Houston History

An act of February 12, 1850, created the County of Hancock and was to be organized by John Hill, John W. Blackwell, Oran Davis, John Jones, James Vest, Daniel Speigles, and John Cargell. These "commissioners" were to supervise an election of a sheriff, circuit court clerk, county court clerk, tax collector, and four commissioners of revenue and roads. The commissioners were also to select two sites for the location of the county seat. The two sites were to be more than six miles from each other, and neither could be more than ten miles from the center of the county. The voters would then decide which site became the county seat. The county seat selected was Old Houston, three miles northeast of the present site of Houston and on the east side of Brushy Creek.

On January 22, 1858, the name of the county changed from Hancock to Winston, honoring John Anthony Winston, the first Governor of Alabama born in the State.

Two days after the name of the county was changed to Winston, the State Legislature specified that another election be held to determine a county seat, and the sheriff was made responsible to see that the election was held. A.J. Judge, John Taylor, John W. Allen, Michael Dodd, Thomas J. Harville, Samuel Wiley, Sr., and Deddy Lane were appointed commissioners to select the two places to be voted upon. The commissioners were empowered to buy or receive the donation of forty acres of land at the new site, and to sell parts of the forty acres not to be used for public buildings. Any profits from such transactions would go into the county treasury until it was spent for the building of a court house and jail. Shortly thereafter the citizens of the county were authorized to tax themselves for funds to build a courthouse and jail. The citizens voted to move the county seat from Old Houston to the present site of Houston. Houston remained the county seat until 1884, when it was moved to Double Springs under the leadership of Andrew Jackson Ingle. The log jail built at Houston still stands as one of the few remaining relics of the period.

There was a jail at Houston built between 1858 and 1865. It was burned during the war. Act of Alabama 1865-1866 included an act enacted December 11, 1865 which empowered the Winston County Commissioners to levy a special tax for the purpose of rebuilding the jail. The jail built of hand-hewed logs, while the large boards that were used for the interior walls were sawed on an "up and down" sawmill at Partridge Mill on Sipsey River. These were completely filled with square-headed nails driven into them, which prevented prisoners from cutting or sawing their way to freedom. On the prisoners’ side, there were only two small windows for light or ventilation, both with iron bars installed. Tradition has it that during court, criminals were tied to trees awaiting their trials, during the period of time before the jail was built after being burned.

During its short as county seat (1858 to 1884), some striking incidents occurred at Houston. Tom Pink Curtis, the Probate Judge during the Civil War, was killed by raiders on January 19, 1864, and the county’s money and salt was stolen. Payton Baughn, a crippled man, had to use a crutch and walking stick to walk. He had served as Winston County tax assessor and tax collector both. After the Civil War, he was elected Probate Judge, but during his service, was killed at the Courthouse by a drunken man, W. Paul Garrison, with a knife on February 25, 1869. The courthouse burned on the night of February 23, 1868, and had to be rebuilt. In 1884, the county seat was moved to Double Springs.

Now Houston has a Post Office, county grocery store, three churches, and the old log jail (now covered for protection from weather) to remind us that Houston was once the county seat.