of Collinsville, Alabama
(compiled and provided by Collinsville
Collinsville was once the land of the
Cherokees. Chief Big Will, a red-headed Indian chief, the son of a
British agent to the Indians and a Cherokee squaw, left this area his name
forever. In his memory, Little Wills Valley is named and Little
Wills Creek, both the north branch and the south branch, which meander
across Little Wills Valley and through the town of Collinsville. To
the west lies Sand Mountain and to the east Lookout Mountain.
Westward through the gap in the ridge lies Big Wills Valley, also named in
memory of Chief Big Will, and in Big Wills Valley, Little Wills Creek
merges with Big Wills Creek and together they flow into the Coosa River.
In 1819 when Alabama became a state,
the Cherokees still held title to land in the northeast corner of
Alabama. They were under the influence of missionaries and lived in
villages and cultivated patches of land and attended mission
schools. The Cherokee had a republican form of government with
elected representatives. They had a written language invented by
Sequoyah, who grew up at Wills Town and walked, with moccasin clad feet,
the trails of Little Wills Valley. In 1835, these Cherokee lands
were ceded to the federal government and in 1836 DeKalb, Cherokee, and
Marshall Counties were formed. 1838 brought the relocation of the
Cherokees to reservations west of the Mississippi.
A settlement located in the fork of
Little Wills Creek, later to become Collinsville, was first named
Lynchburg for three brothers, Simon, Boyd, and Elijah Lynch who settled in
the area about 1814. Records indicate on May 3, 1837, Simpson C.
Newman was appointed postmaster of the Lynchburg post office, where he
served until September 6, 1843 when the post office was moved to Van
Buren, two miles west of Lynchburgh. This was the only post office in this
section, and the mail was carried by stage coach, the route running from
Rome, Georgia to Guntersville, Alabama. According to historian, John
Chambers, Lynchburgh became "Collinsville" during the 1840's.
At the age of 23, Alfred
Collins came to DeKalb County in 1839 to teach school and built his first
home near what is now the corner of East Main and Grand Avenue in
Collinsville. Later he built a two-story home on a mound of Indian
origin overlooking Little Wills Creek - an Alabama Historical Association
marker was placed there in 1996 and reads: "Cherokee Indians first
inhabited this mound site, subsequently settled by A.H. Lamar, a captain
in the Seminole War and first constable (1836) of DeKalb County.
Lamar and his Cherokee wife operated a trading post and stage coach
stop on site, selling the property to Alfred Collins, ca. 1842.
Collins, for whom Collinsville was named, built a home and operated an inn
on the stage coach line here between Rome and Guntersville. Daughter
Sallie and her husband, G.W. Roberts became owners in 1886.
Collinsville Baptist Church purchased the property in 1924, erecting a
building on the site two years later".
Alfred Collins was born the son of
Henry and Rebecca Pierce June 13, 1816, in Rhea County, Tennessee, and
educated at Greenville College in Tennessee. He married
Mahalia Emily Pierce (his cousin) December 31, 1841, in Rhea County,
Tennessee. They moved to Alabama and Collins taught school at
Sulphur Springs one year, then moved to what would become Collinsville
where he lived the rest of his life.
Alfred and his father Henry began
buying land. On May 5, 1842, Henry bought 240 acres of land.
On January, 1844, Alfred bought 80 acres of land. Henry sold his 240 acres
to Alfred on October 1, 1845, for $1937.50. January 12, 1846, Alfred
bought 160 acres and in October, 1847, he bought 120 acres. By the
end of 1948, Alfred had become quite a large land owner holding
certificates and warrants of 680 acres and this is the land where the town
of Collinsville later grew. Alfred served as a Captain in Company B
1st Regiment of the Confederate Army.
For 20 years Alfred Collins held the
office of surveyor of DeKalb County. He was a merchant at the time
the Civil War broke out but did not resume his mercantile business at the
end of the war. At the close of the war he made application and was
licensed to practice law, though for some reason he never entered actively
in that profession. In 1865 and 1867 Collins was a DeKalb County
representative to the Constitutional Convention and was able to help
establish many important mail routes.
Alfred Collins died of paralysis on
August 18, 1879, after a lengthy illness. He is buried in the
Collins Cemetery, which bears his name, located near the junction of U.S.
