Days Gone By - stories from the past

Did you know these things about the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama? [film]

Phil Campbell located in Franklin County, Alabama, twelve miles south of Russellville, was founded in 1857.

Disgraceful way the iron horse arrived

In the 1880s, a railroad work crew leader and engineer by the name of Phillip Campbell who resided in Sheffield, Alabama. “Campbell. Campbell was born in Liverpool, England in 1848. In 1880, he was employed as a railroad construction superintendent in Evansville, Indiana.

A few years later, he moved to Sheffield to supervise the construction of the Birmingham, Sheffield and Tennessee River Railroad and was appointed to the first board of alderman for Sheffield in 1885. He served as mayor from 1893 to 1895. He was often addressed as “Major” but nothing is known about his military service.”

“With blast furnaces under construction in Sheffield and Birmingham, the promoters of the new railroad dreamed of making a fortune by handling iron ore, limestone and coal to the two industrial sites….Campbell’s contract required that the tracks from Sheffield be extended into Franklin County by a certain date with a locomotive on it. The construction gang worked furiously to finish laying the rails on time, but someone forgot to fire the steam engine. When the oversight was discovered, the deadline was about to expire. Campbell quickly gathered several yoke of oxen from nearby farms and hitched them to the locomotive. This is how the first “iron horse” entered Franklin County, in disgrace, but it was on time” i

Phil Campbell, Alabama

phil campbell map

Mel Allen, a prominent local businessman in Franklin County, wanted to establish a town in the vicinity of his general store. He told Campbell if he would construct a railroad depot and add a side track to the stretch of railroad going through the area, he would name the subsequent town after Major Phil Campbell who was then the mayor of Sheffield. Campbell built both the depot and siding, which led to Phil Campbell being the only town in Alabama to have both the first and last names of an individual. Major Campbell eventually left the County and moved to New Orleans where he died June 30, 1932, aged 84 years and 6 months.

First school was located at the back of the Phil Campbell Methodist

The first school in Phil Campbell was a two-story frame building constructed in 1910. It was located at the back of the Phil Campbell Methodist Church. The school was subsequently destroyed by fire.

The second school was constructed in 1915 and was located at the site of the present school on Alabama State Route 13 in Phil Campbell. This school was a small wooden building. Like the previous school, this school was also destroyed by fire. The fire began at six o’clock in the evening on Christmas Day, 1924.

During the next two years, the school was held in local church buildings, the town’s former bank building, and the U.S. Post Office building located near the railroad.

Graduation services for the first accredited Phil Campbell High School class were conducted in the Phil Campbell Methodist Church. The year was 1926 and the class had eight graduating members.

The third Phil Campbell school was completed in 1926. There were two buildings, the main classroom building, and a vocational school. After the main building was destroyed by fire in 1954, the present school buildings were constructed.

Birthplace of Billy Sherrill

“Phil Campbell is the birthplace of Billy Sherrill (born Nov. 5, 1936) a record producer and arranger who is most famous for his association with a number of country artists, most notably Tammy Wynette. On February 23, 2010, Sherrill was selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame along with Don Williams, Ferlin Husky, and Jimmy Dean. Other artists with whom Sherrill has worked include Shelby Lynne, Marty Robbins, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Cash, Janie Fricke,Barbara Mandrell, Lacy J. Dalton, Ray Conniff, Bob Luman, Johnny Duncan, Jim and Jesse, Jody Miller, Joe Stampley, Charlie Walker, Johnny Duncan, Barbara Fairchild,Andy Williams, Cliff Richard (“The Minute You’re Gone”) and David Allan Coe.”ii

Billy Sherrill

Billy Sherrill musician

In June 1995 the writer Phil Campbell organized and wrote about a convention of people who shared their name with the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama. Twenty-two Phil Campbells and one Phyllis Campbell, hailing from all over America, attended. The story of the Phil Campbell convention was published in Might Magazine, a San-Francisco-based publication founded by Dave Eggers. The essay was later included in Might’s anthology, Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp, and the convention itself was mentioned by Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

A second “Phil Campbell Day” was organized the following year, but it was not as well attended. Phil Campbell’s city hall, however, still maintains a file of all the Phil Campbells who visit and another “Phil Campbell Day” was planned for mid-2011 but on April 27, 2011, the town suffered extensive damage from a swift moving tornado. According to the Mayor Jerry Mays, preliminary reports show that about one-third of the town’s buildings were destroyed and the estimated property damage was at $119 million.

