A Brief History of Hackneyville Community
by Hoyt M. Warren
Hackneyville! How can one fully describe its historic past in our allotted time? That, of course, is impossible, but we can share some of of the highlights of its golden days with you in the time which we share today. This we will do with much credit to many who have contributed to our brief store of information. We are still learning and hope to learn still more about the Banner Beat of Tallapoosa County. Hackneyville Community has much in common with the rest of the county, its neighbors to the North, East, South and West. It was Indian Territory until December 18, 1832. We should pause just a moment to reflect upon the fact that the spot where we now meet is less than 148 years from ownership by the Indian. How young! How very young when we look at the age of Nations in this world, and even some portions of the United States. But we have moved so far in such a short time. It bears recording, lest we forget. We all know that Old Charles Town (S.C.) was the area from which the early Scottish and English trader came into this Creek country. We know of no Indian town located on this very site, but some do say that Indian ball games were played upon the flat terrain here in days gone by, and they drank from the large spring which flows from under the hill just west of this old church. One of the closest Indian towns I know of may have been Hillabee, which was a short distance to the north east of here. The Creeks liked the streams and built their homes nearby. An old Scotchman named Robert Grierson lived at Hillabee Town with the Indians, and just may be one of the very first white men to live in this immediate area. Grierson was a friend to the Indian. He had married into heir tribe and knew Chief Alexander McGillivray well. Both had Scottish backgrounds, since McGillivray was half Scotch. It was at Grierson's house that McGillivray was found when President Washington sent Col. Willett to invite him to the Nation's capitol to talk of a treaty with the Indian. McGillivray had come from Tallassee to Fishpond and travelled on to Hillabee Town. This was in 1790, and long before the Indian and white man would make a final peace.
General Andrew Jackson
The first real contact by numerous whites was when General Jackson came down from Fort Strother toward the Horseshoe Bend area. He moved across Enitachopco creek just North East of Hackneyville, on to Emuckfau creek below New Site where on January 22, 1814 he met heavy resistance from the Red Stacks. At that point he was stopped and turned around. On the way back to Fort Strother he was overtaken at Enitachopco creek and sustained considerable losses. So, heavy Indian fighting took place near where we meet today. Jackson came back, of course, and defeated the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend, March 27, 1814. The treaty of Fort Jackson followed August 9th which left this area to the Indian until 1832. They then had five years to "make arrangements" to move west. So, General Jackson made two trips nearby, but perhaps the next real move toward the development of Hackneyville came when white men began filtering into the area. Billy Hutchinson came into the area long before the 1832 treaty. He was a brother to John Hutchinson, one of the ancestors (maternal) of the Hancock family of this community. Others followed his example and actions. By 1832 many whites lived among the Indians.
Perhaps the greatest boon to the whole area came with the construction of the Chapman Road. A trader, who ran a ferry across the Coosa River, cut the road. He started from Fort Williams on the Coosa and cut the road to West Point on the Chattahoochee. This joined two points of trade, and opened travel in the early 1830s. People from S.C., Georgia, and other points to the east, came over the Chapman road. Some stopped. Others moved further west. This road ran from West Point to Buffalo Wallow, north of where LaFayette was to be located in Chambers county, on to Denver, Zana, north of New Site, on to Cowpens, Rocky Creek Church, Hillabee, and about a mile north of what was later Goodwater, Mt. Olive, Sylacauga and finally to Fort Williams. The crossing at Hillabee creek apparently was some distance below the present bridge near Hog Mountain. Several facts point to this. But this road brought the area to become Hackneyville near to an active artery for settlers who might be traveling westward and interested in a homestead.