Highway 11 and Alabama Highway 68 in Collinsville. From his obituary
in the Wills Valley Post we find the following: "Collins was an
extraordinary man. His mind was of a mathematical turn, and capable
of solving the most difficult problems. In fact, he never found a
proposition he could not solve. In friendship his attachments were
strong and binding. No outside influences could shake his confidence
in those he once confided, but a willful and direct betrayal of trust
caused him to lose confidence in the individual for all time to
come. Scrupulously honest, sympathizing in his nature, liberal in an
enterprise that won his approval, energetic, diligent, faithful, he was
trusted and honored by all who knew him. Firm in his determinations,
correct in his judgments, deep and penetrating in his investigations, he
scarcely ever failed in his undertakings. No one went to him for
advice, even though a known enemy, but that it was given from a firm
conviction of his heart, whether in business or politics. But Alfred
Collins is no more. We mourn and praise him for his many noble
qualities of head and heart."
The following is also from the Wills
Valley Post: "Pursuant to previous arrangements the citizens of
Collinsville and vicinity held a meeting at the Collinsville Academy on
the 19th instant at 3 o'clock p.m. for the purpose of expressing their
feelings in a suitable manner on the death of their friend and fellow
citizen, Mr. Alfred Collins. W.J. Roberts called the house to
order. On motion Reverand F.M. Roberts was called to the chair and
George H. Smith requested to act as secretary. A committee was
appointed to draft suitable preamble and resolutions, to-wit: W.J.
Roberts, Richard Roberts, A.H. Mackey, J.K. Hoge, and T.J.
Nicholson. The resolution in part read: 'That out of respect
for the deceased, the business houses close their doors and suspend all
business until tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock.' "
Other founding fathers who
resided here in the 1830s include A.H. Lamar, first DeKalb County
Constable, John Napper, who established a store about where George Newman
later lived, the first store in the southern end of DeKalb County.
James K. Hoge, who was appointed Collinsville postmaster April 21, 1860,
Charles Napier, O.P. Fischer, John Russell, T.B. Collins, Samuel Ward,
James Reed and Simpson C. Newman.
On May 5, 1887, a group of Collinsville
citizens petitioned the DeKalb County Commissioners Court to incorporate
their town. After the town was incorporated, a municipal election
was held on the first Monday in June, 1887 with 77 qualified voters
casting ballots. Ex-Confederate sergeant James Crisman Tiner was
elected Collinsville's first mayor. Aldermen elected were:
James Coker, Therlin M. Fearing, T.G. Mackey, B.H. Nicholson and Bonner
In 1852 a charter was granted by the
State Legislature to a group of men in DeKalb County permitting the
building of a railroad from Chattanooga to Elyton. It was to be
known as Wills Valley Railroad. The capital stock was
$300,000. Investors could pay for stock with material or slave
labor. Alfred Collins took an active part in promoting this railroad
and was both director and stockholder and gave land for the
right-of-way. In 1858 twelve miles of railroad were built running
from Wauhatchie to Trenton. This 12 miles is the oldest section of
the AGS Railroad. Then the war came and construction stopped.
After the war, money was appropriated for the project and about 230 miles
were complete by 1870. In 1877, it was reorganized as the Alabama
Great Southern Railroad. The AGS Ltd., a British Company, was
organized by Emile Erlanger as the successor to the Alabama &
Chattanooga Railroad. Today, it is in operation as a branch of
Norfolk Southern Railway.
In the 1960s, J.M. Cunningham,
Collinsville resident, described the building of the railroad to Mabel
Brindley: "At first the railroad track was some three and
a half inches wider than standard and was laid with small iron rails that
soon splintered and got round on top. Trains came to Chattanooga on
a different gauge. Sleepers had to be jacked up there and trucks put
under them to fit the gauge on this line. About 1890 the track was
changed to its present gauge. Rails were moved over in one day the
whole length of the line. Labor was cheap, ninety cents a day,
eleven hours a day."
At first broken rails occurred often
and there were plenty of wrecks. Link and pin couplings often came
uncoupled enroute. Usually a train had three brakemen: one stationed
half the length of the train, one a quarter, and one near the
caboose. At first they only had hand brakes but they soon had the
old whistling air brakes. They had water tanks every few
miles. Freight engines were "tough" looking but the
passenger engines had brass rails on the side and were kept shining by the
fireman. This he would do when the train stopped at the
stations. Trains then ran at low rates of speed about 15 miles per
hour, all wood-burning steam locomotives, each with a cow catcher or cow
hooker as the kinds called them. Later there was the ballasted
roadbed and the steel rail and mile-a-minute speed. Later the coal
burning engine came, then the diesel. In 1940 the town passed an
ordinance limiting speed for trains passing through Collinsville to 30
miles per hour.
There was growth in the towns along the
railroad and talk to move the county seat from Lebanon in Big Wills Valley
to a site near the railroad became widespread. Collinsville,
Porterville and Fort Payne were in contention for the honor of county
seat. An election was held between Fort Payne and Collinsville,
Collinsville loosing by three votes.
