Winston County Introduction & Pre-1900 Timeline

From The Heritage of Winston County, Alabama

By: Tom Bartlett

Winston County is located in northwest Alabama at the very southeastern end of the Appalachian Mountains. The terrain varies from low rolling hills covered with evergreens to spectacular gorges, picturesque rock bluffs, and hardwood forests. Streams often cascade over rock faces into deep canyons to form beautiful waterfalls. The natural shelters beneath overhanging bluffs often contain evidence such as arrowheads and spear points of early inhabitance by Indian hunting parties. The area that is now Winston County was originally included in Walker County just after the State of Alabama was formed in 1817. In 1850, the northern part of Walker County was divided to form Hancock County, named after John Hancock of Revolutionary War fame. In 1858, Hancock County was renamed Winston County to honor Governor John A. Winston, the first Governor of Alabama to be born in the state.

The earliest permanent settlers to Winston County came primarily from Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. One early settlement seems to have been near the present town of Lynn about 1814. Undoubtedly the early settlers had different reasons for coming to this area. About this time a gradual movement westward was taking place as settlers sought out affordable land. The most fertile river bottom land such as that found in the Tennessee River flood plain was taken first with the steep hills and deep ravines taken last. One historian points out that Winston County had the highest percentage in the state of families residing on their own land. The earliest settlers to Winston County purchased their land under the terms of the 1820 Land Act, with the majority purchasing land in segments of eighty acres or less. The Homestead Act also drew many early families to the area as the more valuable land to the east was already made claimed. Because so much of the land was rocky and hilly and not suitable for crops, subsistence farming became a way of life for the early settlers. The survivors of these early times who managed to eke out a living from the poor soil were hardy, independent souls. The craggy hills of Winston isolated the settlers from the rest of the state. This isolation was to later prove pivotal in the lives of its citizens. In the words of one historian, they were "outside of the mainstream geographically, economically, and politically."

Just attempting to travel the terrain was a difficult undertaking. That is the reason the first roads - to stretch a definition to its limits - assumed such significance in the lives of the early settlers. Alabama's first state road, the Byler Road that ran from Nashville to Tuscaloosa, passed through Winston County from north to south, entering near the present site of Haleyville and passing near the present site of Lynn. Another early road traversing Winston County was named the Cheatham Road from its builder, Wyatt Cheatham, and ran from Moulton to Tuscaloosa. This road traveled through the present site of Double Springs.

Records indicate at least four churches were organized prior to 1850: two Methodist and two Baptist. The first church in the county seems to have been New Prospect Baptist Church, which was chartered in 1824 near the present site of Haleyville. The Methodist Churches were located at Littleville and Falls City. The Federal Census of 1850 reports four schools with a total of seventy-four pupils out of a total county population of 1,542.

After the Civil War, numerous new Alabama counties were created, including Cullman County being carved out of the territory between Winston and Blount. Since this left the county seat at Houston no longer in the center of the county, an election was held in 1883 and the decision was made to establish a new county seat in the geographical center of the county. July 23, 1883 saw the founding of the new county seat in Double Springs. The first courthouse built in the center of town burned on August 5, 1891, and the center of the present stone courthouse was completed in 1894. Several additions have been added since that time.

About 1880 Godfrey High School was located near the Cheatham Road just south of Double Springs. The school was active until about 1892. The state legislature in 1907 authorized the funding for a high school in each county, so Double Springs was selected for the location of the Winston County High School. At about the same time the citizens of Haleyville built their own high school.

Winston County has several features including Lewis Smith Lake, Natural Bridge, William B. Bankhead National Forest, and other small places of interest including Clear Creek and Kinlock Falls.

Pre-1900 Timeline
County Officials and Post Office Info are not listed here

1799:      Area of Winston is part of Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokee Indian lands
1812:      Jesse Livingston encountered Clear Creek Falls
1814:      Earliest known white settlers near present site of Lynn
1815:      Area of Winston changed to part of Monroe County
1816:      Area of Winston changed to part of Montgomery County
1817:      March 3: Alabama Territory created
1819:      Area of Winston became part of Marion and Blount Counties
1819:      December 14: State of Alabama formed
1820:      Byler Road completed through Winston County
1822:      Counterfeiters found at a bluff near Clear Creek Falls
1823:      Area of Winston became part of Walker County
1824:      Act authorized Wyatt Cheatham to build the Cheatham Road
               First known church, New Prospect Baptist Church, chartered near Haleyville
               December: Winston County area changed to Walker County
1828:      Jesse Livingston erects first grist mill in the area
1834:      December 3: Henry H. Lovett passed away; first marked grave of the county
1838:      New London was first listed on a map
1842:      Thornhill was first listed on a map
1850:      February 12: Act that created Hancock County from northern Walker County
               March 10: Commission met to discuss first county seat
               March 12: Commission accepted the site for the temporary court house
               April 1: Building started on the first court house at Old Houston
1856:      New London was last listed on a map
1858:      January 22: Hancock County renamed Winston County
               Permanent county seat selected at Old Houston
1860:      Christopher Sheats elected and sent to Montgomery
1861:      July 4: Neutrality meeting at Looney's Tavern
1863:      Houston jail built
1864:      August 23: Court house and jail at Houston burned
1865:      December 8: Clear Creek Mason Lodge # 322 formed
               December 11: Act that authorized special taxes to build a new jail at Houston
1867:      National Loyalty Oaths
               January 24: Clear Creek Mason Lodge # 340 formed
1868:      February 23: Original court house burned in Houston
1871:      January 11: Double Springs Mason Lodge # 365 formed
1874:      August 9: Bethel Church Number 1 was organized at Meek
               October 9: Clear Creek Baptist Association formed
1877:      January 24: Land boundaries of Winston set the same as today to create Cullman County
1878:      Thornhill was last listed on a map
1880:      Godfrey College and High School founded by Robert Gold Isbell
1881:      November 11: Town of Davis Crossroads became The Ark
1883:      July 23: Founding of new county seat, Double Springs
               July 23: Winston Star Mason Lodge # 436 formed
1885:      February 4: Godfrey College and High School incorporated
1885:      November 26: Godfrey College and High School's dormitory burned
1886:      September 6: Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church formed
1887:      Mount Hope Methodist Church was built in Arley
               September 1: Delmar Post Office established
1888:      Town of Clear Creek Falls changed to Elk
               July 23: "Nebo," Addison First Baptist Church, was organized
               December 18: Double Springs Baptist Church joined Clear Creek Baptist Association
1889:      Liberty Baptist Church accepted into the Baptist Association
               Plans revealed by Colonel Frank B. Merill to run a railroad through Elk
               February 22: Haleysville was incorporated; was Davis Crossing
               October: Arley First Baptist Church joined Clear Creek Baptist Association
1890:      Northern Alabama Railroad built through Lynn
1891:      January 19: Delmar Mason Lodge # 501 formed
               August 5: Burning of first courthouse at Double Springs
1892:      Godfrey High School became inactive
1893:      Building of new courthouse started
1894:      New courthouse completed