WALKER COUNTY HISTORY CONTINUES -- Part II
Submitted by Ruth Teaford Baker
We continue the story of the earliest of the settlements in Walker County. As we have stated, the lack of navigable waters and roads inhibited the fast movement of people into the area.
On December 16, 1819, the construction of a road from Big Shoals Creek in Lauderdale County to Tuscaloosa was authorized. John Byler was given the contract for construction, and by 1822 the road was completed. This was a toll road. Byler Road entered Walker County from Fayette, passed through Eldridge, and left the county at the Winston County line. This road gave the settlers a way to haul their products to the main trading center in Tuscaloosa, which served as the chief outlet until the railroads came years later.
New settlers now began to flow into Walker County and among them were many who had trades other than farming. Dr. Edward G. Musgrove came in from Blount County before 1822 and settled on the present site of Jasper. John Key came in with his family in 1822 and settled near the community of Hillard, and there erected a gristmill. In 1823 James Cain came from South Carolina and settled on a tributary of Lost Creek, known still as Cain Creek. There he engaged in farming and raising stock. Mr. Cain began the operation of a stave plant, a gin, and a gristmill.
In 1833 Jesse Johnston settled near Wilmington in Walker County. He married Burburn LeCrone, a native of Holland. He and his son Allen H., who served in the Confederate Army, were farmers, although Allen did a little teaching before joining the army. He was married twice. By his first marriage, he had four daughters, and by his second, he had seven sons. One daughter became Mrs. A.P. Waldrop, mother of Amos Waldrop.
Settlers in the hill country were becoming numerous, and not dependent upon farming. They felt justified in starting the movement for a separate county, and when Dr. Musgrove offered to give the site for a court house, it was accepted by the legislature. On December 26, 1823, Walker County was established from portions of Tuscaloosa and Marion, and included all of the present county of Winston.
The new county was named in honor of John W. Walker of Madison County, one of Alabama’s first U.S. Senators. The County seat was named Jasper, in memory of Sergeant William Jasper, a Revolutionary hero from South Carolina. Dr. Musgrove was the first judge of the county court. Two rocks served as a courthouse. The judge sat on one and the jury on the other. The first courthouse, built of logs, was built in 1823.
If this early history were continued, it would next see how coal was found by accident. The story was told that two young men were camping on Lost Creek one night. They picked up black stones out of the creek bed and arranged in a circle to contain their campfire. They cooked their evening meal on the fire and made a place to sleep on the ground. They then stretched out for a night’s sleep.
Imagine their surprise when they awakened later and found the stones which they had place around their fire were glowing and burning. No one but the devil could have caused this to happen, they thought. Being frightened by this strange sight, they left their camping site in a hurry. Their weird tale of the burning stone caused wiser men to seek the cause, and this led to coal being discovered.
The first load of coal from the Warrior field to Mobile was shipped in 1827 by Levi Reed and James Gridle who dug it from the Locust Fork ( now Little Warrior).
Outcroppings of coal made it easy to mine, and high prices offered an important industry. James Cain and Steve Busby became active in mining handling, and shipping coal. They were the first coal operators in Walker County. They sold their coal in Mobile for $10.00 a ton and their 70 X 25 feet flatboats for $75.00. “Black Diamonds” and “White Gold” brought to the hill people of Walker County the flush times of the 1830’s. And looking forward to the later 1800’s and the 1900’s, the huge underground mines brought into the area thousands of workers from many European countries.
These happenings led to the many cycles of “boom and bust” in the economy of Walker county. The large mines closed, and an exodus of workers from the South flowed North for jobs. Then, as now, the only hope for stable growth has always been diversified job opportunities. The next dream is centered on the new Corridor X interstate bringing those industries in to replace the lost mining jobs. And history goes on.