The coming of the railroad gave towns
such as Collinsville connections with leading cities of the country.
The 1887 Educational Advocate advertised location on the railroad as one
of the advantages of coming to school in Collinsville. It read,
"Collinsville is a town of 400 inhabitants, situated among the
mountains of North Alabama, immediately on the AGS Railroad, sixty-five
miles from Chattanooga and seventy-eight miles from Birmingham."
Depots were built in towns along the
railroad route, most being built soon after the completion of the
railroad. Collinsville's first depot was most likely complete by
1870. It was described by Mabel Brindley as a yellow stone depot
that was one of the buildings that burned in the Christmas Eve fire of
1884. Two other depots were built in Collinsville and they became a
hub of community activity during the first half of the twentieth century.
During World War II most everything was
transported by rail. The traveling circus came to Collinsville via
rail, goods for stores, farm products such as cattle, chickens, bees,
mules, and horses were transported here on the freight train. There
were several local cotton warehouses that depended on the rail for
transportation. A special car was provided for the mail.
Passenger trains were usually full enough that there were not enough
By the 1950s and 1960s, the
availability and convenience of automobiles, trucks and buses brought the
demise of the use of railroad for transportation. In 1966
Collinsville became a flag stop for passenger trains. In July 1970
the railroad discontinued its Collinsville station agency, and established
an agency for Collinsville at Ft. Payne. Then passenger trains were
taken off the line, but freight trains continued to run. In November
1970 the depot was sold to Jackie and Millard Weaver who moved it to
Canyonland Park on the brow of Little River Canyon on Lookout
Mountain. Since then, it fell to disrepair and was dismantled and
- DeKalb County's first newspaper, The
Will's Valley Post, was established by G.E. Fearing in Collinsville in
- 1884, The Collinsville Headlight
- 1887, The Educational Advocate,
published by Douglas Allen, school principal
- 1888, The Collinsville Sun Beam
- 1880 to 1900, The Collinsville
Clipper was published in Collinsville -editors, John C. Norwood and
later W.E. Mosteller.
- 1904, The Collinsville Courier
started April 1904 with W.E. Mosteller, editor. Other editors of
the Courier were: J.J. Newberry, H.H. Smith, Louis G. Kreutz, J.W.
Mills and Mrs. Mae Myers.
- In 1926 a new name was suggested for
the paper. The Collinsville New Era was adopted, J.W. Mills,
- 1933-1946, Mae Myers Lyle was editor
and business manager of the New Era.
- 1973, The Collinsville News
- 1996, The Collinsville Times,
student written Pacers project.
Dr. Richard Wall Cain
practiced medicine in Collinsville and adjacent areas as early as Civil
War times. In the August 16, 1879 edition on A.M. Fearing's Wills
Valley Post, the editor listed the following directory of Business and
Professional men in Collinsville: Hall-Mackey Dry Goods, Fearing &
Heard Real Estate, Smith Roberts & Co., C.W. Holms Hotel, Alfred
Collins' Water-powered Grist Mill, Hall, Smith & Williams Cotton Gin,
Alfred Collin Blacksmith Shop, Drs. A.J. Vann, Richard Wall Cain, Thomas
P. Weaver, MDs, Dr. J.A. Hall, dentist and B.A. Nowlin, Attorney.
During the 1880's, medical
doctors H.P. McWhorter, A.J. Vann and J.T. Miller were practicing in
Collinsville. J.A. Hall was dentist; B.H. Nicholson, R.P. Brindley
and J.T. Sells were attorneys. B.A. Nowlin operated a dry goods
store, J.B. Marsh ran the Burton House Hotel, J.M. Weaver had a livery
stable, drugs were sold by Miller& McWhorter and L.D. Warren was
jeweler. Virgil Nicholson operated Nicholson Drug Co. and D.C.
Williams, I.Q. Melton, and C.C. Jordan were also store owners.
Collinsville's first bank came in 1902 organized by L.C. Harding who
absconded with the funds. Corporation papers for The Farmer's and
Merchant's Bank were filed May 5, 1904. Collinsville Savings Bank
was established Feb. 18, 1908 and merged with the F & M Bank in
1913. People's Bank was organized in 1919 and that same year F&M
Bank became First National Bank of Collinsville. In 1937, First
National was taken over by Tennessee Valley Bank which later became State
National Bank. In 1964 they moved the Collinsville branch of State
National Bank to Ft. Payne Alabama.
picture show was operated by Emory Williams. It stood on the north
side of Main Street near the railroad and was an "Air Dome
Theatre". The next theatre was operated by Charlie Siniard.
