Paint Rock, Jackson County, Alabama

The following article written by Coy E. Michael was first published in the Valley Leaves, a quarterly publication of the defunct Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society, Inc.

By Coy E. Michael

Early Settlement of Paint Rock

Paint Rock is a small community in the southwestern corner of Jackson County. It was a very booming town in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Settlement officially began in 1820 once federal officials negotiated a land cession by the Cherokees in 1819. According to county historian John R. Kennamer, the first settlers in the Paint Rock Valley came by 1814-1815, with his own family patriarch, Hans Kennamer, arriving in 1815. [1]National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet, Sec. E, p.3, United States Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service.

At one time most of the land that was known as Camden, which is now Paint Rock, was owned by John Kennamer. [2]“History of Paint Rock,” Paint Rock News, website: https://paintrockal.webs.com/apps/profile/68466429/, Charles S. Rice. He had a log cabin near the foot of the mountain. Jesse Keel was another early settler who lived near the railroad in 1829; Keel Mountain was named for him. Jesse Keel came here from Tar River, North Carolina. John Redman also settled here in 1835. He came from South Carolina and ran a boat yard and kept an inn for the passengers to lodge in that rode the stage coach.

Camden’s post office was established in 1836 with J. Newberry as the Postmaster. John Redman was appointed as Postmaster in 1837 where he served until 1847. The Post Office name was changed to Redman and August Lilly served as Postmaster. The name of the Post Office was changed back to Camden in the 1850s. The name went from Camden to Paint Rock in 1876. The name Paint Rock was derived from the naturally painted bluffs along the Paint Rock River as it entered into the Tennessee River.

Some of the earlier industries in Paint Rock included a water mill for grinding corn and wheat built by George Lilly in 1879. A pencil mill was built in 1897 by Otto Gudemath of New York. It was said to employ 65 people. He sold it to Gulf Red Cedar Company which employed 175 people until 1911 when it moved to Tennessee. There were two stave mills that made staves for whiskey barrels until prohibition closed their doors. There was a hosiery mill that employed several hundred people. A chair facto, closed in 1970s. Pleasant Woodall and Stephen E. Kennamer sold groceries and liquor before the Civil War.

The Civil War

Many people from Paint Rock were in the Civil War. Some are buried in the Old Paint Rock Cemetery. Col. Lemuel Green Mead, William Putnam, Moses Keel, William Gaither, William

M. Gormley, and John H. Gwathney to name some.

Lemuel Green Mead was a native of Paint Rock. His family, which came from Virginia, was prominent locally. His uncle, Lemuel Mead of Huntsville, was a signer of the Alabama Constitution of 1819. Lemuel G. Mead was a Paint Rock lawyer when the war began. He was also master of the Paint Rock Masonic Lodge.

In September 1861 Mead raised the “Paint Rock Rifles” which became Company C, 26th (later 50th) Alabama Infantry Regiment. He led his men into combat at Shiloh in April 1862 but resigned his commission on 1 July 1862, after Union forces had invaded North Alabama. Mead was soon commissioned a captain of partisan rangers and authorized to operate behind the enemy lines in North Alabama and Tennessee. On 18 January 1864, Mead was authorized to increase his command to a battalion. His operations were so successful that on 1 March 1865, Mead was authorized to reorganize his men into a regiment of three battalions. Mead’s friend, General John Brown Gordon, pushed for Mead’s temporary promotion to the rank of brigadier general. However, the war ended before the promotion could take place.

In May 1865, Col. Mead refused demands for his surrender, replying that he “saw no military necessity to do so.” Union Gen. George Thomas accordingly declared Mead an enemy. Mead swam his horse across the Tennessee River and held out for a short time longer on Brindley Mountain, in Marshall County. He finally took the oath of allegiance in September 1865, at Montgomery. After the war, Mead moved his law practice to Scottsboro, Alabama, where he prospered. He was active in Democratic politics, becoming an elector for Samuel Tilden in the “stolen election” of 1876.

Col. Mead was killed in the town of Gurley, Alabama, in 1878 while walking with Capt. Frank B. Gurley, late of the 4th Alabama Cavalry. The killer approached Mead and shot him once with a shotgun. As Mead lay on the ground, the killer then emptied the other barrel into him. The cause of the shooting was a dispute over sharecropping, allegedly involving just one bale of cotton. The killer fled to Texas, but years later was located and returned for trial. The gunman was found not guilty, since the defense attorney (no less than Leroy Pope Walker, former Confederate Secret, of War) argued self-defense, since Col. Mead had been carrying a pistol at the time, (Walker is also famous for winning an acquittal on robbery charges in Huntsville for Missouri outlaw Frank James.)

There were four Civil War battles in Paint Rock. The first battle took place at the rail bridge on April 28, 1862. A 27-man detachment from the 10th Wisconsin Infantry was attacked by what they claimed were “250 rebels” aided by citizens. Six union soldiers were wounded and one Confederate was found dead and one wounded.

A second battle took place near the bridge on April 8, 1864, when 15 men from Company D, 73rd Indiana Infantry, fought a Confederate detachment they estimated at 40 men. One Union soldier was killed and one wounded, while the Union claimed to have killed two Confederates and wounded three.

Russell’s 4th Alabama Calvary and Mead’s Partisan Battalion clashed with the Federal rear guard near the bridge on Dec. 7, 1864 in the Union retreat during Hood’s march on Nashville. Thirty-nine Union soldiers was reported missing in action.

