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The History of Lauderdale County

Lauderdale County was named in honor of Col. James Lauderdale who was born in Virginia about 1780.  In the early 1800's, Lauderdale, who moved to West Tennessee, became a major in General John Coffee's cavalry of volunteers.  Later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, he commanded a brigade of mounted riflemen, serving under Andrew Jackson in many battles against the Indians.  According to reliable historians, Col. Lauderdale did not die in the Battle of New Orleans, but was wounded in the Battle of Talladega and dies on December 23, 1814, seventeen days before Jackson's crushing defeat of the British at New Orleans.  Several towns and counties in the southern states were named in his honor, though it is said that he never set foot in Lauderdale County.

Lauderdale County was established in 1818, a year before Alabama became a state, by an act of the General Assembly of Alabama Territory.  A Superior Court and County Court were set up in this act and Section 7 of the act reads as follows:

"And be it further enacted, that for the time being, the said courts in and for said county of Lauderdale, shall be holden at the house commonly called "Col. Puler's place," east of Cypress and near the creek, and may at the discretion of said Courts, for want of necessary buildings, be adjourned to some convenient place contiguous thereto."

Florence, the county seat of Lauderdale County, was also established in 1818.  At this time a group of investors, under the name of Cypress Land Company purchased from the government 5,515 acres of land comprising of the original town site, for $85,235.24

Following a survey of the site by the Italian Engineer Ferdiannad Sonnoner, who was in the employ of Gen. John Coffee, then Surveyor General of Alabama Territory with offices in Huntsville, lot sales were held and the Cypress Land Company realized $319,513 on its investment.

Lauderdale County's first newspaper was the Gazette, established in 1819, the same year Alabama became a state.  W.S. Fulton, the county's first judge was also editor and publisher of this early weekly that survived until the 1890's.  It's motto was "Do Right and Fear Not."

The first courthouse was built in 1822 and was used by the county until 1899 when it was remodeled and enlarged.  The remodeling was completed in 1902 and the dedication of the Confederate Monument, (since moved to the front of the new courthouse) was held shortly thereafter.

After the cession of Indian lands in North Alabama in 1816 to white settlement, the United States began selling the lands at the public auction and many new towns were started.  In the Muscle Shoals area, Bainbridge was located six miles up river on the Colbert County side of the river and connected by ferry from the Lauderdale side near the mouth of Shoals Creek.  A bridge was later built at this location but was destroyed by high winds.  Marion, a little farther down was located near what is now the south end of Wilson Dam.

Other towns in Lauderdale County competing for early settlers because of their proximity to the river were Savage's Spring, nine miles below Florence and Waterloo, some 20 miles downriver.  The river was indeed the highway of that day and most towns of consequence were necessarily on the river.  Bainbridge did not survive because it was too far upstream in the turbulent shoals for boats to reach.

Waterloo, established in 1819 was settled by people for the Carolinas and was presumably named for the Belgian town, the scene of Napolean's defeat.

In its early history, the post office was removed to Barton, across the river in Franklin (now Colbert) County, but was later re-established in Waterloo in August 1828.  Waterloo became incorporated in 1832 and is one of the oldest incorporated towns in the state.  It was a regular port of call, as was Florence, for many of the old river boats, some coming from as far as St. Louis with cargoes and passengers and others carrying cotton from Lauderdale farms to the port of New Orleans.

There were few routes to travel in those days, the pioneers using the river as their main mode of transportation even though the way was fraught with perils.  Some came overland by the Natchez Trace, then little more than an Indian trail, later on by the Military Road that was cleared by the troops of Andrew Jackson in 1816.  It was later officially named Jackson Highway.

The first steamboat brought a cargo of freight and passengers to Florence in 1821 and from that time on , boats became increasingly important to the prosperity of the town and county.  It is not actually known who the first settler's were, however, such trail blazers like Major Dillahunty were sent by President Monroe "to prepare the minds of the Indians for the ceding for their lands."  The Major married Nancy, the daughter of John Johnson who, history relates, leased the first land in Lauderdale County from the Cherokee Chief Doublehead.

The first store in Florence was probably that of James Sample built in 1818.  His home, erected in 1828, still stands on North Court Street.  The first house built in Florence, was said to have been erected by Thomas Cheatham on the corner of Military Road and Seminary Street in about 1811.  It was built for a stage stop by Cheatham for Leroy Pope and Thomas Bibb, and was known for many years as Pope's Tavern.  During the Civil War the house served as a Confederate hospital.

Among the early settlers of Lauderdale County was Joseph Hough, who had been awarded 3,000 acres of land for his services in the War of 1812.  Hough came to Alabama from South Carolina prior to 1818, and sold a tract of his acreage to another settler, Jonathan Bailey, who had established a small settlement on Sycamore River, known today as Shoals Creek.

Among the older settlements in the county is Center Star, located between Killen and Rogersville.  This area was once claimed by both the Chickasaw's and Cherokees, necessitating a cession of territory from each tribe before the settlement could be established.  The remains of an old Indian village could be seen at one time southwest of Center Star.  Other old settlements included Middleton and Elgin, the latter known first as Ingram's Elgin Cross Roads.

Rogersville, lying some 23 miles to the east of Florence, was named for John Rogers, an Indian Trader, whose sons were fast friends of the great Sam Houston.  The late Will Rogers is said to have been a descendant of this same family.  An early ferry that operated for many years was Lamb's Ferry near Rogersville.

Lexington, Springfield, and Anderson lie to the north of the Lee Highway, the town of Lexington being a part of the territory once claimed by the Cherokees.  Many of the settlers of that area came from Tennessee and the Carolinas.  The first post office of record at Lexington was on the Loretto Road, north of town, in 1880.  Mail at that time was brought in from Loretto, Tennessee, by horseback and carts.

The town of St. Florian was established in 1872 on the Jackson Highway and named by its German Catholic founders for their patron saint.  Hugh McVay, one of four Alabama governors from Lauderdale County is buried in the family cemetery at Mars Hill.  The other three governors from Lauderdale County were Edward A. O'Neal, Robert M. Patton, and Emmett O'Neal.

A number of important industries used Lauderdale County's abundant waterpower, these including cotton and cloth mills, one of these being operated both before and after the Civil War on Cypress Creek near Florence.  Another mill made cloth for Confederate Army uniforms and still another guns for the Southern cause.  Both were destroyed by Union soldiers, while another large mill was wrecked by flood waters of the creek.

Today waterpower speaks volumes.  Coursing through the great turbines of the TVA dams, the mighty waters of the Tennessee River are producing low cost power, lighting the homes of thousands of citizens and turning the wheels of industry in a region second to none in natural and human resources.

Lauderdale County, boasting a $10 million yearly income from its farms and many additional millions from its payrolls, stands on the threshold of a great era of progress.  No area in the entire nation holds greater promise or offers more in good living, health, and contentment.