The Cricket Theatre, operated by Millard Weaver, ran its first show in
1925 in the building currently slated to become the Collinsville
Library. The Cricket was moved to a new building equipped to seat
800 in 1946. It closed in 1964. A place in peril, the theatre
is located in the heart of Collinsville on Main Street, and cost $60,000
to build. The theatre building is 66 x 140 feet, constructed of
brick, concrete and steel. The Collinsville New Era described the
new theatre in 1945 as "having the latest theatre chairs, modern rest
rooms and complete year round air conditioning. The projection room
will contain the latest in theatre projectors, strong hi-intensity arc
lights, best projection lens that money can buy, and the sound
installation will be complete range wide fidelity matched system by
RCA. The air in the theatre will be washed, dehumidified,
temperature controlled both summer and winter and circulated throughout
the building by two giant 30,000 cfm air blowers. Not only will a
patron breathe clean, fresh air, sit in a new spring bottom, upholstered
seat, but the seating layout has been designed to give perfect vision of
the large 15 x 20 foot plastic screen. The theatre will also contain
a large stage complete with curtains, draperies, footlight and dressing
rooms which will be furnished and decorated by the Scenic Studio of
Knoxville. Temperature controlled drinking water will be available
at a large foyer and lobby dispenser. The quaint name will be
spelled out in dazzling neon lights, supported above the marquee by a
giant V-type steel support 30 feet high. This modern marquee and
neon structure will give off more illumination than the balance of the
Collinsville has had its share of
devastating natural disasters. In 1884, the depot, Hall-Mackey store
and several smaller stores burned. Once again in 1900, the town
burned leaving only three buildings standing in the down town area.
This could have been the end of Collinsville but for the spirit and will
of the men and women that would not be defeated. The town rebuilt
and by 1908, approximately 15 or 16 houses of business were advertising in
the Collinsville Courier. Several buildings built soon after the
fire of 1900 are still in use today.
A History of Collinsville, by Mabel
Brindley, quoted J.M. Cunningham's listing of Main Street stores in 1884:
Hall-Mackey Store, Collinsville Headlight, Mackey Sawmill and Gin, G.W.
Justice, Nicholson Drug Store, and B.A. Nowlin Store. On South
Valley Street her list includes: Scott Nicholson Store, Virgil Nicholson,
Dr. H.P. McWhorter, C.C. Jordan, I.Q. Melton, Mrs. Malvina Hall, Oliver
Hall, Marion Roberts, D.C. Williams Store, Mrs. Miller, Tip Nicholson,
Wood Beaver, and Uncle Jim Kearly.
The second fire came on February 2,
1900. A small blaze was discovered about 1:00 P.M. on the roof of
B.A. Nowlin's store at the west end of Main Street. It was a wooden
structure that stood on the lot now occupied since 1930 by W.V. Graves
Inc. It was a bitter cold day and there was a strong wind blowing
from the west.
News of the fire spread. School
closed and children went home and told about it. (The school was on
College Street about where the post office is now located)
Storekeepers who had gone home to lunch hurried back. Housewives and
older children left their homes and went to the scene of the holocaust,
working to save merchandise and help fight the fire.
The fire traveled east, crisscrossing
the street several times, leaping from building to building, all wooden
structures except one, a brick building owned by G.W. Roberts. It
was gutted and the contents destroyed. The depot burned, along with
several box cars loaded with field peas for market. George Roberts'
warehouse filled with bales of cotton, cotton seed and shelled peas burned
for a week. Oliver Hall's warehouse of farming equipment and caskets
went up in flames. A carload of new wagons, newly set up, were piled
with merchandise from the burning store and moved by hand to places of
Sparks leaped across the railroad
tracks and ignited the Holmes Hotel. The fire fighters were busy
downtown and didn't notice it and it burned to the ground. Next door
the barn caught fire and Mr. Brindley received an SOS from his family and
came home. He got on top of the house and with Liege Appleton to
hand up the buckets, he kept the shingled roof soaked with water and put
out the sparks and flying fragments. When he came down the north
side of the house was a solid sheet of ice. He saved his house and
that broke the chain of fire and all other homes on East Main were saved
except the home of postmaster Henry Collins at the foot of Lookout
Mountain. It was ignited by flying fragments, as were houses on the
mountain, and burning timber kept the nights bright with flames for more
than a week.
Only two other buildings besides G.W.
Roberts were left on Main Street: C.C. Jordan's store located where the
Handy Shop now stands and the store of H.R. Jordan & Son adjoining the
C.C. Jordan store. A small stream rising at the railroad spring ran
directly in front of these stores and emptied into Little Wills
Creek. Men stood in this water with buckets, making a bucket
brigade, thereby saving these two buildings.
