AVERY, BAKER, BALDIN, BANKHEAD, BARNES, BASS, BATCHELOR, BATSON, BAUGHMAN, BAXLEY, BAXTER, BELL, BENETT, BENNETT, BERRY, BINION, BLACK, BLACKSHEAR, BLOUNT, BONHAM, BOND, BONNER, BOWDOIN, BOWEN, BOX, BOYETT, BRACKIN, BRISBANE, BRITT, BROWN, BRUINER, BRYAN, BULLOCK, BUNKER, BURDESHAM, BURDESHAW, BURKETT, BURNS, BUSH, BUTLER, BYRD, CALHOUN, CALVERT, CAMERON, CANNON, CARLISLE, CARMICHAEL, CARROLL, CARTER, CAWLEY, CHAFIN, CHANCEY, CHERRY, CHILDS, CHRISTIAN, CLARK, CLAYTON, CLEMMONS, CLYATT, COBB, CODY, COE, COHRON, COLLINS, COMER, COOK, COOPER, COREY, CORLEY, COTTON, CRAIG, CRANBERRY, CRARY, CRAWFORD, CRYMES, CULBRETH, CULVER, CUMBIA, CUMBIE, CURETON, DANIELS, DANNELLY, DAUGHERTY, DAVIS, DAWSEY, DAY, DEATON, DEESE, DINKINS, DOMINGUS, DOZIER, DRUNER, DUPREE, DURHAM, DYKES, EARTIN, ECLANEY, EDENFIELD, EDMONDSON, EDWARDS, ELLIS, ELLISON, ENNIS, ESPY, EZELLE, FAILS, FAIRCLOTH, FALLON, FARMER, FAULK, FELDER, FENN, FERRELL, FLEMING, FLOWERS, FOLKES, FORAKER, FORDHAM, FORRESTER, FORTNER, FORTSON, FOWLER, FULLER, FULTON, GAINES, GALLOWAY, GANEY, GARDNER, GARNER, GAY, GAYLORD, GELLERSTEDT, GHENT, GIBSON, GILLEY, GILMAN, GISSENDANNER, GIVEN, GLOVER, GODWIN, GOOLSBY, GRANBERRY, GRANGER, GRANT, GRANTHAM, GREEN, GUY, HALL, HALLIBURTON, HALLON, HAMBURGER, HARMON, HAMMOND, HAMRICK, HARRIS, HARRISON, HART, HARTLERY, HARUM, HATCHER, HAYS, HEAD, HEARD, HEARST, HEFLIN, HELMS, HERRING, HERRINGTON, HICKS, HILL, HILLIARD, HILLMAN, HILSON, HOBBS, HODGES, HOLLAN, HOLLAND, HOLLIS, HOLMAN, HOPKINS, HORNSBY, HOWARD, HOWELL, HUDSON, HUGHES, HUNTER, HUTCHINSON, JACKSON, JARVIS, JOHNSON, JONES, JORDAN, JOYNAR, JUDAY, JUSTICE, KAY, KEMP, KENNEDY, KERN, KEYON, KEYTON, KILLINGSWORTH, KINCEY, KING, KIRKLAND, KNIGHT, KNOX, KOONCE, KORNEGAY, KRUGER, LANE, LARSEN, LAYFIELD, LEE, LESLIE, LEWIS, LINER, LISENBY, LOCKWORTH, LOFTIN, LONSFORD, LOVE, LURIE, MACK, MANN, MARLOW, MARTIN, MATTHEWS, MAY, MAYFOLKS, MAXWELL, MCARTHUR, MCCALLUM, MCCANTS, MCANULTY, MCCARDELL, MCCARTY, MCCOY, MCGILVERY, MCLEOD, MCCRARY, MCDANIEL, MCDONALD, MCEACHERN, MCEACHRN, MCELROY, MCGRIFF, MCINTYRE, MCKENZIE, MCKISSACK, MCKNIGHT, MCMICHAEL, MCNEIL, MCREE, MEADE, MENZIES, MERCER, MERRRIT, MERRITT, MESSER, METCALF, MEYROVITZ, MILES, MILFORD, MILLER, MOODY, MOORE, MORGAN, MOSELEY, MOTES, MOULTHROPE, MOYE, MULLENS, MUNN, MURPHY, NEWSOM, NEWTON, NORRIS, NORTH, NOWELL, OAKLEY, O’NEAL, OUTLAW, PALMER, PARKER, PARISH, PATTERSON, PAYNE, PEACOCK, PEARCE, PETERMAN, PICKHORN, PIERSON, PICKETT, PILCHER, POLLARD, PORTER, POTTS, POWELL, POYNOR, PRATT, PRICE, URVIS, RALSTER, RAPPORT, REED, REEVES, REGISTER, RENFROE, RICHARDS, RICHMOND, RISTER, ROBERTSON,ROBISN, ROLAND, ROSEHEIM, ROSSHEIM, SALIBA, SANDERS, SAXON, SCSAMELL, SEALE, SEALS, SEARCY, SEAY, SELLERS, SENN, SHEA, SHINHOLSTER, SILCOX, SINGLETARY, SKIPPER, SLATER, SLATTER, SMART, SMITH, SNELL, SOLLURIE, SOUTHERLAND, SPONER, STAPLETON, STEELE, STEPHENS, STEPHENSON, STEWART, STOUGH, STREET, STRICKLAND, STRONG, STURIEVANT, TAYLOR, TEDDER, TEMPLE, THOMAS, THOMLEY, TOMKINS, THOMPSON, TINDELL, TRAMMELL, TRAWICK, URQUART, USSERY, VANN, VICKERY, WADDELL, WADKINS, WALDEN, WALKER, WALLS, WARD, WATFORD, WATSON, WALTNEY, WEBB, WELCH, WEST, WHALEY, WHEELER, WHIDDEN, WHIDDON, WHISNANT, WHITAKER, WHITE, WILLIAM, WILLIAMS, WINDHAM, WILSON, WINBURN, WINTERS, WOOD, WORD, WRIGHT, YONCE, YOUNG