Accomplishments and Timeline of the WCGS
Compiled By: Peter J. Gossett
In 1996, a group of people met to prepare a book titled Heritage of Winston County, Alabama, a history on the county through stories and pictures submitted by the public.
Once the book was completed in 1998, certain persons of this group formed the Winston County Genealogical Society, which was done on January 19, 1998, for the purpose of helping to preserve the history of Winston County and to allow people to share information about their family lineage with ties to Winston County.
The early minutes of the society were either not kept or has been lost over time, but the minutes from September 17, 1998, forward are complete with the exception of December 2004. The first president was Brad Mattox. During the first year, the society met at different locations in the different towns of Winston County, always on the third Thursday of the month. A milestone meeting was November 19, 1998. A central location was discussed for a permanent meeting place; a committee was also "brought up" to form a newsletter. Bobby Walker suggested "Free State Heritage Tracker," but "Winston County, Alabama, Trail Tracker" passed as the name. As early as 1998, the society was talking of using Dr. Blake's old building in Double Springs as a place for an archives. However, the time being, all of the society's holdings were at Linda's Trophies in Double Springs.
February 18, 1999, was the first meeting in the new centralized, permanent location: Community Bank, in Double Springs. This was also the date of the first Trail Tracker quarterly newsletter. By May of 1999, a pictorial book was already under way. Many of the photos in this book were submitted by members of the society, and Donald B. Dodd, author of Winston: An Antebellum and Civil War History of a Hill County of North Alabama, helped in compiling and authoring it. It was released in September 2000, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the county, with reprints in May of 2004.
On February 17, 2000, Mike Frazier, a teacher at Winston County High School, shared his collection of old videos with the society. They included a short film on the Clear Creek Falls, before they were backed up to create Smith Lake, and then he showed a video of the opening of Crittenden's Store in Double Springs in 1948. Mr. Frazier was back on October 19, 2000, to show a video on former sheriff Crant Berry. On August 6, 2000, Peter J. Gossett created the "Winston County Genealogical Society/Winston County, Alabama" web site. Also during the year 2000, Ruth and Johnny Ferguson, along with Brad Mattox and Stella Pratt visited cemeteries in the county and transcribed them, an enormous task. In October of 2000, their work was published in the 600 plus page book Cemeteries of Winston County, Alabama.
Starting in April of 2001, the society again had to start meeting at various locations. It was not until July 19, 2001, that the society found another meeting place at the Town Hall Auditorium in Double Springs. On August 16, 2001, the society was informed that they were the "Person of the Month" for September for the newly formed "Free State Advertiser Journal," a free publication on historical information. Bettye Steele Watters published her book titled Shipman in October of 2001. On December 20, 2001, president Brad Mattox resigned. Darryal Jackson was elected president on January 17, 2002.
In March of 2002, Trevia Hood completed her project of copying the loose records at the court house. These included early estate files of our ancestors. On August 12, 2002, the web site officially became part of the USGenWeb/ALGenWeb. The cemetery maps, created by Gene Gravlee, became available on September 24, 2002. This shows all the known cemeteries of Winston County.
In February of 2003, records were compiled for all the old post offices and their postmasters, in its entirety. In April of 2003, the society paid to have old movies and interviews of deceased citizens professionally transferred to DVD; this is a set of 4 DVDs. Photography of all cemeteries in Winston County was started in June 2003.
Tom Turley, from the Alabama Department of Archives and History, presented a box full of microfilm, containing the loose records compiled by Trevia Hood and other members of the society, on January 29, 2004. A previous mistake in history was corrected in the story "Free State Civil War Events and the Jasper Raid," a compilation of known Civil War records, on May 24, 2004. Linda Hall retired from her business, Linda's Trophies, in August of 2004. The society's archives that was at her shop was moved to a small building at Darryal Jackson's house. The first time that the society did not meet at the regularly scheduled meeting date was on September 16, 2004, due to Hurricane Ivan.