Virgil Nicholson, the town's first
druggist, contracted pneumonia fighting the flames and died. Dr. H.P.
McWhorter also had pneumonia but recovered. The Ft. Payne Journal,
Wednesday, Feb. 7, 1900, listed the following losses:
- B.A. Nowlin, general merchandise
- W.A. Wilbanks, general merchandise
- John Collins, groceries
- I.Q. Melton building occupied by
- James Lackey building occupied by
R.H. Smith, general merchandise
- Nicholson & McWhorter building
occupied by G.V. Nicholson, drug store and Dr. McWhorter, office
- Dr. H.P. McWhorter building occupied
by R.L. Wright, jeweler
- A.M. McBroom building, occupied by
Boston Killian, furniture
- Hightower building, unoccupied,
recently vacated by Collinsville Clipper
- J.B. Pyron building, occupied by
Phyron & Co.
- G.W. Roberts brick building, general
merchandise and the post office.
- N.S. Collins Livery
- James Ford, shoes, harnesses, etc.
- J.E. Smith building, unoccupied
- A.B. Tidmore building, occupied by
Hall's Dry Goods and Furniture
- O.L. Hall building occupied by
- Dr. J.T. Miller office and Wall Cain
- W.H. Elrod building, vacant
downstairs, occupied upstairs by K. of P.
- G.W. Keener, general merchandise
- F.M. Oliver building occupied by
Mrs. O'Neil, boarders and Charles Roberts Groceries
- Killian and Burt Livery
- G.W. Roberts Warehouse
- Boston Killian, livery and stable
- O.L. Hall, blacksmith shop
- O.L Hall Dry Goods
- Hall's warehouse
- Henry Collins, residence
The Ft. Payne Journal stated that
"the losses are so varied and so great that no correct statement can
be given or is it attempted. We herewith present only those who were
present at the time of the fire of more properly speaking, those who could
be found by the Editor."
The town rebuilt. Oliver Hall
went to Ft. Payne and bought lumber from a basket factory that was on the
market after the Ft. Payne boom had collapsed. The lumber was
shipped to Collinsville by freight train and used in the erection a new
store building which was painted blue. It was known afterward as the
Blue Store, and the Halls sold quality merchandise from that location for
a total of ninety years.
Stores listed in the October1905, issue
of the Collinsville Courier were: Newman & Co., Keener and
Bentley, groceries and shoes; W.C. Pyron, general merchandise; Will
Roberts, fancy groceries; Nicholson Drug Co., Jones Bros. general
merchandise; The Oliver Hall Co. By 1908 businesses on South Main
Street were: The Oliver Hall Co., Miss Irene Smith, G.W. Keener, D.C.
Williams, H.R. Jordan & Son and C.C. Jordan. On North Main:
Newman & CO., P.A. Keener, Farmers Union Warehouse, R.R. Roberts, W.C.
Pyron, Nicholson Drug Co., J.E. Gipson and Porter, White & Co.
Not only fire but flood waters plagued
Collinsville. Situated in a narrow valley between Lookout Mountain
on the east and a ridge on the west, heavy rains rush down the slopes in
torrents. Little Wills Creek, as it was in the early days, could not
contain the water. The stream overflowed its banks and the flood
waters spread over the town, and into buildings, depositing mud
everywhere. Flood waters sometimes stood two or more feet deep in the old
Methodist Church and merchandise on low shelves in the stores was
damaged. Wagons were backed up to the school house door and children
loaded on them and transported to higher ground. The bank called its
patrons to get their lock boxes from the vault and dry out the papers in
In 1903, the creek channel was
straightened, widened and deepened to help with the problem and two
concrete bridges were constructed across Little Wills Creek.
Following an unusually heavy rain in 1936, the town asked for help and
engineers came from the Office of the District Engineer in Mobile.
According to their studies, the flood in July 1936 was produced by a
rainfall of 3.25 inches which fell over the watershed in two and a half
hours. The peak of the high water at Collinsville occurred three and
a half hours after the rain stopped and flooded the business section of
town from one to thirty inches. Floods as damaging as the 1936 flood
had occurred about once each five years.
