Cleburne County really is a great place to live. Rich in natural beauty and rural heritage, amazing schools, low cost-of-living and low crime rate, you will not find a nicer community to grow your family. In addition, its proximity to Birmingham and Atlanta makes it an ideal location to take advantage of a metropolitan lifestyle while living in the quintessential Southern town.
History of Cleburne County
Located in the northeastern part of Alabama, Cleburne County was created by an act of the Alabama Legislature on December 6, 1866, from territory formerly contained in Calhoun, Randolph and Talladega counties. The 561 square miles that comprises the county was named for Major General Patrick Ranoyne Cleburne of the Confederate Army, who was killed at the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee.
The land that makes up Cleburne County was Creek and Cherokee Indian hunting territory. Early white settlers came into the county by way of the McIntosh Trail around 1825, trading with the Indians for land where they began farming and raising cattle. Ranburne, along the McIntosh Trail, is the oldest settlement in the county. The federal government, working on behalf of the white settlers, passed The Indian Removal Act of 1830. The white settlers wanted land to make their fortune growing cotton. The act required the relocation of all Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. The Creek Nation ceded vast amounts of land in Alabama to the United States Government. The process began to round up all Native Americans including the Creek and Cherokee Nations in Cleburne County and to prepare them for the immigration westward to Oklahoma. The Native Americans walked thousands of miles to designated “Indian Territory” which was across the Mississippi River. This movement was called “The Trail of Tears”. Indian land was opened for white settlers to make their homes and farm. More and more settlers arrived in Cleburne County.
In 1861, the Civil War began causing a division between the people in the southern part of the county and the people in the northern part of the county. Historians estimate there were less than 100 slaves in the whole county, as there were few slave owners. Most of the county saw no conflict. The Stone Hill community, suffered from documented Union raids during the war. The area had favored secession, and a good bit of property was destroyed and soldiers carried away whatever livestock they could find during one Union raid.
After the war, the county began the reconstruction process. An election was ordered to be held in July 1867, for locating a county seat and electing county officers. The citizens voted that the county seat would be Edwardsville (named for the Edwards family from North Carolina). A courthouse was built in 1887, on land given by William Edwards. The first county officers were: Probate Judge, A. D. Chandler; Sheriff, Joseph Hooper; County Treasurer, W. R. Hunnicutt; County Surveyor, William Bell; County Commissioners: John Brock, Merrill Collier, W. H. Brown and Allen Jenkins. By 1905, Heflin was well established because of the proximity to the railroad. Since a courthouse was perceived as the catalyst for the county, a group of citizens began an effort to move the county seat from Edwardsville to Heflin. A countywide election was held and Heflin, supported by citizens in the southern part of the county, won by a small majority. Edwardsville did not give up without a fight. A legal battle ensued, and after a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the county seat was moved to Heflin in 1906. A new courthouse was built in 1907. The courthouse was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
Other Notable Moments in Cleburne County History:
GOLD – Gold was discovered in the county around 1830 in the vicinity of Arbacoochee and Chulafinnee. The main gold rush was from 1835 – 1836. An estimated 500 miners came into the area. While very few miners got rich, the creeks and mines did provide enough gold for folks to make a living. The discovery of gold in California in 1849 led many prospectors west.
RAIL – The Georgia-Pacific Railroad was completed through Heflin and Cleburne County in1883, which made transportation to and from the county easier. The rail bed was cut through the county by hand using picks, shovels, a wheelbarrow and a dump cart. The railroad linked Heflin to Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama. The town thrived from the railroad-related businesses that derived from the cotton and lumber industries. Commuter trains took workers to Atlanta and Birmingham, making stopovers in Heflin. The railroad used spurs in the town to store trains overnight. Hotels were constructed in Heflin for these railroad workers.
