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Elmore County History

 The history of our community began with a bang some 80 to 83 million years ago as a most cataclysmic event occurred.  Confirmed in 1999 as an impact crater, a four-mile-wide, horseshoe-shaped ridge of hills that lies just southeast of downtown Wetumpka represents the eroded remains of an astroid impact.  Research indicates that the projectile was probably traveling between 10 and 20 miles per second, and the impact would have produced winds in excess of 500 miles an hour.  Geologists speculate that the shock waves, damage, and other effects of the impact explosion radiated out from ground zero for several hundred miles.  Debris may have been tossed as far away as what is now the Gulf of Mexico.

At the time of the impact, scientific theory places the strike area under a shallow sea that covered most of southern Alabama.  The object—with an estimated size between 1,000 and 4,500 feet—would have created a blinding white light, before plunging into the water and punching through layers of soft sediment to the crystalline rock beneath.

The force of the impact would have vaporized most of the meteoric matter and hurled rocks and debris skyward for hours after.  In a chain reaction, an earthquake measuring between 8.4 and 9.0 on the Richter scale would have sent shock waves outward as far as Atlanta and Birmingham.  All life would have been destroyed in eastern Alabama and western Georgia.

 

History of Fort Toulouse/Jackson

Archaeology tells us that the first inhabitants of the site camped here around 5000 BC and were nomadic bands of hunters.  Indians living in the area around AD 400 established large hunting base camps between the two rivers.  During the Mississippian stage, around AD 1000, inhabitants built several large mounds here topped with ceremonial temples.  Only one mound remains today.  These Indians were the first farmers.  Corn was their primary staple supplemented by beans and squash.  They lived in compact villages surrounded by a palisade with bastions and a dry moat.  DeSoto came through about 1540 and was the first to explore Alabama.

At the beginning of the 18th Century, in order to check the growing influence of the British—the French decided to build a fort on the eastern flank of the Louisiana colony.  With the good will and help of the Indians, the French constructed their fort in 1717 and named it Fort Toulouse.  The primary reasons for the fort’s existence were 1) the deerskin trade, 2) making French policy known to the Indians, 3) guarding Mobile and eastern Louisiana, and 4) keeping the British out of the region.  The Fort was also referred to as the “Post of the Alabamas”, named after the Indian tribe who lived here at the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa  Rivers.

A small garrison of 20 to 50 French Marines manned the fort and traded extensively with the Indians.  In exchange for fur and deer skins, the Indians received European trade goods such as glass beads, guns, ribbons and household items.  About 1720, Marchand, the French commander of the fort married Sehoy, an Indian princess of the Clan of the Wind.  Their descendants include Alexander McGillivray, the most noted of the Creek leaders, and William Weatherford.  Known as “Red Eagle”, Weatherford led the Creeks in war against American settlers in the early 1800s.

By 1740, the quality of life had improved somewhat at Fort Toulouse.  Some soldiers had brought or obtained wives from Mobile and small farms were springing up.  Sergeant Louis Fonteneau raised 12 children here, most of whom married children of other members of the garrison.  By the late 1740s the Fort was in general disrepair and plans were made for a new fort.
 
In 1776, William Bartram, a well-known naturalist and friend of Benjamin Franklin, traversed Alabama, collecting specimens of plants and recording his observations.  He visited the ruin of Fort Toulouse and wrote this impression:  “This is perhaps one of the most eligible situations for a city in the world, a level plain between the conflux of two majestic rivers…”  The rivers and the land are the reasons that the Fort Toulouse area rose again in importance to support the establishment of our local municipalities and our county.
 
History of Coosada

Years before the white man came to this county, the red man lived at peace here.  He had been driven out of Mexico and he searched for a new place to live.  He found peace and tranquility as he hunted deer and squirrel and found fish in the streams.  He built his huts and raised his children.  There were lush green meadows and tall sturdy trees with rippling clear streams.  The Indian custom of choosing a place to live was followed.  The great prophet would stand a stick up in the soil and leave it overnight.  The next morning when they arose, they would check the stick.  If it leaned to the north, they would travel on north or if it leaned to another direction, this was the direction that the “Great Father” would want them to go.  If the stick was still upright and did not lean, they said, “Surely this is where the ‘Great Father’ wants us to stay.”