Places like Harlan, Pinkneyville, Chapman's Ford (at Hillabee) were soon started. So was Hackneyville, as people stepped to the side of the Chapman Road and picked out a likely spot to build a home. Name for village credit goes to Joe Hackney and his sons, Bill, Hugh, and Jake, for being among the very first to settle and build a grist mill on Hackney creek south of here, and establish themselves as persons who wished to stay. The village and community took its name from his family. Signs of the old mill site are still to be found, but none seem to know just what happened to the Hackneys. Some say they were buried on the "through road" from Hackneyville to the old Hillabee Camp Ground. Others say they must have moved further west. One fact is certain, they left their name on the Creek, Village and Community.
Early Settlers and First Buildings
Very early settlers included families named Dunn, Yates, Harlan, McKinnon, Collins, Hutchinson, Rodrick, Graham, Elias, Peoples, Bailey, Dillard, and Nelson. Possibly others. The first store was actually run from the home of Jim Nelson, with goods coming from West Point or Wetumpka. Those were the two points of trade tied to water transportation. The first public building in Hackneyville appears to have been a log structure called a court house. It really was the place used by the Justice of the Peace, Sam Belle, and the Constable, Barney Kemp (Kempe). This log structure was located about where Hancock's store was later constructed. The next addition to the village was a saloon run by Thad C. Pennington. Then came the school house. It was a 30 x 40 foot structure of logs, with a rock and mud chimney at either end. The usual split log benches were there, and the slates. Some of the first teachers were named; Albright, Ridge Fields, who was also a cobbler, M.A. Bailey, Jim Christian, Seaborn Pearson, E. Vernon, William J. Street and a man by the name of Clemmons.
Churches Serve Citizens
Photo by Cindy Smith 2008
The church came next as a public building. In 1841 the Presbyterians started a church about 1-1/2 miles south of this spot. It was a split log building and called "Mt. Pisgah ". It was near a spring and had a small cemetery. In 1861-62, the church was moved from the first location to the present spot, and into a new building, with a cemetery established just to the north of the church building. The second building was replaced in 1899 by, what we presume, is the building we now occupy. Supporters of the church were numerous, but among them we note such names as McCreight, Rodgers, Rodrick, Levie, McKinnon, and later the Hancocks and Fultons. Some of the early ministers were Rev. Swift, Ried, Morris, Morriston, Pharr, Ponder, Warren and Rodgers. The Baptists first established a church at Old Providence, to the north of us, in 1844, but the same year the Methodists made a move to establish the Old Hillabee Camp Ground Church. They also started the Methodist church at Liberty, again north of us, in 1846. But only the Presbyterians had a church in Hackneyville proper, at that time. In 1883 the Primitive Baptists made an effort to get a church established here, but it soon faded away. The Baptists, under the leadership of Dr. G.O. Griffin, began in 1890 to work toward the organization here. One was built, some say about 1902. It was located near where the present Baptist church stands, and was doing quite well until it was the victim of a cyclone in 1916, which left it badly damaged. It was not rebuilt at that time. Instead the Baptists started using the Presbyterian church we now occupy, and did so until 1957 when they reorganized and rebuilt the present Baptist church. The Methodists also used this church from 1929 until they built in 1947 here in Hackneyville. Until that time, the Methodists had concentrated upon the Hillabee Camp Ground church as the Methodist stronghold. And indeed it was for many years. It is a story all its own, but they did use this building from 1929 until 1947. Note: Attached are copies of old minutes of the Presbyterian Church established in this community, which provides greater detail about the origin, development and life of the church. Judge C.J. Coley made this material available for our use.