After three years (April 17, 1936 the
Chamber of Commerce began seeking federal aid money for flood control) of
working and waiting on the part of the citizens, a flood relief project
finally became reality. It was launched with the help of
Representative Joe Starnes and completed in 1939. Blythe Brothers
Construction Co. of Charlotte North Carolina was awarded the contract and
began operations during the winter of 1938. The Flood-Protection
Works for Collinsville (Section II, Act of Congress, No. 176, 75th
Congress) read as follows: In 1937 Congress authorized flood-protection
works for the town of Collinsville, which is situated between the North
and South branches of Little Wills Creek in DeKalb County. The
project included channel rectification by excavation, the construction of
levees and concrete flood walls, the removal and replacement of six timber
bridges, the construction of a pumping station to dispose of sewage and
run-off from within the protected area, and the provision of appurtenant
drainage structures. The works were completed in 1939 at a cost of
$71,120 and have been turned over to local interest for maintenance and
July 1, 1939, under the leadership of
the Chamber of Commerce, Collinsville celebrated the completion of the
flood relief project with a "monster" picnic including a 60
piece brass band from Anniston, AL, baseball games, climbing the greased
pole and other contests, and the highlight, public speaking with
Congressman Joe Starnes as honored guest. A total of $10.00 in prize
money was given to the three persons bringing in the largest number of
people on one vehicle. Ernest Cagle took the first place prize
chauffeuring his truck into Collinsville loaded with 132 people! Local
churches made arrangements to serve lunch and there was free lemonade for
the approximately 2500 people who attended. The New Era recorded
that there was no misbehavior during the day!
The first record of a school in
Collinsville other than that run by Alfred Collins, who was a teacher, was
in 1879 when Rev. Merit King Clements was appointed principal in
Collinsville of the Gadsden District High School. J.B. Appleton was
his assistant and Miss Della McWhorter taught piano. Children came
in from outlying areas to attend Professor Clements's school and boarded
Zac McWhorter was the next head of the
school and in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, he taught
Greek, Latin, German and Italian.
Douglas Allen, as principal, 1886-1888,
published the Educational Advocate, a paper to advertise and support the
school. The school became known as Collinsville College because it
offered extended courses of first year college level, as well as business
and normal courses. The Douglas Allen home on South Valley Street
was used as a boarding house to accommodate the lady teachers and school
girls and there was a dormitory for the boys. School enrollment was
136, including seven taking the business course and nine in the normal
department. Fees charged were: primary, $1.25, intermediate, $2.00,
high school, $3 and $4. Textbooks were available at a rental of 10%
of their wholesale value for five months. School trustees were: Dr.
A.J. Vann, B.A. Nowlin, H.R. Jordan, J.H. Collins, W.D. Reed, Dr. J.T.
Miller, and M.B. Cunningham. Faculty: Douglas Allen, principal, Miss
Mai Ware, primary department, Miss Romie Dearmond, instrumental
music. Pupil assistants: Bruce Allen and Miss Tommie Wood.
Collinsville's first school building
was a "shot gun" building of logs on the east side of the
Collins Cemetery hill. In the early 1880s Alfred Collins deeded a
downtown lot behind Nowlin's store to be the property of the town for as
long as it should be used for educational purposes. A two-story
frame building was erected here for occupancy for the 1887-1888 school
terms. The corner stone was laid on June 30, 1887, with formal
ceremonies. The school catalog described the building as large and
well arranged with one large assembly hall, one study hall, one hall for
primary department and several smaller rooms for recitation, and with
modern and approved apparatus.
A description of this school was
written by Elizabeth McWhorter Isbell: "Grades one, two and
three were all taught in a first floor room in the old white wood building
which later burned. Miss Bessie Winston of Birmingham was
teacher. She felt the need of posters, a chart in teaching reading
so a Tom Thumb Wedding was put on to raise funds. The wedding was a
success and a chart, etc. was purchased. This I recall plainly as I
was "maid of honor". Mrs. Isbell graduated from
Collinsville High School in 1922 and moved from Collinsville in 1926 when
She continued, "The following year
we moved upstairs to second floor where Miss Louise Nicholson was
teacher. A large "pot belly" heater supplied heat.
Boys alternated stoking it. Not all pupils had their own
In 1916, the town issued $10,000 in
bonds, twenty $500 bonds at 5% interest, and due in 1936, for building and
equipping a school building. John T. Bartlett, Mayor, with J.A. Weaver as
contractor supervised the erection a new brick building which was occupied
in December, 1916.
In January 1917, the brick building was
gutted by fire and the remainder of the school year the children attended
school in the Methodist Church and graduation took place in that church in
the spring. The walls of the brick building were reinforced, the
interior rebuilt, and the building was used again the following
fall. Elizabeth Isbell wrote the following concerning this fire:
"My sister Mary was probably in about tenth grade. They were
practicing for a play in which my sister had a prominent role. It
was December, the weather was cold, but our family stayed up late to see
that Mary got home safely. It seemed she had been home a very short
time when the phone rang and we were given the fateful message that the
new building, which had been completed only a short time, was on
fire! It was generally thought to have been caused by the
furnace. A real tragedy-- a great loss!"