History shows that our State was named for the Indian Tribe that settled in Coosada.  The Indians came from the west between 1520 and 1535.  They were a wandering tribe who followed “the shadow of the pole.”  The Indians gave the name Alabamos which means “here we rest”.  The Alabamos Indians named their village “Koasati” meaning “White Cane”.  Coosada’s rich history began in 1714 when French Explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Bienville, who founded New Orleans, resolved to build a fort nearby which was later renamed for Count Toulouse and is now Fort Toulouse, located approximately ten miles from Coosada.  In 1722 the chief of Coosawda was “Big Mortar”.  Thus the name for Mortar Creek.

In the early 1800s pioneers began settling Coosada.  In 1816 William Wyatt Bibb, arrived in Alabama and established a land estate.  He surveyed and laid out the Town on the same site as the Koasati village.  It was an active railroad and pioneer town and Coosada was the location of some of the earliest industrial activity in the South.  It has maintained its identity as the birthplace of heritage in Alabama, and traces of the past are visible throughout the town.  The grave of the only governor of the Alabama Territory after its separation from Mississippi, and subsequently first Governor of the State, William Wyatt Bibb, is in Coosada, near the site of the Bibb home.  He was elected state Governor and inaugurated during the first Legislative Session in the fall of 1819.  He served only one year as Governor before his death in a hunting accident.  His brother Thomas was second Governor of the state, and another brother, Peyton Bibb, was pastor of the nearby Robinson Springs Methodist Church.

 

History of Deatsville

Deatsville, a quiet little farming community dates back to around 1841, when Washington S. Deats built a sawmill there.  It was located where the Tuscaloosa –to-Montgomery stage coach route crossed Mortar Creek.  The stage route provided a connection with larger and more developed communities.  From 1841 to 1866, Deatsville was in Autauga County until Elmore County was established.  Early on the area attracted a Methodist Circuit Riding preacher.  The Methodist Church was established about 1855 on land donated in 1851.  In 1871, a Post Office was opened in Deatsville.  Later that year, the South and North Alabama Railroad was built through Deatsville and the community became a “boom town”.  This railroad later became the L&N Railroad.  A depot and water tank tower for the steam locomotives were constructed.  There were only three water towers between Montgomery and Birmingham, so almost every train stopped in Deatsville to take on water.  In addition to supplying water for the trains, the water tank was also used for swimming.  Many midnight tales are told about local youngsters skinny-dippin’ at the water tank. With the railroad came some undesirable influences— such as the two saloons and dance hall which opened in the community.  But the Methodists soon closed them down.
 
Deatsville’s most prosperous period was from 1900 to the Great Depression in the 1920s.  There were four general stores, two drug stores and four doctors in the community.  There were two cotton gins, two boarding houses and other business operations included a café, a barber shop, a soap and dressmaker shop, a livery stable, a freight depot, a dressmaker shop, two steam sawmills, a grist mill, a shoe store, two blacksmith shops, a pool room, a syrup mill, a turpentine factory, a Masonic Lodge, a shingle and planing mill, and two carpenters.  With the automobile, came three gasoline stations.

The first school was in the home of a dedicated school-teacher and later a school house was built.  Entertainment was found in attending church suppers, ice cream parties, fish fries, picnics, and plays at the churches and school.  The younger generation had spend-the-night parties, swimming parties, house dances and baseball games.