Old Hillabee Camp Ground Church
John M. Bailey, in 1844, settled a section of land just west of Hillabee creek, and donated 5 acres to build a church and Camp Ground. John Dunn, his Father-in-law, also had a section just north of him and gave 2 acres for the church. This was in 1847, and the two men worked together, and with others, to build the first split log church building on that newly donated land. Bill Hackney came to their rescue with lumber sawed on his water powered mill, and in 1852 they built the first frame church building at the Hillabee Camp Ground. Sandy McKinnon did the building. John Dunn supervised the work and Bill Hackney hauled away the rubbish. In 1860 they contracted with a Mr. Dingler to build a huge arbor of natural timbers and boughs, with wheat and oat straw on the ground for a floor. There were wooden benches to accommodate several hundred people. The story of the Hillabee Camp Ground Meetings is one of its own, but we can mention here some of those who helped start and maintain this old religious institution. In 1850 John N. Bailey sold one half of his land to C. C. "Mr. Charlie" Polk, who built a home upon it, in full sight of the Camp Ground Church. He was one of the first to arrive and last to leave on meeting days, and always occupied a front seat. Other ardent members were: John M. Bailey, John and Joseph Dunn, Bob Rogers, Buck Winslet, Peter Peneger, Jonathan Woolf, Sam and Hill Becket, Sam Hancock, Robert Lumpkin, George W. Forter, Aaron Harlan, Samuel T. Ray, Robert J. McKemmie, William D. Casper, and Z.T. Tate, and their descendants. The first burial at Hillabee Camp Ground Cemetery was the father of John Bailey, according to Mrs. Hattie McKemmie Baker. John was her grandfather and was also buried there. This popular church had no problem getting the ministers of the day to come serve them. In fact most wanted an opportunity to be present at this noted location. We will mention a few of the early ones; Rev. K.N. Matthews, L.R. Bell, M.L. Whitten, W.T. Patilo, G.N. Stevenson, R.W. Coons, T.V. Tirege, N.H. Self, G. C. Smith, N.I. Herndon, E. D. Emerson, G.W. Hall, W.T. Daniel, John T. Guthrie, and Jack Ingram. Later ministers included: A.F. Doyle, J.F. Peck, L.A. Martin, C.M. Pinkard, Z.J. Lankford, G. Vickers, and C.L. Cash. When Sunday School was started, Adam McKemmie was Superintendent, then Washington Ray, Albert Bailey, and Simon Dunn. Song leaders of note were; Joe Dunn, Bob Henry, Bob Truitt, Luther and Oscar Tate.
In 1952, Mrs. Eula Bailey Dunn listed the members of the Hillabee Camp Ground Church who were more than 75 years of age. Some were near ninety at that time. She listed; Mrs. June Ray, Mrs. Betty Dunn, Mrs. Carrie Tate, Mrs. Cora Ried, Mrs. Bill Russell, Mrs. Sallie Stancell, Mrs. Amy Ham Harris, Mrs. Addie Neighbors Rodgers, Mrs. Martha Yates, Mrs. Nannie Hooten, Mrs. Ann Neighbors Cole, Mrs. Ida McKinnon Horton, Mrs. Bessie Lynch, Mr. Joseph Bennet (Bige) Dunn, and Mr. Jeff Harris.
The first official mail service was from two places, Pinkneyville and Chapman's Ford across Hillabee Creek. John M. Bailey established a post office at Chapman's Ford December 1, 1852. It was the forerunner of the post at Hackneyville, for the service was moved to Thad C. Pennington's store at Hackneyville December 28, 1859. He was first a saloon keeper, but possibly branched out into other goods by this time. William M. Rodgers became postmaster at Pinkneyville June 6, 1840, and it was from this location that Hackneyville secured its U.S. Mail until it secured its own Post Office.
Other Post Masters at Hackneyville included; John W. Rodgers (1861-1866), when it was closed down. The service was re-established by John M. Horton December 12, 1873. Then came George W. Dillard (March 4, 1875), Henry W. Pearson (February 16, 1879), Neil H. Baker (December 14, 1880), William D. Cosper (July 25, 1882) (Dave Hand, who ran a chair factory handled the mail for Cosper part of the time), James McKinnon ( July 25, 1900 ), and he held the post until mails were discontinued to Goodwater effective July 1, 1906. Hackneyville had a Post Office for 47 years, 1859-1906, except those few years right after the War, when mails were stopped almost everywhere.
