A Brief History of Fredonia, Alabama

The photo above shows the only building left at what was once a thriving crossroads in Fredonia.

 

This article was published at least 50 years ago in the LaFayette, Alabama paper. There is no date on the article and it was clipped and saved by my grandmother, Jimmie Lee James Wilkinson, who lived in Fredonia as child and as a bride.

– Diane Cox

 

Wilkinson home in Fredonia, AL

Wilkinson home in Fredonia, ALThis photo shows the family home, purchased around 1888. This photo of my great grandfather, Archie Wilkinson, his wife Mary Virginia Philpott Wilkinson, and my grandfather, George Maley Wilkinson (with pet goat!), was probably taken around 1898.

The following brief history of Fredonia appears in that community’s scrap book, prepared for entry in the County Community contest. It is our understanding that the author is Miss Eunice Turnham. We believe you will be interested in this story of the community, as follows:

 

 

Over a century ago when the Creek Indians still inhabited Alabama, when virgin forest still covered the land, and before Chambers County was laid out, two brave pioneer families made their way into her domain.

In the early twenties (1820s), John and Sally McDonald Hurst, and Asa and Margaret McDonald Cox pitched their tent under a giant oak on the spot that is now the main street of Fredonia.
Trade was soon begun with the Indians. They exchanged beads and trinkets for furs.Cox soon entered some government land but Hurst did not seem to care for broad acres, possible a character of ministers of the Gospel, for he combined preaching with trading. However Hurst erected the first building there, a log house with the front serving as a store and back as living quarters, on land given him by the Indians. This “free gift” suggested to him the name he soon gave the village.
Other white families soon followed, including the McDonalds, Umphries, Carlisles, Barkers, Wards, Zacharys, Bowens, Blackstons and Robinsons. (Wards had a daughter who married the youngest Wilkerson, Archibald Alonzo.  The Zacharys went on to own thousands of acres and my great grandfather Benjamin James was overseer for them – Diane Cox).
James Monroe Edwards, Pastor at Fredonia Methodist Church

James Monroe Edwards, Pastor at Fredonia Methodist Church

In 1832, the year before Chambers County was formed, a Methodist Society was formed. John Hurst’s store served as a meeting place. There were thirteen charter members. The next year a Methodist Church was built, being the first in the county. (See additional history in my other Fredonia article). In 1833 two preachers were sent by the South Carolina Conference. They were Hugh M. Finley and Sidney Squire. Finley died that same year and his is the first grave in the village. It is located at the Methodist Church cemetery. Another church was later built on the same site as the first (see photo in photo section). Before remodeling, this second church had a slave gallery and the slaves were preached to on Sunday afternoons. My grandfather, James Monroe Edwards, was a minister at this church and is buried in front of the church.

In 1833, Captain William Smith was sent to guard the white families against the Indians. As this was the same year Francis Scott Key was sent to Alabama to represent the Federal Government in the conflict with the State over the removal of the Indians to their new home west of the Mississippi, it seems likely that Captain Smith was sent by the State to protect the white families.

The Baptist Church was organized in 1834, and a small barnlike building was used for services the first year. The Baptist cemetery is located across the road from the site of the first meeting place.

The people of Fredonia were interested in education at an early date and established a Female Academy and a Military Academy which were among the first schools of the state.

The Southern Military Academy was founded in 1851, with Gibson F. Hill, Esq., Principal and Proprietor. Major N. J. Armstrong, graduate of State Military Academy, South Carolina, a Dr. Putnam and J. S. Parker were instructors. In 1854, by a special act of the Legislature, a bill was passed providing for a lottery to be held to raise funds for the Southern Military Academy. $60,000 was given in prizes in this lottery and the Academy received $25,000. The Academy was located one mile west of Fredonia on the left side of the road. (My family’s farm was also to the west of Fredonia on the left side of the road). This Academy is believed to be the beginning of Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

The town grew rapidly until the War Between the States. John Hurst’s store was enlarged and many more stores were erected. Moore and Umphries, Dry Goods and Liquor; Dick Taylor, Fine Wines and Whiskey; R. Haines, Dry Goods and Whiskey; Noland and Satterwhite, General Merchandise and Whiskey; G. C. Johnson, Dry Goods; the last named being the only store that did not sell whiskey.