 

History of Eclectic

Hernando DeSoto, the famous Spanish explorer, who discovered the Mississippi River, very probably stopped and spent the night of Monday, August 30, 1540, in the Eclectic area.  DeSoto and his entourage of 400 men, 200 horses, 400 pigs, and a whole host of Indian women serving as load bearers, rested there for the night.  The first documented land-owner in the present day Eclectic area was an Indian brave named Ho-Pic-You-Che.  Under the Creek Indian Treaty of 1832, he was awarded 320 acres that now encompasses all of downtown Eclectic, plus its suburbs.  This land was originally part of the Indian town of Hatch-cha-chubba.  In the 1840s white settlers moved in and activities centered around the school and the Methodist church.  Dr. M. L. Fielder purchased land to the west in 1877 and named the post office “Eclectic” in recognition of his favorite medical course.  Eclectic is defined as “choosing what appears to be the best from diverse sources, systems or styles.”  In 1907, residents circulated a petition to have an election to determine whether the citizens wanted an incorporated town.  They did and Eclectic experienced explosive growth in 1913 as the Birmingham and Southeast Railroad completed a 14-mile stretch of railroad track from Tallassee to Eclectic.  This little Town of 315 people was the site of a booming land sale business.  “The Fastest Growing Town in Elmore County”, “The Queen City,” and “Cinderella City” were descriptions frequently used to describe this quaint little town as she basked in the rays of prosperity and rapid growth. 

 

History of Elmore

The Town of Elmore is named for General John Archer Elmore, who came to Alabama in 1819.  General Elmore erected a home on the banks of Mortar Creek.  This house was destroyed by fire in 1832, but Elmore’s new home was named Huntingdon House because his family was from Huntingdon, England.

Benjamin Fitzpatrick, born in 1802, and ninth governor of Alabama, owned land adjoining General Elmore’s.  In  1827, Fitzpatrick married Elmore’s daughter, Sarah Terry Elmore.  General Elmore and Governor Fitzpatrick established the Elmore community.  A major event in the community’s history occurred in 1878—The Louisville and Nashville Railroad branch was completed between Elmore Station and Wetumpka.
 
“Hickory Knoll”, a local landmark, was built in 1892 and is described as a “one-story frame structure connected with both the Fitzpatricks and the Elmores.”  General John Archer Elmore lived near the present community in a pleasant, two-story plantation style home which remains in the Elmore family.  The house is approximately a mile from Governor Fitzpatrick’s home, and faces west, as does the Fitzpatrick home.  General Elmore was a native South Carolinian who moved to the Fort Jackson area as a mature man and relatively wealthy planter.  The white clapboard structure is an interesting blend of architectural styles.  Although the house is large, and has high ceilings, and is roomy, there is nothing grandiose or pretentious about it.  It is not an “Ante Bellum Mansion” in the traditional sense, but a pleasant, inviting, comfortable country home, built with the same simplicity that characterizes most of the earlier homes in the region. 

 

History of Tallassee

Tallassee is another Elmore County city rich in history.  Perhaps two of the most historic locations are the mill and the bridge.  When the nation became involved in the Civil War, corn and wheat were ground at the company mills for toll, and cloth was exchanged for bacon.  The Tallassee Mills then became a part of the supply system of the Confederacy.  After manufacturing cloth for uniforms from 1861 until 1863, the factory also became an armory for the manufacture of carbines for the use of the Confederate Army. In 1900, the Tallassee Falls Manufacturing Company became a part of the Mount Vernon-Woodberry Cotton Duck Company—a consolidation of several smaller companies.  The new company comprised a total of fourteen plants and 227,000 spindles.  The oldest mill, located on the west bank of the Tallapoosa river was chartered in 1841 and constructed in 1844.  The west bank mill is still in operation and continues to be the oldest continuously running mill in the United States.

The first churches were established in 1852, both a Methodist and a Baptist.

The Benjamin Fitzpatrick Bridge, an engineering feat of great proportion was dedicated December 10, 1940, and reputed to be the longest curved bridge in the world.  Thurlow Dam, over which the bridge stands, was completed in 1931.  Three dams along the Tallapoosa River—Thurlow Dam at Tallassee, Yates Dam three miles above, and Martin Dam at Cherokee bluff on the river ten miles above Tallassee— form three beautiful lakes, Lake Tallassee (commonly called Graveyard Creek and The Lower Pond), Lake Yates (commonly known as the Middle Pond), and massive Lake Martin.

