June 2014
Simple Times

Bringing History to Life

 
Visitors to the Blountsville Historical Park during the recent Daffodil Festival.  

There are not many areas of Alabama that can boast of not one but two major Civil War raids, Native American history in almost every corner, a former long-time college when formal education was still in its infancy, being a former county seat and fighting back after that honor was lost, and having houses and other buildings still standing that witnessed it all!

The Blount County town of Blountsville has one traffic light in the heart of its small business district and the population is listed at around 1,700. But don’t let those two small-town facts fool you!

As a matter of fact, even some locals laughed when the town council and the Blountsville Business Association worked with Auburn University in 2005 to make an improvement plan for the town. But Councilman Dennis Beavers and local insurance company owner explained every one of those 2005 goals have now been checked off and more progress is coming!

And then there’s the Blountsville Historical Society, formed only in 1990, that was honored with the James Ray Kuykendall Local Historical Society Award for being the best in the state in 2006 and is certainly not resting on their laurels!

 
  Blountsville City Council-man Dennis Beavers plays piano in the Historical Society’s small chapel. Beavers is also president of the Blountsville Business Association and serves on the historical society board.

The key to Blountsville’s success is the town’s dedicated volunteers, Beavers and others agree. And the rough-cut diamond in the town’s crown is the Blountsville Historical Park.

The community and the town were originally called Bear Meat Cabin. While no one knows for certain, folks think that name came from a Cherokee chief who lived in a log cabin directly in the center of what is known as present-day Blountsville.

The small settlement of white settlers and Native Americans that grew up around his cabin was believed to be the first settlement in Blount County and an economic center for what is now the area of Blount, Cullman, Walker and Marshall counties.

While the largest settlement of Cherokee Indians were said to live about 20 miles northward in what is now Marshall County, evidently hunting parties of several tribes of Indians traveled often throughout the area.

Information from the Heritage of Blount County (printed by the Blount County Historical Society) notes that the settlers in the area around about 1818 had trouble with some mixed Cherokee and Creek Indians and some "undesirable whites."

But, basically, it seems everybody got along and the rural area was valued for its hunting and beauty.

History notes that Davy Crockett "came along the Bear Meat Cabin Road in 1817 or 1818 with three of his neighbors from Winchester, Tenn., ‘to explore a new country.’"

 
The old Brooksville Post Office. It is rumored that Bonnie and Clyde spent the night in their roadster behind the old post office at its original location.  
   

The town and settlement’s name was changed to "Blountsville" when the new town became the county seat in 1819. (There was a huge controversy when the county seat was moved to the new railroad town of Oneonta in the late 1800s! The old Blountsville courthouse was later used as the building for Blount College, but it burned January 5, 1895, and a new building was built for the North District Agriculture School.)

As more and more settlers came, they traveled what became known as the Tuscaloosa-Huntsville Road and a part of that road is now the back driveway to the Blountsville Historical Park!

What is now known as the Freeman House was built facing that old road around 1830.

Jane Wright remembers living in that house more than a century later when she was 5 or 6 years old, having to utilize an outdoor toilet and with her mother cooking their meals on a wood-fired cook stove.

The Freeman House had originally been built as a two-story home of homemade brick. A tornado or severe windstorm toppled much of that building in the early 1900s and Jane’s grandparents, Paul and Gertrude Freeman, rebuilt the home as a one-story, four-room house utilizing the handmade bricks and many of the other items.

The home sat empty for many years. Jane’s parents, Lee and Alma Scott, inherited the home and farm from her grandparents. Later Jane and her brother Ed inherited the house and then chose to donate it and one acre of land to the Blountsville Historical Society. (The Society has since acquired two other adjacent tracts of land.)

 
  Savannah Silas, 9, hopes the Blountsville Historical Society is able to raise enough in donations to restore this old barn and turn it into a home for the area’s agricultural history. The two-part barn is the latest addition to the Blountsville Historical Park.

The Freeman House has now been refurbished and is the museum and center of the Historical Park.

That house was soon joined by a donation of the old Brooksville Post Office (built in 1836) and the old Blountsville jail building (donated in memory of Ann Weaver Martin).

The old post office’s most recent claim to fame was the rumor that Bonnie and Clyde slept behind it in their sedan on one of their runs along what is now U.S. 278 a little north of Blountsville in the Brooksville area.

The 1800s Isham Chamblee Cabin was donated in the last couple of years and has since been re-roofed with a new metal roof and completely refurbished inside and out. It’s filled with period furniture and visitors can enjoy a crackling fire in the fireplace or climb the steps to the sleeping area.

Eddy Doty, whose wife donated the cabin, was on hand to provide history at the park’s recent Daffodil Festival. He noted that the cabin, originally made of red cedar logs, was built in 1817 by his wife’s grandfather "four generations removed." He died in 1852 and it took 2 years to probate his estate.

The old cabin and property were then bought by the Moore family who owned it until around 1976.

It later changed hands again until Doty and his wife bought it 5 years ago and then donated it to the park.

It was carefully dismantled from its home in the Valley area, and all the numbered logs were rebuilt at the historical park.

A plaque on the cabin’s porch now proclaims the Isham Chamblee Cabin was donated by Mrs. Ed Hart with Mrs. Eddie Doty, a descendent of Isham Chamblee "instrumental in getting the cabin moved to the historical park."

Cooking utensils, rocking chairs, primitive cabinets, a spinning wheel and floor loom, a small roll top desk, and a child’s rope bed are just a few of the donations making that cabin special.

Next door at the park is the Hoyt McCullough Cabin built in the 1850s in Tennessee and moved to the park after its purchase by Jim McCullough. It is furnished with similar period pieces.

The tinier Graves Cabin was constructed using logs from an 1800s barn. It was donated to the park by the families of Capt. William Graves, Mark D. L. Graves and J. H. Graves and its tiny one-room area is much more primitive than the other buildings.

There’s a new-old chapel containing an upright piano and beautiful pulpit with the chapel built to fit in with its older neighbors, according to Wright and Beavers.

The Society has sponsored many educational and recreational events at the park including Civil War reenactments (The Forrest-Straight Raid came through May 1, 1863, and Rousseau’s Raid July 1864).

But now society members say they want to attract more folks interested in the simple history of the area.

Matthew Mobley, the society’s current vice-president, and his wife moved to Blountsville about 5 years ago and fell in love with the area’s history and people.

"It’s so important that we preserve the old buildings and the history that went with," Matt explained.

Other Historical Society officers include O. K. Alexander, president; Pam Baxley, secretary; and Cathy Marsh, treasurer.

Donations to help with roofing the old log barn (or to help the historical society in any of their other projects at the park) can be mailed to the Blountsville Historical Society; P.O. Box 232; Blountsville, AL 35031.

The park will likely be open on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer and is open for other events throughout the year (such as during the town’s huge Harvest Festival scheduled for the second Saturday in October).

You can visit the Park’s website at www.blountsvillehistoricalsociety.com to find events and when the park will be open or phone Betty Alexander at 205-429-2468.

The park is located at 71406 Main Street in Blountsville, between mile markers 270 and 271 on U.S. Highway 231.

You never know what you’ll find, including antique car shows, dulcimer groups playing on the Freeman Cabin Porch, quilters, old time bluegrass being played in a circle in the cabin’s front yard, someone demonstrating how to make candles or cheese, a woman in the corner silently spinning wool, or just folks who are descendants of the area’s pioneers who can tell you a lot about that special place called Blountsville.

Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.