We have mentioned Nelson and Pennington. Soon after the War, James Belser opened a store. He was soon followed by Dean and Thomas, and still a third store was built by Gamble and Dean. In the 1870s Seaborn Pearson started a store. Then came C.C. Polk, William J. Street, Dan and Neil Baker (1880), William D. Cosper with John J. Harlan as "silent partner" (1882). The Cosper store was located where the Hancock Store is now located (although closed), and when Mr. Cosper died in 1910, the Hancocks bought the store and operated it until it closed. We might mention here that Dr. John J. Harlan became Judge of Probate in 1898 and helped build the County Courthouse of 1901. He returned to Hackneyville and served his patients for a time before he moved to Texas. Later merchants included; J.D. Collins, whose large store was just east of the Hancock store, Ellis Harlan, Will Leach, Holloway McKinnon, Watson Yates, Meacham Brothers, Leahman's, Bill Bryant's shoe shop, and of course, still later Harold Fox, Dan Baker, and Jerry Walls. A number of Blacksmith shop operators held forth at times, but possibly R.A. Hancock was one of the most noted for his service. His shop was located just south of the Hancock and Baker stores. The old McKelvey home was just west of the Presbyterian church, the Collins home once owned by Dr. G. O. Griffin, was where the Fox-Walls store stands; the Cosper home was east of the stores on the right of the road to Hillabee Camp Ground. It was later owned by the Tate family. The Hancocks (Francis Ausbury descendants) and Dunns lived farther toward the Camp Ground. The Nelson and Baker homes were south of the village, and the Fulton and Jones families lived west of the area. There were a number of less imposing homes of course.
We have no solid evidence as to just why the railroad passing from the Opelika area on its way to Birmingham did not come by Hackneyville. It was wanted of course, and no doubt would have helped the community grow into a regular trade center, but as this road was surveyed and built during the 1872-74 period, there were many considerations to keep in mind.
No doubt politics entered the picture, but if one looks at the map, it is easy to see that a straight line is formed by the road from Opelika to Childersburg, with one exception. That exception is Goodwater. It bears north of the line, and had the road come by Hackneyville, excluding Alexander City, or from Alexander City, the line would have been curved much greater to the north. Also the consideration of streams and bridges, plus other features of terrain, must have been the overriding factor in the decision to lay the tracks where they now stand. They followed the more desirable route from a point of construction. James Harlan cut one of the first roads from Hackneyville to another community. In 1840 he surveyed the road from Pinkneyville. Earlier roads had been established from the Chapman road to the north and Chapman's Ford at Hillabee. The road to Youngsville was by way of the Camp Ground at first. Later the road southward to Alexander City was cut, but it departed greatly from the present location. Signs of the old road to Hackney's mill are still to be found. None were paved until about 1945.
At one time a two room school house stood right across the road from the Presbyterian church where we are now meeting. Annie Cosper Thomas attended this school. It possibly was the second or third one built in Hackneyville. Following this one, came a three room wooden structure. Mr. Worldey was principal at the three and nine room schools. He had taught with others, such as professors Sides, Garrett, McGee Brothers, Stripling, Grimer, McClendon, Cox, Machen, McKay, McClerkin, and Pearson. Still others who taught later were; Mathis, Coleman, Guthrie, Hunt, and Robinson. Then A.V. Meigs came to be principal at the nine room building right after World War I. Mr. C.E. Newman followed Meigs in 1929. Two events happened about that time. Meigs had become County Superintendent of Schools, and the building at Hackneyville burned. It was replaced by a brick building, and Mr. Burford Jennings became principal in 1931. The building burned a second time in 1938, and Carlton Harris became principal. He was followed by Mr. Hoyt Welch in 1941. Then came J.L. Bassett in 1961, and James H. Welch in 1970. A great number of teachers served under these principals since the school was consolidated, and children were transported here from considerable distances.