 

History of Wetumpka

The name Wetumpka is derived from the Indian words “we-wau” (water) “tum-cau” (rumbling) the Creek Indian description of a point in the Coosa where the rapids roll and tumble over the rocks in the riverbed.  Pioneers began settling in the region in 1800 and when the Alabama Territory was created in 1817, Wetumpka fell within its bounds.  In 1818, counties were created and Wetumpka was in Autauga County. Eastern Wetumpka was incorporated on January 17, 1834 and western Wetumpka on the next day.  In 1836, there was a population of 1200 and an eastern newspaper reported that Wetumpka, Alabama and Chicago, Illinois were the two most promising cities of “The West.”  In 1839, the town was chosen as the site of the State Penitentiary.  We have continued to maintain distinction with many prison locations.

Despite destructive fires in 1845 and 1852, which razed entire blocks of the business district, the town continued to grow and prosper.  Goods and crops were carried to and from the town by steamboats plying the waters of the Coosa River.  This prosperity ended with the advent of Civil War.  During the war years 1861 to 1865, Wetumpka was victim to the devastation and deprivation experienced throughout most of the South.  Virtually nothing of valuables and money was left to the residents, but the people had the land itself, that which did not have to be sold for taxes!  The only fortunate aspect was the fact that the buildings were still intact and had not been burned by Federal troops as many other locations had been.  And so, Wetumpka struggled, survived and eventually grew, with the advent of every new development.

 

History of Millbrook

After voting for incorporation in October of 1972, having a candidate’s forum featuring five candidates for mayor and 23 others for council spots in December, the city election was held in January of 1973 and the council convened for its first meeting in February.  The city held an inauguration pageant for its new city officials, with a parade, speeches, the swearing-in ceremonies and a community party for all.  Mayor Gene Jones led the council to set priorities in the development to include formation of city services and the attempt to create Millbrook into a model city.

 

Establishment of Elmore County

Elmore County was established by an act of the Legislature on February 15, 1866 and named for General John Archer Elmore.  It was created from portions of existing Coosa, Autauga, Montgomery and Tallapoosa counties.  There are 622 square miles and 398,080 acres of land.  In January of 1867, the first county officers were elected and Wetumpka was chosen as the site of the County Courthouse.  Recent statistics show Elmore County to be among the fastest growing counties in Alabama, boasting a 31.53% population increase between 1980-1995.  Census Bureau figures reported 49,210 in 1990 and 65,874 in 2000 or a 25% increase.

New residents come to Elmore County for a variety of reasons.  One of the most prevalent is a desire to be part of a close-knit community.  Most residents enjoy the small town atmosphere combined with the convenience of easy access to several metropolitan areas—Montgomery, Birmingham and Atlanta.  There are sunny beaches to the south, and the beauty of mountain scenery to the north.

To accommodate the influx of residents, a number of new subdivisions have sprung into being county-wide—some large, planned communities, while others are smaller, less formal neighborhoods.  A large percentage of activities revolve around children and the school systems of Elmore County and Tallassee, as well as several private schools.

The county’s churches are a major component in the lives of inhabitants with most denominations represented by active congregations.  There are amateur theater groups, walking and biking trails, historic sites, an abundance of lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams in the county, as well as organized sports and recreational activities available county-wide for both children and adults.  Employment opportunities are available throughout the county with a sizeable proportion of the county employed by federal and state government as well as Montgomery businesses.  The commute is an easy one with major highway connectors all around.  The county boasts numerous retail and food establishments as well as manufacturing industries.

Moderate year-round temperatures prevail with four distinct seasons.  Yearly rainfall averages 52-56 inches.  Climatic conditions lend themselves to a wide variety of outdoor activities like gardening, sports, swimming, camping, hunting, fishing, boating, cooking out, and just relaxing out-of-doors. 