LIGHTS – O. W. Grant brought electrical lights to Heflin in 1912. In connection with his cotton gin, he installed a two-cylinder vertical gasoline engine to supply power to his 15kw, 110-volt generator. The plant served approximately 70 residential and commercial customers (and no street lights) between the hours of 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. On Thursday, ironing day, the system was energized between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. There were no meters and a set rate of one dollar per month was set. Mr. G. F. Moore purchased a plant and it began operation in 1919. It operated until March 1932, when it was destroyed by fire. Following this, a hydro plant was build by W. M. Dobson. The plant was located about two and a half miles west of Heflin on a small creek and was run by a water wheel. The creek would not supply ample water to keep the wheel running and a steam engine was added. The system served about 120 customers and no street lights. Customers installed their own meters and paid a monthly minimum of $3.00. They kept their kerosene lamps as the system had frequent interruptions. The life of the hydro plant was about two years. Alabama Power began furnishing power to the city on March 16, 1926. An elegant banquet was held at the city auditorium in celebration of this event.
AUTOMOBILE – With the arrival of the automobile, this motorized vehicle became a very important mode of transportation and with it came the roads. The Bankhead Highway (now Highway 78) was graded through the county in 1925, and it was paved in 1933. The highway provided a direct connection between Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama and created a thriving economy for small businesses in the county, particularly in Heflin. In the 1970s, the construction of Interstate 20 created even better access through the county; however, it has moved the business centers out of the downtown areas of small towns throughout the state.
TELEPHONE – In the county’s early years the only remote communication was the rural mail carrier. The railroad improved communication and later, newspapers were established. There were telegraph operators in Edwardsville, Fruithurst and Heflin. Telephone communication was offered in various areas of Cleburne County as early as the1920s and 1930s. They were the old wall, crank type. There were telephone exchanges in Fruithurst, Edwardsville, Chulafinnee and White Plains. Some exchanges were located in private homes such as Chulafinnee, Beason’s Mill/Cedar Creek, Hightower/Trickem/Lecta and others were located in post office buildings. The Heflin exchange was located in the back of Wright Drug Store. Dr. Leroy Wright purchased the exchange in order to communicate with his patients. Local telephone numbers were two digits until the 1950s.
Town of Edwardsville Leadership
Mayor Billy Driggers Jr., City Clerk Larry R. Thompson – (256) 463-8608
Fruithurst is located in the northern area of Cleburne County. A small rural community called Summitt Cut was the beginning of Fruithurst. The Southern Railway figured prominently in the founding of Fruithurst. Summitt Cut was settled around 1880. The settlers were primarily of Scotch-Irish descent and farmers from the Carolinas and Georgia. The primary crop was cotton. Cotton prices began to decline and the farmers sold out their land to a gentleman from Massachusetts and other northern investors (approximately 20,000 acres). The investors divided the land into town and vineyard lots, and they persuaded other northerners to move south and purchase them. The investors named the town Fruithurst. The town was incorporated in 1896, by an act of the Alabama Legislature. The investors envisioned an area of fruit trees and grape vineyards. By 1898, Fruithurst had become a real boomtown with people pouring into the area. The city was laid out with diagonal streets, joining parallel avenues linking the entire city together. There were gardens, parks and an experimental station. The experimental station contained approximately 105 varieties of grapes, an orchard, berry patches and rose and vegetable gardens.
Numerous exclusive businesses were established in Fruithurst, a real tribute to the Yankee ingenuity. Of all the buildings erected in Fruithurst, the Fruithurst Inn was the showplace of the town. It claimed to be one of the finest hotels in the South and was justly qualified to make the statement. There were several churches established and several wineries were in operation. Vineyard owners joined together to form the Fruithurst Vineyard Improvement Association. Fruithurst prospered. Then, prohibition came along and stopped the wine making. The vineyards fell by the wayside. The great depression struck and while some of the transplants stayed, many of the immigrants left.
Very little is left of the town that was once known as the pride of the northern Alabama hills. Many of these historical parts of Fruithurst have vanished, however, a few scattered old Victorian houses remain. The grave markers in the cemeteries are a reminder of the many immigrants who once lived, worked, and played in the now small town of Fruithurst.
The Wine industry is making a comeback with the establishment of Fruithurst Winery Company. Surrounded by fifteen acres of muscadine vineyards, owned and operated by two cousins Josh and Dylan Laminack, it carries the elegance and culture of what was then and will forever be the vineyard village.
