De-ja vu --- On a trip to Decatur, Alabama
by Terry Thornton
On Wednesday, March 3, 2010, Sweetie and I decided to drive to Decatur, Alabama, to one of our favorite antique malls and shop a while to break the lugubriousness which comes from too long winter, too much restriction to indoors, and to celebrate the coming of Spring. Daffodils and Hawthorns are blooming in Fulton, Mississippi, so spring must be upon us.
It snowed lightly on us on our journey --- but in the end the sun won and the sky became filled with blue and sunlight although the wind made it feel very cool.
We drove north through the Itawamba County hills to the highest points along Ridge Road and crossed over into Alabama and through the small town of Red Bay. Traveling Alabama Highway 24 east, we both noticed a new historical marker sign at just about mile maker 35 east of Russellville. We pulled off --- and, gosh, was I amazed.
The marker was for the historic area of Newburg and Denton Hollow, Alabama --- both areas about which I'd written (but never visited) in Issue 7, The Thornton News, September 16, 2002, in the feature article William Walter Thornton and Mary Jane Pace Thornton. In that article I featured a historic map of Newburg along with photographs provided me by family members in Texas and Oklahoma plus additional information from family members in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Florida.
And in 2002 I made a mental note to find both Newburg and Denton Hollow one of these days and see for myself. Today when I found the historical marker for Newburg, I knew I was in the right place.
But was it the "right" time? Sweetie had extracted a promise that I wouldn't get side-tracked cemetery hunting on her antique shopping trip
Note: Left click images for a larger view
The historical marker states
NEWBURG. First known as New Boston when a post office was established here in 1832, by 1834 the community was known as Newburg. The Newburg Masonic Lodge #388 was organized in 1872. Since its completion in 1876, the Lodge hall has been a center for community events, serving as the meeting place for the Masons and other clubs, as well as church, school, and voting precinct. Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church, active since its founding in 1824 by Rev. James Smith, located 1/4 mile east of this site.Denton Hollow burial site of William Russell (ca.1745-1825) one mile south. Major Russell, for whom nearby Russellville was named, served with Andrew Jackson during the Creek War and returned to this area to settle after the war.
Denton Hollow and Newburg awaited us. Shopping could wait was the decision made unilaterally as I was the driver. Sweetie and I stopped our eastward progress to the antique mall and drove south stopping at the Mt. Pleasant Church and cemetery located close to the marker.
Then we drove through the small town of Newburg not stopping but marking its location well to return in warmer conditions. We then proceeded south to the burial site of William Russell. [Markers guided us the way --- but the mileage posted seemed "off."
Grave marker for William Russell stands in front of a carved marker of native stone and of his stone-covered grave topped with a large flat stone. The modern military marker reads:
William Russell. Alabama. Major. Mounted Gunmen. Tennessee Volunteers. War of 1812. February 16, 1825.
Russell was one of the first settlers into the region --- Russell Valley (now in Colbert County) and the city of Russellville, Franklin County, are both named for him. His burial marker is most interesting, as is the other burials in the small cemetery where he lies.
Knowing that we were in Denton Hollow, Sweetie and I drove east toward the range of hills marking the edge of the hollow and, there directly along side old Highway 24 was Macedonian Baptist Church and cemetery --- I squeaked to a halt and said "This is it."
And indeed it was. According to family history, William Walter Thornton, who died young at age 34 leaving a widow and seven children, is buried in a five-person rock covered grave at Macedonian Church Cemetery. It was easy to find --- and I photographed the area where he is said to be buried.
Sweetie and I then proceeded on to the antique mall near Decatur and shopped, enjoying the antiques, the bargains we found, the off-again, on-again snow, and were both awed by the snow still on the ground from yesterday's wet snow in that region. Most touching of all, however, were the dozens of snowmen melting slowly in the yards of houses (where children or young-at-hearts lived, we decided).
Heading home, we stopped at Moulton for a late lunch. When we got to Russellville, we turned off the bypass and went into downtown. There a historical marker helps to understand the importance of Russellville and the history of Monroe County, Mississippi.
First, the historical marker in downtown Russellville:
RUSSELLVILLE. Incorporated on November 27, 1819, three weeks before Alabama achieved statehood, Russellville was platted around the intersection of two historic roads.Edmund Pendleton Gaines began work on the road that would bear his name on December 26, 1905. Gaines' Trace extended from Melton's Bluff, at the head of the Elk River shoals, to Cotton Gin Port on the Tombigbee River in present-day Mississippi. Lawrence Street follows part of that route through town.Work on a more direct road from Nashville to New Orleans began in 1817 under Andrew Jackson's supervision. The route was called Jackson's Military Road, and Jackson Avenue as it passes through Russellville
The Gaines' Trace across Monroe County was the Indian Treaty Boundary Line separating early Monroe County, Mississippi, USA, from Indian Nation. By treaty, the Trace across Monroe County could never be improved beyond that of horse-path so traditionally in my home county the Trace has no import as a road --- just as a boundary separating two nations. Of course the fact that the Range, Township, and Sections numbers all end on one side of the Gaines' Trace and begin anew on the other side of the Trace with another set of numbering schemes makes map research in Monroe County difficult and interesting. (The county expanded north and west by a later treaty.)
When Franklin County, Alabama, was first organized, it included all of the land of present-day Franklin County and Colbert County. After the Civil War, because of north-south factions and the strong feelings local unionists and. local confederates had against each other, Colbert County was formed from the northern part of Franklin. The fertile valley bearing William Russell's name today lies inside Colbert County.
It was from Russell Valley that my great-great-great-grandfather Frederick Weaver led the first wagon train containing the first group of settlers into Monroe County, Mississippi, in 1816.
It was through old Franklin County that my great-grandfather James Monroe Thornton made his way to the Union lines to volunteer to serve in the First Alabama Cavalry USA. It was through Franklin County that his brothers Martin Van Buren Thornton and Henry M. Thornton made their way to join the First Alabama Cavalry USA and to die while serving their county. It was to Denton Hollow where the young family of William Walter Thornton moved after the war to farm in the rich scenic bottom lands ringed by hills. It is in Denton Hollow where William Walter Thornton lies buried at Macedonia Church Cemetery. It was nearby that my Great Aunt Alice lived --- and where as I child I remember going to her house for annual family reunions. It was in Russellville where I later attended several Thornton family reunions at the old park overlooking the city water-works. And it was in the southern part of the county that my great-grandfather and his family once lived at Spruce Pine.
I love to go antique shopping --- I always learn so much family history along the way.
Photographs by Terry Thornton, Fulton, Mississippi, March 3, 2010.
Newburg. Historical Marker. Alabama Historical Association. 2009. Road-side marker, Franklin County, Alabama.
Russellville. Historical Marker. Alabama Historical Association, 2007. Street-side marker, Russellville, Franklin County, Alabama.
William Walter Thornton and Mary Jane Pace Thornton, The Thornton News, Issue # 7, September 16, 2002. Edited and published by Terry Thornton, Rinnie, Tennessee. Privately printed and distributed.