A new high school building was erected
in 1936 on a level tract of land just west of U.S. highway 11 south of
Collinsville. Besides the main building with auditorium and class
rooms, there was an athletic building, and athletic field and a vocational
building. A nearby building for the elementary grades and a
lunchroom was completed in the fall of 1949. To this group of
buildings a new library was added in 1961-62. This was enlarged in
1976-77. The old gym was given to the elementary school and a new
one was built in 1967-68 with modern facilities, dressing rooms and
concession stand. A lunchroom was started in the auditorium of the
elementary school in 1942-43 with Mrs. Mary Clayton as manager.
Patrons of the school built tables and covered them with linoleum and made
benches for chairs. The high school lunchroom was in the basement of
the gym with Mrs. Estelle McWhorter as manager. When the elementary
school moved to the Highway 11 location in 1949, the new lunchroom
accommodated both elementary and high school students and Mrs. Clayton was
The 1916 building was used for a while
for the elementary school and then by Gregory High School. In 1962
the old building was demolished, the corner stone opened and contents
placed in the Collinsville Public Library for permanent storage.
Collinsville had the first football
team in the county in the fall of 1921. The principal, Mr. Nelson,
and the Methodist minister, Rev. Billy Harris, served as coaches.
The team was issued pants and shoulder pads but bought their own shirts;
they wore plow shoes with cleats nailed on them. The first year they
played Cave Spring, Cedar Town, Scottsboro, Albertville, Guntersville and
Basketball was started about 1916 as an
outdoor sport. The auditorium was used as an indoor court about 1930
but did not prove satisfactory because the ceiling was too low. With
the new gym in 1936, basketball became an indoor sport.
The Collinsville School Band was organized about 1940 with Ed Eller as
first band director. There were few school bands at that time.
A significant part of Collinsville
history began life in 1925 on the DeKalb County Courthouse. A Seth
Thomas tower clock, dated December 28, 1924, was built by the Seth Thomas
Clock Co. in Connecticut. The $1300 clock was installed by A.A.
Miller of the Light and Power Co. on the 1891 courthouse. When a new
courthouse was to be built, the DeKalb County Commission voted unanimously
to give the clock to the city of Collinsville. On March 19, 1951,
Walter T. Weaver assumed the responsibility of moving the clock. In
April, 1951, three men, under Weaver's supervision, began the task of
disassembling the clock for the trip to Collinsville. LaDon
Gilliland, Jackie Weaver and Wallace Teague, all employees of the Peoples
Telephone Co. which belonged to the Weaver family at the time, carefully
took each piece of the clock down.
Several trips by truck were necessary
to move the huge timepiece weighing around 700 pounds with a 4000 pound
bell. A tower to house the clock was constructed on the 1946 Cricket
Theatre owned by Weaver's son Millard. The clock was hoisted to its
new housing using an old A-frame truck and the block and tackle
method. Tom Templeton prepared a new set of numbers and hands for
Late in 1951, the clock, with its
original mechanical moving parts, was operational. A few years
later, Weaver wanted the clock to be electrified, so he wrote a letter to
the Seth Thomas Co. asking if this could be done. The answer came
back an emphatic "No"! Not willing to give up his idea,
Weaver drew up a set of blueprints and submitted them to the clock
manufacturers. After study, the company agreed with Weaver on his
method of electrifying the clock.
The four faced clock that became the
town logo was maintained for many years by LaDon Gilliland, a Collinsville
resident. Later, Collinsville Chief of Police, Clement Osborn did
the maintenance work. More recently, Collinsville Fire Chief, Pat
Cantrell climbed the narrow ladder to the tower to set the clock.
As time passed, the clock needed more
and more maintenance which became costly to the town. Citizens
became concerned about the safety of the clock tower that had become home
to hundreds of pigeons and had settled in a leaning position on the roof
of the theatre.
After numerous discussions, town
meetings and suggestions from citizens, the City Council voted April 5,
2004, to remove the clock tower from the theatre, dismantle it and
carefully label and store all the parts until a new tower or place for
display could be erected. On Thursday, May 6, 2004, CD Weaver
Construction with Barnhart Crane Service and Timothy Smith as
subcontractors began their task about 8 A.M. and by 11:30 the clock tower
was resting on Main Street.