The meeting place at the Town Hall Auditorium was no longer available to the society in late 2004, and the society moved to the Double Springs Community Center starting January 18, 2005; the meeting date was changed to the third Tuesday of every month. The society had never published a quarterly newsletter more than eight pages long until the September 2005 issue. Thanks to Joann Holdbrooks and her hard work, the newsletter went to sixteen pages. On November 28, 2005, the society donated $900.00 to Sandra Wright, Revenue Commissioner, to reproduce the first plat book of Winston County to CD.
Any hope for the society to have Dr. Blake's old building to house an archives was crushed on January 18, 2006, when the county tore down the building. Plans were to build another building built to specifications for an archives; the groundbreaking of this building occurred on November 13, 2006. In January of 2006, Joann Holdbrooks prepared documents on the different kinds of tombstone art and symbolism. On June 24, 2006, members of the society and descendants of the Lovett's met at the Old Lovett Cemetery, cleaned it off, and adopted it to keep it in better shape. This cemetery contains the oldest known tombstone in the county.
Starting with 2007, the society had a new president, Diane Miller. Also on April 17, 2007, the society adopted official bylaws. During the year, the new archives building was being built. Members of the society were present for the wreath-laying at the historic Garrison-Payne Cemetery on May 19, 2007. Another cemetery, the Capsey Creek/Freeman, was cleaned by members of the society on September 29, 2007.
The sesquicentennial (150th) year was 2008 for Winston County, and throughout 2007 and early 2008, the Houston Jail had been disassembled, fixed, and reassembled. A dedication of the jail was held on Winston County’s birthday, January 22, 2008. Plans were beginning to take shape for the second volume Heritage Book for Winston early that year, and stories were gathered and compiled. The book was released on December 3, 2009. The name for the new archives building was designated in January 2008 to be Winston County Archives. An open house celebration was held on January 15, 2008 with many members of the Blake family present. Society members made a trip to the historic bald rock/rock house in Natural Bridge on February 23, 2008. Dianne Miller and Trevia Hood and other members began preparing the old volumes of newspapers for viewing at the archives, and they had to be cleaned page by page. Also, the society bought a new computer for use in the archives. Another excursion was a trip to the Clarkston Covered Bridge on July 12, 2008. All previous newsletters were scanned and transferred to PDF documents, then put on CD for sale.
A west/southwest Winston County tour was held on February 21, 2009, where members went to historic cemeteries in that area of Winston, including a hike up Millstone Mountain. All the society’s research materials were moved into the new archives building on May 7, 2009. The archives was finally opened for business on June 29, 2009. Trevia Hood began photographing the first marriage book, and she and other members also began compiling a death index from the newspapers. Another tour, this time of the Bankhead Forest and surrounding area, occurred on November 7, 2009. After over nine years, the web site address was changed to www.freestateofwinston.org on November 7, 2009.
At the start of 2010, it was shaping up to be a busy year for the society. A committee was formed to put up road signs containing the historic names of roads. In 2008, twenty roads were selected throughout the county, and beginning January 2010, the signs and poles were discussed and bought. The signs were put up on the west side of the county on April 15, 2010, and the east side was done on April 22, 2010. It was also discussed and decided upon at the meeting on January 19, 2010 for the society to do their first book. Members themselves had done books in the past, but this would be the first one the society published. It was decided to do a series, and the first one was published on March 29, 2010: Winston Roots, Vol. 1: Stories of an Alabama County. Mentioning new books, Robin Sterling completed a new cemetery book, in two volumes, along with an early newspaper excerpt book that was released in May 2010. On April 28, 2010, the society donated $850 to have the first two marriage books preserved and scanned to CD.
