Days Gone By - stories from the past

Do you know which city south of Birmingham was originally called Coonsboro?

In the 2010 census, this city had a population of almost 5,000. At a very early day, the area was referred to Coonsboro. Situated in the Coosa Valley and in the rich mineral district of Shelby County, south of Birmingham. Joseph Howard was the first settler, followed by William Akin. The two for many years owned the lands on which the town is built. Leonard Tarrant came in 1826.Three_raccoons_in_a_tree coonsboro article

Story of how it was named

Here is the story of why the city was called Coonsboro by Rev. E.. B. Teague in an article in a local 1895 newspaper.i

The burgh was designated by a number of names, more commonly called “Coonsboro,” as some say from a coon story; but I well remember the name was older at least than one of the stories (for I have heard a second), I give the real facts of one of them, as a matter of personal knowledge. Mr. Henry Brasher lived on the place the long‐time home of Jefferson Elliott, on Four Mile creek. There was a large pond at the foot of the hill east of the first house built upon the place by the original owner, Levi Weaver, then occupied by Mr. Brasher.

Ms. B. had been washing, and leaving her little boy, two or three years old, at the house, descended the hill to rinse the clothes in the clear pond. Presently she heard the child screaming, ran up the hill, and found a coon biting and scratching him in the face. With a mother’s heroism, she seized the coon by the throat and choked it to death! But her sleeves being rolled up to the elbow, the coon scratched her arms severely. I saw the child and mother a week or two after on a visit to my mother, and looked at the scratches on both mother and child then cicatrizing. The other story is that something similar occurred at the spring in town, that part being then a wood. Of this I know nothing personally, but probably both occurrences may have taken place, are the real one been mislocated.

Later the city was referred to as German Hill because of early German settlers. Next it was known as Columbia and finally Columbiana.

Old Shelby County Courthouse Mainstreet Columbiana, Alabama is now a museum of Archives and History

old shelby county courthouse mainstreet columbiana

Columbiana is the county seat of Shelby County, situated in the south-central part of the county, in parts of sections. 23, 25, and 26, T. 21, R. 1, W., about 9 miles northeast of Calera, about 12 miles northeast of Montevallo, and about 8 miles west of the Coosa River.

Leonard Tarrant – he was a Methodist Minister and an Indian agent – he served in the Alabama House of Representatives 1831 – to 1833 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Tarrant, Leonard - served in alabama house 1831

Jane Estill Tarrant – wife of Leonard Tarrant (Alabama State Archives)Tarrant, Jane Estill - wife of Leonard Tarrant - Alabama state archives

Incorporated in 1837

It was incorporated in 1837 and by 1916 had two banks, Columbiana Savings Bank (State), and the Shelby County State Bank. The Peoples Advocate, a Populist weekly, established in 1892, and the Shelby County Sun, a Democratic weekly, established in 1910, were published in the town.

In 1916, its principal industries were a cotton ginnery and warehouse, gristmill, lumber mill, planing mill, and a furniture factory and it had Shelby County High School, and public schools. In the same year, the churches were a Baptist established in 1856; a Methodist Episcopal, South, established the same year; and a Presbyterian, established 1873.

In 1826 the county seat was permanently located at Columbiana. The courthouse was built by Thomas Rogers, and Judge Joab Lawler was the first judge to preside in it. The post office also was established in 1826. The town was first called Columbia, but was changed to the present name when the post office was established.

There is an interesting story about the day that Columbiana was chosen over Calera and Montevallo as the county seat by Rev. E. B. Teague.

“My recollections begin with the removal of the Court-house from a place near the present plantation of Rev. Mr. Boykin, some ten or eleven miles North of Montevallo, to its present site, about, I think, 1828. A large pine tree between the present Court-house and the jail, was literally split to pieces, near the ground, by boring auger holes into it, filling them with powder and exploding it, in honor of the triumphant vote, in competition with Montevallo, for the seat of justice. These explosions were heard as far as the present residence of Mrs. Mary Teague, on  “Four Mile!”

Prominent settlers

Among the prominent settlers and residents of the town are Thomas and Samuel Brasher, Islah George, the first teacher, Dr. Carter Roberts, the first physician, David Owen, Abner and James Hughes, Isaac Williams, Fox Rushing, Lewis Sentell, John W. Teague, France Genet, Isaac Estill, William Johnston, Thomas Rogers, Jesse Roberts, Lemuel Moore, Jesse Roach, and Hon. Joab Lawler.

There was an iron foundry in Columbiana before the Civil War, and during the War C. B. Churchill operated a foundry for the Confederate Government. It was burned in 1865.

Early merchants were Monsiur Fance Genet, B. O. Nabors, Charlie Mundine and Samuel Brasher. The first schoolhouse was a small log cabin, with an earthen floor. O. B. Harris was the Clerk of the County Court. An early lawyer was Richard Shackleford, the nephew of Gen. Jack Shackelford of North Alabama.

Shelby County Courthouse on Main street (Library of Congress ca. 1970-1980)Shelby County Courthouse on Main street (Library of Congress)

Around 1830-35, other citizens were McKinnon, a tailor; Dr. Sterrett; Judge Sterret; Hon. John M. McClanahan; who later moved to Louisiana; Dr. Lawrence; Dr. Caldwell; Henry Gooch, Sr.; Hon. Samuel W. Mardis, first representative from Shelby County in the legislature; Judge Mardis.

Other prominent men residing in close vicinity of Columbiana were William W. King, lawyer later moved to New Orleans; Judge Thos. A. Walker, later in Jacksonville; David W. Sterett; Andrew B. Stevens, died early. Judge Leonard Tarrant lived on the Sammons’ place between Columbiana and Wilsonville.

Some nearby plantations were owned by Woods, Waters, Bowden, Edmund King, Cross and Harkins.


  1. Armes, Story of coal and iron in Alabama (1910), pp. 143-144; Northern Alabama (1888), pp. 160-161; Alabama Official and Statistical Register, 1915.
  2. Rootsweb – Shelby Guide

iThe Chronicle Columbiana, Alabama Thursday, April 4, 1895 Sketches of the History of Shelby County. BY REV. E.B. TEAGUE – transcribed by Bobby Joe Seales

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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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