The story of the removal of the clock
was carried with great interest on newspaper and TV networks with the news
reaching as far as Pensacola, FL, where Escambia County clock restorer Jim
Gramlich, read the story of the Collinsville clock. He made contact
with Collinsville officials, came to view the clock parts now labeled and
stored in the Collinsville Community Center and offered to restore the
clock to working condition. At the time of this writing, the clock
is in the process of being restored. After completion, it will be
displayed once again in Collinsville with prominence and prestige.
Collinsville Baptist Church was
organized in 1837 as Rocky Mount Church, with Elder John Gilliland as
moderator and Harris Brock the first clerk. The oldest Baptist Church in
DeKalb County, it has had four structures, and presently is housed in the
one built in 1928. This structure is on the mound where Alfred
Collins made his home.
1837 to 1845 records indicate the
Baptist association held a difference of opinion on the mission
responsibility of the church. In 1845, a group met by
agreement and organized the Baptist Church of Christ Pleasant Grove.
They were W.C. Mynotte, Aaron Hancock, James Mitchell, Harris Brock, Joe
Brock, E.T. Goggins, T.B. Watts, Jessie Glazner, Van Hall and others.
In 1896 the Pleasant Grove Church
changed the name to Collinsville Baptist Church. The church rules
were very strict. They did not allow absence from church, swearing,
drinking, telling a falsehood or anything unbecoming to a church member.
The church was concerned with the souls
of the slaves. By 1866, the church had 17 African Americans
enrolled. In 1872, the African Americans organized a church of their
own and in 1896 when Pleasant Grove changed her name to Collinsville
Baptist, the African American church took the name of Pleasant Grove.
After the slaves were freed and the
Civil War was over, they met in a home to sing and pray and give thanks
for their freedom. When the house would not hold them, they built a
brush arbor and later bought land and built a log hut. Then they
came into possession of the Van Buren Methodist church vacated by the
white congregation. Turner Kerley, the pastor, Joe Kerley, Green
Johnson, Andy Robinson and Henry Edmond dismantled the old church and
moved it to a site beside Little Wills Creek at the edge of town.
This became Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.
Collinsville United Methodist Church
was organized in 1869 at Van Buren under the leadership of Captain D.C.
Williams and Colonel Moses Newman. The site was near the end of what
was later known as "Newman's Lane", 1 and ¾ miles from
Collinsville. In the spring of 1880, after the railroad came
through Collinsville, a summer school was organized in Collinsville by the
Rev. M.K. Clements, assisted by Miss Della McWhorter. That fall the Van
Buren church moved to Collinsville and met in the school house until in
1883 when T.J. Pyron and his wife, P.E. Pyron deeded to the trustees of
said church their home place at the foot of what is now the Cochran
Hill. Here a church building was erected even though the area was
low and susceptible to flooding. Big rains would send flood waters
racing into the church, sometimes standing two feet or more deep on the
floor damaging the carpet, the organ, and sometimes a service or two was
missed. In 1903 a new location was bought on South Valley Street and
a building costing approximately $2000 was built. That building
burned on Thanksgiving Day in 1922 and was replaced in 1923 by the brick
building that is still in use today.
Some early pastors were: W.B. Pattillo,
I.Q. Melton, Dr. W.C. McCoy, Rufus Nicholson, S.L. Dobbs, P.K. Brindley,
W.O. Horton and R.C. Thompson.
Soon after the Civil War, Collins
Chapel Methodist was organized by Bro. Cole, a white man. Charter
members were; Tony Collins, Margaret Johnson, J.H. Brown, Lizzie Collins,
W.J. Goode, Pallie Johnson, Lucser Brown, Matilda Robertson and O.H.
In 1904, a Presbyterian church was
organized in Collinsville. They bought the lot and two-thirds of the
building at the foot of Cochran Hill that the Methodist had vacated.
Van Buren Lodge #355 F. & A.M. of Collinsville owned a one-third
interest in the frame building, constituting the upper story which was
used as a lodge room. Many members from Beulah Chapel Presbyterian
Church at Copeland's Bridge transferred their membership to the
Collinsville church. In1908 a new church building was erected on South
Valley Street and today remains much the same as when it was first
built. C.C. Jordan and Mrs. Laura Vann assumed a large part of the
financial support for the construction. The white frame building
following Gothic lines was listed in the Alabama Registry of Historical
Places in 1976. Three stained glass memorial windows in memory of Dr. A.J.
Vann and Zubie Vann, Christie Jordan and Henry Small. In 1994 two
stained glass windows were added in memory of the Brindley
Family. In 1926 the Midway Presbyterian at Dawson merged with
the Collinsville church. In July 1972 the Collinsville church became
a chapel of the First Presbyterian Church in Gadsden.
Other churches within the city limits
of Collinsville are: Calvary Church, the Church of Christ and Big Valley
Church of God.