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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.