Historical Overview of Collinsville, Alabama
Compiled and provided by Collinsville Historic Association
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.
Incorporation of Collinsville
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 Heard.
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 seats.
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 destroyed.
1854 – DeKalb County’s first newspaper, The Will’s Valley Post, was established by G.E. Fearing in Collinsville
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.
1926 – A new name was suggested for the paper, The Collinsville New Era was adopted, J.W. Mills, editor
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
Professionals & Businesses
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.
Collinsville’s first 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 main street”.
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 safety.
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 Morris Music
- 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 Oliver House
- Dr. J.T. Miller office and Wall Cain Groceries
- 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 storage.
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 operation.
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 in town.
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 married.
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 books.”
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 made manager.
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 others.
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 the clock.
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. Nelson.
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.