 

Summary
Elmore County is a unique and appealing combination of old and new, small-town comfort close to big-city convenience.  The allure of Elmore County is no longer a well kept secret.  More and more people have discovered the relaxed lifestyle and down-home friendliness found here.  Long-time residents and newcomers alike strive to maintain the beauty, tranquility and hospitality, which are the hallmarks of Elmore County.

Resource information was generally taken from the volume—The Heritage of Elmore County, Alabama published 2002 by Heritage Publishing Consultants, Inc. and The Elmore County Heritage Book Committee.

 

Notes:

When we look at the factors that make this a good place to live, those have been the same through the ages:

First of all—humans chose this area as a place to live and provide for their families because there was water and there was fertile soil to grow food.  There were two great rivers—the Coosa and the Tallapoosa.  These were water sources for the people and their livestock, but the rivers also provided transportation.

Next—there are distinct seasons, growing seasons and a relatively mild climate with both sunshine and rain.  The vegetation, trees, natural fruits were in abundance along with wild game, deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit and quail.

Through the centuries there were continuing threads that tied the acres of this county together.  There are many references to the Spanish explorer, Hernando DeSoto who came through the county, Eclectic, Tallassee and Fort Toulouse on his exploratory ventures.

 

In more modern times, the railroads that sprung up through the countryside were a common thread that improved travel and made the entire area more accessible with this faster travel.  The rivers and the lakes as these were developed provided additional modes of transporting goods from one location to another.

 

All of these factors have ultimately been woven together to make this county an ideal place to live, work and play in our modern day.

 

Reprint from The Heritage of Elmore County, Alabama


In December of 2002, a small group of people dedicated to the preservation of the history and heritage of families, places, events and happenings saw the publication of the Heritage of Elmore County, Alabama actually become a reality.   This was the culmination of a three plus year project which evolved under the watchful eye of David Bice, the “father” of this brainchild—a 68 volume set of heritage books featuring one from each of the 67 counties in Alabama, plus an index volume.
 

The initial printing of this book sold out and since that time a couple of years ago, people continue to ask when the book will be printed again.  We currently have 400 copies on sale at the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce, (334) 567-4811 for information. 
 

A complete set of these volumes is housed in the Wetumpka Public Library.  You may not check out any of the books, but you can go to the Library and use the volumes as you have time and opportunity.
 

It is our hope that you will enjoy the reprinted articles half as much as those of us who did the original writing and compilation enjoyed putting this book together. 
 

Credits for the research and authorship of these stories appear at the end of each one.

 

MCGILLIVRAY PLANTATION SITE
Alabama

Elmore County, on County Route 47, about 4 miles north of Wetumpka.

Alexander McGillivray, halfbreed Creek leader, lived at a plantation on this site during the period of his greatest influence. Son of a Scottish trader and his French-Creek wife, McGillivray acquired a well-rounded education in Charleston and Savannah, but returned to Creek country after the outbreak of the War for Independence. During the war he served as a British agent and sent Indian war parties against the U.S. frontier. Befriending William Panton, the influential trader, he became a leader of the Creeks, whose cause he always held foremost. In 1784 he negotiated on behalf of the Creeks and Seminoles a treaty of alliance and trade with Spain. In return for his services, McGillivray received a commission as colonel and an annual salary from the Spanish Government. In the following years, from his plantation, he directed Indian attacks on the Georgia frontier and the Cumberland River settlements in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The U.S. Government, recognizing McGillivray's influence, in 1790 persuaded him to negotiate peace in New York. In the Treaty of New York the Creeks and Seminoles agreed not to make alliances with other nations and approved a boundary settlement in Georgia. McGillivray, commissioned a brigadier general in the U.S. Army and awarded an annual salary from the U.S. Government, returned to Alabama, where he secretly abrogated the treaty. Financially stable, having commissions and salaries from both the United States and Spanish Governments, he began to promote a powerful Southern Indian confederation, but he died in 1793. No traces of the plantation buildings remain, though the site, on privately owned farmland, is marked by a boulder placed by the Alabama Anthropological Society.

 

As reprinted from the National Parks Service, Founders and Frontiersmen, Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings Webpage