The best-known engagement took place on the morning of Dec. 31, 1864. Col. L. G. Mead surprised and captured Company G, 13th. Wisconsin Veterans Infantry, by burning the bridge down and rolling cannon into the river.

The Civil War brought death, destruction, and Union occupation to the Paint Rock Valley. [3]National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet, Sec. E, p. 4, United States Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service.

The Scottsboro Boys

On March 25, 1931, Jackson County Sheriff Matt Wann ordered an armed posse to stop a Southern Railway freight at Paint Rock after six “hoboing” white boys complained they had been thrown off the train by black teens. Two white women from Huntsville, who had also been aboard, told station agent W. H. Hill and Deputy Charlie Latham they had been raped by the black boys.

A farmer working in the fields west of Scottsboro and near the train tracks observed the white boys as they were thrown off the train. He hurried to the nearest rail station to have the station master teletype ahead to Paint Rock the situation.

At Scottsboro, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates identified Chattanooga teens Clarence Norris, Haywood Patterson, Eugene Williams and brothers Andy and Roy Wright, as well as Georgia residents Charlie Weems, Olin Montgomery, Willie Robeson and Ozie Powell as their attackers. The black men denied the charges. Four all-white Scottsboro juries reached multiple guilty verdicts with death sentences on April 6-9.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions and moved future trials to Decatur where Ruby Bates recanted her accusations. The trials, which created support for the defendants, continued into 1937 with more convictions, but none of the men were executed.

In 2013, the State of Alabama exonerated the nine men, the last of whom died in 1989, and issued pardons.

Tornados in Paint Rock

On Jan. 17, 1870 a tornado greatly damaged the depot and destroyed Bill Hill’s store followed by another in 1880.

The web site Gendisasters.com has the following: Nashville, Tenn. April 26, (1880). “A destructive storm struck Paint Rock, Alabama on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, demolishing five houses and killing three children of P. M. Edwards. T. J. Mann was killed by lightning on Sunday six miles from this city.” [4]GenDisasters.com, submitted by Stu Beitler, The New York Times, April 27, 1880. page number not given.

A devastating tornado swept through the town of Paint Rock March 21, 1932 destroying most of the downtown area and killing four people. It was a storm that Paint Rock never recovered from. It came through about 7 p.m. and destroyed almost half the homes and several businesses. The textile mill, cotton gin, and warehouses were also destroyed.

Dendy Roseau, survivor of the 1932 tornado, described that late evening as follows: “The sky was getting very dark and clouds were rolling over Keel Mountain. My father, (Calvin M. Rousseau), was walking around the wrap around porch scanning the sky. When he saw the tornado topping the mountain he gathered the family and took us underneath the house to the food cellar. Fortunately our house and our family were spared destruction. [5]Interview with Dendy Rousseau by the author in 2020. Dendy described his father’s store as a three-story building with the second floor more of a mezzanine containing a central cashier operation with tubes running from each sales station to the central cashier. The first and third floors had tall ladders with rollers to access higher shelves. The tornado destroyed the top two floors.

1932 Paint Rock Businesses

Some of the businesses operating in 1932 included: [6]“Businesses Operating in Paint Rock in 1932,” Valley Leaves, Vol. 48, No. 3-4 May 2013, pp 106, 107.

  • Garage/Automobiles: Paint Rock Motor Co., Chevrolet – John S. O’Neal
  • Barber Shop: 011ie Manning
  • Pencil Mill: Otto Gudenrath – sold to Gulf Red Cedar Co.
  • Boatyard: John Redman
  • Chair Facto,: Rousseau operated by John O’Neal
  • MDs: Drs. John Franklin Clark; Knowlton; A. Lilly; Francisco Rice; J. H. Sentell
  • Cafe: Horace & Matti, Henson; Manning
  • Building Material: E. C. Payne
  • Blacksmiths: Branum & Christian (& Wagon repairing)
  • Stave Mills: (two)
  • Hosiery: Paint Rock Hosiery Mill
  • Richmond Cedar Works
  • Lumber: Jacobs Lumber Company (wholesale)
  • Candy Co.: Allison (& tobacco)
  • Liquor: D. W. Allison & J.S. Riddle; Stephen E. Kennamore
  • Grist Mills: (water powered) George G. Lilly; Paint Rock Milling Co.; Remus & A. Miller Smith
  • Drugs: Steel & McCulley (& stationery, jewelry, furniture); A. L. Sutton
  • Beauty Parlor
  • Live,: C.C. Keel
  • Water Works System: Ha, Hill
  • Lime & Cement Plane

Source

Michael, Coy E., “Paint Rock, Jackson County, Alabama,” Valley Leaves, Volume 54 (2020 Spring), Numbers 3 and 4, p. 64-67,
Quarterly publication of the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society, Inc., Huntsville, Alabama : Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society, Inc., 2020.

References

References
1National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet, Sec. E, p.3, United States Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service.
2“History of Paint Rock,” Paint Rock News, website: https://paintrockal.webs.com/apps/profile/68466429/, Charles S. Rice.
3National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet, Sec. E, p. 4, United States Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service.
4GenDisasters.com, submitted by Stu Beitler, The New York Times, April 27, 1880. page number not given.
5Interview with Dendy Rousseau by the author in 2020.
6“Businesses Operating in Paint Rock in 1932,” Valley Leaves, Vol. 48, No. 3-4 May 2013, pp 106, 107.

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