Medical Doctors Serve Community
Hackneyville was blessed with medical services in the earlier periods of growth. some fifteen or more doctors served here at one time or another, and more than one at a single time. Some of them were; Dr. John L. Harlan, Dr. Fayette Harlan, Dr. Herbert Harlan, Dr. Causie, Dr. Slaughter, Dr. Jordan, Dr. McClendon, Dr. Mathis, Dr. Motley, Dr. G.O. Griffin, Dr. Lewellyn Ledbetter, Dr. J.J. Walls, Dr. Lawley, Dr. Henry Ray, Dr. Curtis Collins, Dr. Willie Rosser. Maybe there were others who served here or left the community to become doctors.
Ministers and Lawyers
We have mentioned some of the ministers. Others lived here and became servants of the Lord. Some were; Pat Leach, C. V. "Wood" Leach, Edgar Ledbetter, John and Bob Conger, and Judson Jones. Benjamin Franklin Ray, son of Washington Ray, and grandson of Samuel Ray, became a very successful lawyer in Birmingham. He was also Chairman of the State Democratic Committee. He, for years, gave the Ben F. Ray Medal to the senior student preparing and presenting the best talk based upon the Constitution of the United States.
All of the country around Hackneyville was in cultivation. Most fields were planted to cotton, corn, grain crops, vegetables and "live at home" crops. Livestock was plentiful and timber was scarcely to be seen from the public roads. The crops were good and Hackneyville won many prizes at the county and state fairs. It was an outstanding agricultural and trade center, and along with it went an outstanding cultural and social atmosphere, with great focus upon the church and school functions. Ed Harbin had the first water powered cotton gin. David Bryant came in later with a horse drawn and powered gin, but Henry Russell installed the first steam powered gin. Ellis Harlan took over this gin and added a saw mill which operated in seasons when cotton was not being ginned. It was located near the spring just west of here, and between the church and the present school building, on the right of the road. The last of this gin was when it blew up from overheating and shot steam all the way to the teacherage (boarding house for teachers) located west of the present Baptist church.
"Major" House started a telephone system in Hackneyville community between 1910 and 1915. It was the crank type telephone and everyone could listen in on the conversation, but installed the "Contraption", if they overcame their fear of lightning. The old switchboard was located in a building just south and across the road from J.D. Collin's store, and in front of the Jim Shaddix house. The latter was used for school when the first school burned, just as was this church building. Olen House helped his father with the project, and it became a joint venture. The user would place the poles in the location desired and maintained them. House strung the wire on glass brackets, and maintained the switchboard. Ms. Cassie Stewart was the daytime operator, and Dan Baker served at times as the night operator. Mrs. Myrtle House Hancock is the daughter of Mr. House. Electricity came to the Hackneyville community in the mid- 1930s, about the time the R.E.A. was set up nationally. Alabama Power Company signed up most of the area before the R.E.A. could get into the community.
Some of the pioneer families are no longer represented here. The Craigs, McCreights, McCords, Thompsons, Deans, Tates, Cosper, Harlan, and others went to Alexander City or Goodwater, maybe elsewhere. But some descendants remain. The Dunns, Hancocks, Hutchinsons, Yates, Lumpkins, Tankersleys, Walls, Browns, Hawkins, Bakers and others are here. May they prosper and many are those who left here who have done so with fond memories of the fine community they left behind.
Presented by Dr. Hoyt M. Warren before the Tallapoosa Historical Society in a meeting at Old Presbyterian Church, Hackneyville, Alabama, July 20, 1980. Information obtained from: Mrs. Annie Cosper Thomas; Mr. C. E. Newman; Mrs. T. J. Warren; written statements by Mrs. Hattie McKemmie Baker and Mrs. Eula Bailey Dunn; Mr. Raymond Dunn; Mrs. Kathryn Baker Thornton; Mrs. Macie Nelson Fox; Mrs. R. A. Hancock; Mr. Roy Mathis; Judge C. J. Coley; Misses Eunice, Iris, and Minnie Hancock; Mrs. Merle Meigs Tankersley and Mrs. Margaret White King; The Hackneyville Community Club written statement; Tallapoosa County Centennial Committee History 1976; Alexander City Centennial History, 1974; and other historical documents.