For 2011, it was a busy year for WCGS members. The WCGS have been active participants in the operation and staffing of the Winston County Archives. The archives had visitors from all over the United States. In addition, the WCGS assisted with queries via email, phone calls, and letters. The volunteers have continued compiling Winston County deaths and obituaries from the newspapers, along with other interesting and important articles and photos. We are compiling articles for the next WCGS book, which hopefully will be published sometime in late 2012. In 2011, the WCGS were the recipients of several private donations, consisting of historical and genealogical books, periodicals, magazines, plaques, paintings, sketches, military documents, family histories, and other items. P.J. Gossett, with a few other members, researched and located sites of over 121 Winston County schools, and along with the University of Alabama, they created a Winston County Schools Map completed in April 2011. Besides the very good programs presented at our monthly meetings, the WCGS conducted a very educational "Downtown Double Springs Walk," led by Darryal Jackson.
In 2012, the society continued to operate and staff the Winston County Archives. The archives has served visitors from all over the United States, as well as a few visitors from Iceland. The society purchased another printer for the archives as well. When the 1940 census was released on April 2, 2012, WCGS volunteers indexed the Winston County portion and purchased ink to print the census for the archives. One of our major projects for 2012 was the preservation of the Free State Barn. Several of our members worked many hours to keep this landmark from complete decay. On January 28, 2012, we took a field trip to an old "rock house" located near Henryfield Church. This bluff was used for school and church services for many years. During 2012, the society had the opportunity to purchase for sale again the Free State of Winston pictorial book.
In 2013, we continued to operate and staff the Winston County Archives. The archives has served visitors from all over the United States, in person and via email or phone. The society each year purchases Ancestry.com and Fold 3 for use at the archives. This is a free service to our visitors with the only cost being any copies made by the visitor. The WCGS published a new book in 2013, Winston Roots, Vol. II: Marriage Index Records of an Alabama County that covers early marriages prior to 1891 thru 1955. This book has been a valuable asset to the Archives. Thanks go out to P.J. Gossett for his hard work and any others who contributed to this book. Early in 2013 we were informed of grant money being made available to worthy projects by the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The society had previously checked into prices to have the 3rd and 4th Winston marriage books digitized. The price was almost $2000. After learning about the grant we decided to try and acquire matching funds for this project. In October we were informed we had been chosen to receive $987 toward this important project. After digitization these marriage records can be preserved. Another project of historical importance involved Robin Sterling. The society purchased four reels of Marion County newspaper microfilm last fall and Robin is compiling this information into three books. The books may be purchased at lulu.com along with Robin’s many other contributions to Winston and surrounding counties. Two of our guest speakers for 2013 were Peggy Norris and Ann Baughn. Peggy spoke about and sang old folk songs, as well as speaking about her Winston ancestors. Margaret and Larry Lee filmed portions of this meeting, along with areas of Bald Rock and the Rock House with P.J., for their Walker Web T.V. “Special People and Places” show. Ann brought pictures and spoke about the Lynn area and her ancestors for whom Lynn was named.
In 2014, we applied for and received a matching grant from the Alabama Department of Archives and History for the purpose of digitizing on CD Winston County Marriage Books 3 and 4. The Society donated $250 to help erect a bust monument at the historic Old Houston Jail in honor of Willis Farris, the first sheriff of then Hancock County, which became Winston. The society also helps neighboring counties in documenting their history. One of our members, Robin Sterling, has compiled numerous books from old newspapers, so we purchased old Marion County Newspaper microfilm for him to compile into book form. We also purchased a new computer for the archives. On August 19, 2014, we celebrated our 200th meeting with a look back on what the society has accomplished. Also Steve Turner spoke at the meeting about the Winston County Grays placing a marker for Green B. West at the West Cemetery at Natural Bridge. The society was blessed with several donations such as books, family ancestral data, pictures, and paintings. Leasa Brock painted and donated the Old Haleyville Courthouse and the Old Winston County Courthouse. We purchased a voice recorder in order to record interviews to be placed in an on-going audio library. Society members, after working the past couple of years, completed the third society book, Winston Roots, Vol. 3: Early Pioneers and Settlers of an Alabama County. The book was published on January 6, 2015.