Near the town of Phil Campbell can be found Dismals Canyon. It is believed that the dark, misty canyon got its dreary name from Scotch-Irish settlers. Known for its colorful history of secret Indian rituals and as a hideout for outlaws, Dismals Canyon was also the holding ground for some of the Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians prior to the Trail of Tears. Within the area’s boundaries is one of the oldest stands of forest east of the Mississippi River. Waterfalls, rock formations, cliffs and natural bridges are also features in Dismals Canyon. Night tours are conducted during the summer to see the glow-in-the-dark worms known as “Dismalites,” which are seen on moss-covered boulders in the canyon. This is the only known location in the United States to see these night creatures. Other known locations are China and New Zealand.

Dismals Canyon

dismals canyon

The human history of the canyon is a long one. Artifacts from Paleo-indians—the earliest known Americans—have been found dating back ten thousand years. Later inhabitants were the Pueblos, the Cherokees and of course, the white settlers. U.S. troops held a large group of Chickasaw Indians captive in the canyon in 1838 before forcing them to Muscle Shoals where they began what historians now call the Trail of Tears.


Phil Campbell was devastated by a tornado on April 27, 2011, as this video shows. Twenty-seven lives were lost.

iSheridan, Richard – newspaper article –

Vinegar of the Four Thieves was a recipe that was known for its antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic and antifungal properties for years. It was even used to cure the Bubonic Plague. See Thomas Jefferson’s recipe in VINEGAR OF THE FOUR THIEVES: Recipes & curious tips from the past

See best-selling books by Donna R Causey


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. This is where my family lived

  2. Still a nice place to live. Every body knows what u do.

  3. The 1954 school no longer stands. The high school building, along with its vocational building, gym, bandroom and lunchroom, were so heavily damaged in the April 27, 2011 tornado that the buildings were razed and a new one has been built.

    1. That is so sad. Phil Campbell took a heavy blow in the April 27, 2011 tornado. So much history was lost. My heart goes out to the citizens of Phil Campbell.

  4. we lost our home in the storm and moved to Florida to be with our son Kevin and our granddaughter. We miss everyone and so glad everything is doing great.

  5. Great article. Check out our interview with Richard Sheridan who I believe is cited as the source of much information.

  6. Also be sure to watch the I’m with Phil documentary on Alabama Public Television this Friday night at 9:00 pm which tells the story of the 20 people named Phil Campbell that came to the town in 2011 after the tornado. The film chronicles their attempt to raise money to build a Habitat for Humanity house for a family who lost theirs in the storm. Here is the story on the broadcast:

  7. Fairly close to Jasper and real close to my sis in Hamilton,Al

  8. Nancy Todd Pinion, show this to James.

  9. My mother’s hometown.

  10. Dismal Canyon… Go see it!

  11. I cannot ever forget that day. It is etched in my mind forever. Moved to Spruce Pine after the storm destroyed my home. So many lives lost and many people’s lives changed forever.

  12. I attended Northwest JR. COLLEGE there in 64-66 and played Basketball—Rented a room from Chief of Police Looney Kent and his wife. Ate many a meal at Glasgow’s Cafe and the Chat & Chew. —shot pool at Boss Nix’s pool hall —Remember Tater Thompson’s Hardware Store and Mr. Mays had a Grocery Store. A lot of fond memories from that little town.

  13. I attended Northwest Jr. College there 1964-66–rented a room from Chief of Police Looney Kent and his wife. I played Basketball for the Northwest Vikings. I ate many a meal at Glasgow’s Cafe–and the Chat & Chew.—played pool at Boss Nix’s Pool Room–Remember Tater Thompson had a Hardware store there–A Mr. Mays had a grocery store. Many fond memories of that little town.Went back after the Tornado had just passed thru—I was devastated”’

  14. Sally, Leonard’s father lived there when he was young.

  15. Everyone should read about Phil Campbell

  16. Mesmerizing!! I want to go here..

  17. l didn’t know Billy Billy Sherrill, record producer nashville was from here?

  18. Hey Laura House McRae – check this out!!!

    1. Very interesting Greta. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Great place to raise a family. I have 3 generation of graduates from Phil Campbell. Go Bobcats !!!

  20. […] Canyon is located in the town of Phil Campbell in the northwestern part of Franklin County, Alabama. Several outlaws have allegedly hidden in the […]

  21. I live in Bear Creek and am still amazed and saddened by the devastation from 2011.

  22. Billy Sherrill was killed in car wreck back in 1990S. He has a brother Wade Sherrill lives in Phil Campbell

  23. TO: Donna Causey

    My name is Windle Ray Causey from Marion County now retired in Arizona. I thought maybe you might have some information about my GGGrandfather James S. Causey, b. 1812, who lived somewhere on the Bear Creek beat near Phil Campbell at the 1880 census. I would like to find out what happened to him. And, since you have the same Surname, I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on my mystery. Thanks…ray

    1. I’m sorry Windle. My information on my husband’s family does not go very far and I no longer have the time to assist others. Good luck in your research!

  24. Ashley Blythe Stoddard, check this our.

  25. Ashley Blythe Stoddard, FYI.

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