In “The Formative Period of Alabama” we read that drinking was almost as common as eating, also that saloons might be independent shops but were most often in conjunction with Dry Goods, Grocery Stores or Inns. Fredonia also had a hotel, a livery stable owned by Satterwhite and Birdsong, two wood workmen – Marion Sikes and William Wimbush, and two blacksmith shops. Later stores included Zachary, Walker, Robinson, Heath and Walker, Robinson Heath and Clemons, Noland and Satterwhite. Liquor became more poplar and there were three bar rooms doing a flourishing business at one time.

James L. Robinson came to Fredonia from Georgia to clerk for Merriweather Walker and Alfred Zachary in a general merchandise store and boarded with the Hurst family. In 1856 he met Mary Fletcher Turner who had come to Fredonia to teach in the mixed school. He married her. Although he operated a saloon at one time, he later went to Montgomery and secured a charter for the purpose of prohibiting the sale of liquor in that district.

The seventy-ninth Masonic Lodge in the state of Alabama was established at Fredonia, in a two story building, first used by the Sons of Temperance, the first temperance movement in this section. This temperance organization was revived after the war and called Good Templars.

Fredonia was well represented in the Confederate Army during the War Between the States. A raid was made on the plantation of Alfred Zachary by a detachment from the Federal Army. They took the horses from the farm and left their old broken down ones.

During the latter part of the Nineteenth Century Fredonia was still a prosperous community. The primary interest at that time was agriculture. Both the Military Academy and the Female Academy were gone, but Fredonia still had a good grade school and high school combined. (The building is still there). During this period some prominent names were Bowen, Stodghill, Wimbush, Heath, Cumbee and Page, with the Smartt, Fuller, Adams, Barker and McKinney plantations nearby. (Editor’s Note: the Wilkinson family place of 400 acres was near the crossroads.)

6 Comments

  • My uncle, Luther Wilkinson and his wife Mahee lived in the big white farmhouse on the corner and my uncle Luther owned the old store. I have very fond memories of that house.

    • Thanks for your comment. I never got to see the old farmhouse our Wilkinsons lived in because it was lost to the Land Bank in the 30s. We used to drive by it, but now there’s just a trailer where the house once stood. My mother had fond memories of going to school in the Fredonia school house.

  • I was rased in fredonia in the 40/50 I went to school there , the 1st 2nd&3rd was in one room 4/5 was in another room . 6grade went to five points school. My mother had a store there Lillie Pet Shanks, I still owne land at the cross rd.I go back offen thanks for all the info.Harry

  • In August 2013 my family moved into the old farmhouse at Fredonia crossroads beside the Cumbee Store. We are told the original two front rooms were built in 1835. They have the original floors. People around here call this the “old Nelson home.” It is such an honor to live here and walk the same floors of those before us. I close my eyes and try to imaging who might have been here and all that may have occurred. This article was very helpful as I establish my roots in Fredonia.

    • Cindy, so glad to have helped. We drive over to Fredonia about once a year. Homesick for those folks who grew up there and are all gone now. My mother and her two sisters attended the school and their grandparents lived down the road that goes to the south at the crossroads. Their farm is no longer there but was on the road that goes out to the west of the crossroads. They bought it in 1888.

  • congrats on interesting article—I’m glad that for you the “state of AL” was a good experience; it was very good to have you all here. I was surprised, really interested to see what you pulled up about fredonia—if it’s relevant during some future time, you could refer folk to http://www.savefredoniaheritage.com (tho woefully in need of updating now). The State House experience was UN–fair, far more presentation on behalf of the bill which passed out of committee almost immediately thereafter. I went to Carrie’s over the week-end to unwind and celebrate her bday–arrived safely home today before snow accumulation. I trust you all had a safe trip back. THANKS SO FOR COMING!!!–j&j

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