Town of Fruithurst Leadership and Contacts
Beverly Owens | Senior Center Director |256-579-2105 | P.O. Box 160 Fruithurst, AL 36262
Heflin was established in 1882, with a population of approximately 75-100 people. Much of what is currently the City of Heflin was originally owned by the Ross family. The family arrived in Alabama in the early 1830s, and later donated lands for schools, churches and a cemetery.
The name “Heflin” was in honor of Dr. Wilson L. Heflin, doctor to many in the area of Cleburne and Randolph Counties and father of Alabama U. S. Senator, J. Thomas Heflin (1920-1931).
Heflin was incorporated on December 10, 1886. The corporate limits of Heflin were reestablished in 1892. By 1891, Heflin was a bustling, trading center. A report from “The Cleburne New Era” stated, “There has been an average of a hundred wagons a day in Heflin for the past week, hauling oil, guano and other supplies. An average of 12 train car loads of lumber are shipped from this place each week.” The economy was supported for many years by cotton crops, which, after being baled, was shipped by freight to various places. The huckleberry business also thrived during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The berries were packed in crates and shipped to New York, Chicago and Detroit. In 1883, a public steam gin was built and in 1885, a gristmill was added.
Most of Heflin’s early residents were merchants who opened their businesses along Ross street and lived in homes along side streets, as the town and the population grew.
Ross Institute was established in 1885. The state granted Ross Institute a charter and the town built Ross Collegiate Institute, so named in hopes that it would someday become a college. This institute was located at the corner of Willoughby Street near the location of the present Smalltown Bank. In 1909, the Cleburne County Board of Education sold bonds to build a new high school at the corner of Burns and Evans Streets. Ross Institute became the town’s elementary school, being Cleburne County Elementary. The dreams of the college had faded away.
There were two hotels in Heflin in 1891, the Summit House and the Edmondson Hotel. Mercantile stores began to open in 1889. In 1889, Atkins and Owens opened for business. In 1902, Wright Drug Company opened (still operating today) and in 1905, the Bank of Heflin was established. The county seat was moved to Heflin from Edwardsville in 1906. And in 1911 the “Cleburne News” was established.
The city continued to grow throughout the first part of the 20th Century. In the 1920s and 1930s two new hotels were constructed. They were the Central and the Alexander. With the completion of Highway 78 during the 1930s, street paving began and city water was available. The city water tank was located on the grounds of the courthouse. From 1950 – 1980 most of the city streets were paved, sewage lines were installed, several new industries opened and the present town hall was built. Heflin has had three town hall buildings and all of them stood on the same site. The first municipal building was a wooden structure. It was destroyed by fire. In 1932, an old wooden store building was purchased and moved to the site. This building was destroyed by fire in 1952. The present building was erected in 1953.
Some Heflin businesses have come and gone, however, some have weathered the construction of Interstate 20, and are still thriving with new businesses coming in as a result of the downtown revitalization project and the establishment of the Exit 205 Improvement District.
Heflin offers an array of activities, organizations and events for entertainment. Please visit the city website at http://www.cityofheflin.org/ for more information or see our Things To Do section of this website.
Heflin City Government and Contacts
City Hall, 850 Ross Street, Heflin, AL 36264 – (256)463-2290
- Mayor Rudy Rooks
- City Clerk Shane Smith
- Assistant City Clerk Kim Huddleston Stone
The first settlers homesteaded in Lost Creek, now Ranburne, around 1814. The name, Ranburne, derived from combining the names Randolph and Cleburne. Ranburne is a small-incorporated town of approximately 500 people located on Highway 46 in the southeastern portion of Cleburne County. The town was incorporated November 12, 1957, and built its first city hall-jail in 1959. Ranburne has two schools, Ranburne Elementary School and Ranburne High School, home of the “Ranburne Bulldogs”. Ranburne offers baseball fields and a park. The citizens of Ranburne are proud, hard working people that indemnify the rural heritage of Cleburne County with many still keeping their family farming operation going.
Town of Ranburne Leadership and Contacts
- Mayor Owen Lowery
- City Clerk Pam Richardson