Wilcox Historical Society Newsletter – Spring 2006

Prairie Bluff Tour 

There will be a special on-site historical tour and meeting at Prairie Bluff on Thursday, May 4, 2006 starting at 10:30 A.M. The meeting is being hosted by John and Gail Henderson, and will be held at their new home located on Shell Creek. You get to their home by taking Highway 28 west to the Prairie Bluff sign, then follow the new road into the subdivision, bear right, and then bear right again on Weslyn Way and you will run into the home lot. Following the meeting, John and Gail will conduct an on-the-ground tour of old Prairie Bluff. If you have never toured the old town site, and seen the old cotton warehouse foundation and cotton slide to the Alabama River, you are in for a real treat. In addition to the Prairie Bluff history presentation and tour, Lula Lee Tait will give a brief summary of the 100th anniversary celebration for Camden National Bank to be held on Sunday afternoon, May 7. An old photograph of the original bank building, circa 1920, is contained on the back page.

Following is a summarized account of the history of Prairie Bluff written by Jane McDonald Henderson and Bob Henderson.

After the Creek Indian War of 1812, the soldiers who returned home from the eastern colonies, told glowing stories of the fertile land of Prairie Bluff, Wilcox County, Alabama with its rich black soil mixed with lime and the beautiful green pastures. As a result, land hungry settlers and adventurers flocked to Wilcox County. Prairie Bluff was settled in 1815 several years before Alabama became a state on December 13, 1819. It became one of the greatest and wealthiest of the now forgotten river towns in Alabama. The name was changed to Daletown in 1822 to honor the great Indian fighter Sam Dale of Georgia, and was officially known as Daletown for the next 16 years at which time the name reverted to Prairie Bluff. Sam Dale and two associates first acquired land and divided it into town lots. It featured well defined streets named Bluff, Commerce, Second, Wilcox, etc. The town was able to serve the river boats with storage facilities for 3,000 barrels of “up-freights”, 3,000 bales of cotton awaiting shipment, and provide boat passengers with finest overnight accommodations in Holt’s Hotel.

By 1843, Prairie Bluff was the largest town in Wilcox County and it almost became the capital of the State. When heavy floods made
 it necessary to move the State Capital from Cahaba, Prairie Bluff and Tuscaloosa were the chief contenders for the honor of being the seat of state government. Tuscaloosa won by a single vote! During this time, Prairie Bluff was one of five major trading posts from Mobile to Cahaba. Three postal routes led from Prairie Bluff to Cahaba, St. Stephens, Greensboro, and Uniontown, and Prairie Bluff was also the shipping point for goods shipped to Tuscaloosa.

In the 1830’s,40’s, and 50’s, Wilcox County became an important duchy of the vast southern cotton empire, producing thousands of tons of the “white gold”. As a result, cultural life began to flourish and Prairie Bluff became a social hub. Lafayette Lodge, the first Masonic Lodge in the county, was built in 1826. Apparently, it was named in commemoration of the famous French General Lafayette who traveled down the Alabama River in April 1825. Civilization continued to flow in and out along the course of the historic Alabama River. By 1880, there were 16 large business houses, many of them brick, and paved streets. Some of remains of the foundations of the old buildings and of the brick streets can be seen even now.

Ironically there were 13 saloons and no churches during this era! It has been suggested that this may have been the reason for the demise of the town, but in reality the changing mode of transportation lessened the importance of the river towns, and Prairie Bluff gave way to the changing times.

Pine Apple Front Porch Tour

This annual event, sponsored by Pine Apple Promotions, will be held on Sunday, May 28. The attached leaflet provides details of the tour. Please note that several of the homes will have open parlors, and that there is one very historic home that has not been featured on previous events. This is the historic Kelley-Hawthorne house, the boyhood home of General John Herbert Kelley, Alabama’s “Boy General” during the Civil War. Also, there are different homes in the Pine Apple National Historic District that are featured this year. This is a special event, so please make plans to attend.

Wilcox True Blues Flag Project

As reported in the previous Newsletters, the flag is nearing completion of the restoration process in Maryland. When it is returned to the Department of Archives and History, it will be available for display at our historical events. Our Alabama Department of Archives and History is one of, if not the best, facility in America. The Friends of the Archives is a vital arm of theADAH, and you are encouraged to join. Please contact Garland Smith or Don Donald, current Directors of the Friends of the Archives for more information.

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