The area’s first inhabitants, the Cherokee Nation, lived in the area between Rocky Ravine and City Lake Park near the “division of the waters”, a continental divide in downtown Haleyville where water runs north to the Tennessee, south to the Warrior and west to the Tombigbee. When the Cherokee were forced out in 1836, many refused and hid out. Today, many names of prominence trace their roots to Native American heritage.
Richard McMahan of Lauderdale County established the first settlement of a permanent nature in Winston County near Haleyville in 1820, one year after Alabama was admitted to the Union. A year later, John Byler completed his famous “Byler Road” through this part of Winston County in 1821. This toll road was the first road of any kind built through this section of the state. The completion of this travel artery was the first to connect the Tennessee Valley of North Alabama with Tuscaloosa. Byler used the natural ridge and lay of the land to plan the road through this area. Union General J.M. Wilson passed over the road in March, 1863, with 15,480 cavalrymen (one of the largest cavalries in world history) in route to the Battle of Selma.
On July 4, 1863, Winston County had a “getting-out” meeting at Looney’s Tavern. This area was hilly, rocky and infertile, and most folks did not own slaves or live off the land. Winston County loyalists did not want to fight against “Old Glory,” so they wanted out of the fighting and to be left alone. And so they met and formed “the Free State of Winston”. Nonetheless, many were conscripted into the army, and many families had one child fighting or the North and another for the South.
In 1883, William “Bucky” Davis owned 40 acres of land around the downtown area of Haleyville at the intersection of the Columbus and Tuscaloosa roads (thus the community as called Davis Cross-Roads). Mr. Davis built the first log house in the area where the Traders and Farmers Bank is now located.
The announcement of a railway from Sheffield running through Winston County in 1884 brought Neely J. Drewry here. Charles L. Haley left Buttahatchee in 1885 and came to Davis Cross-Roads and opened a general merchandise store. His father had purchased one thousand acres for a dime an acre in Marion County. His brothers, Walker and John, worked for him as clerks. It became one of the largest mercantile operations because of their progressive policies. After the railroads were built the name was changed to Davis Crossing. It is told that the name was changed to Haleyville when Bucky Davis went into the Haley establishment to purchase a suit of clothes and exchanged the price of the suit for the name of the town– thus Haleyville. The first one room school dates back to 1889. For years the Church of Christ, Baptists and Southern Methodists held a union Sunday School in the building owned by the Church of Christ, established the same year.
The town grew from 165 in 1900 to 1100 in 1910. Hotels housed weary peddlers. Walker Haley founded the Traders and Farmers bank in 1906. Walker built a two-story, Victorian home where Fred’s Dollar Store is today. John Dodd built the first brick building and it became Feldman’s Department Store in 1914. Dr. Joe Teal bought it ten years ago and restored it. The railroad provided jobs and doctors, dentists, horse traders, blacksmiths and druggists came and even the 5 & 10 in 1929. The present day Dixie Theater opened in 1948. Supermarkets, cafés and the drive-in were part of the 50’s. A radio station, newspaper and television followed. Main Street filled up and was the center of activity, especially on the weekend when everyone went to town. However, it was the manufacture and sales of mobile homes that really put Haleyville on the map. Beginning in the late 1960s Don Tidwell operated Tidwell Industries. Haleyville was home to a large textile plant and other support industries.
In 1968, AT&T reserved the digits 9-1-1 nationwide for emergency use. Haleyville introduced the first 9-1-1 system, which was located at the police station at City Hall. Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite made the first call and it was answered by Congressman Tom Bevill on a bright red telephone on February 16, 1968. Thus, Haleyville became the home of the first 9-1-1 call.
The late 1980s were hard for Haleyville. Plants closed, jobs were lost and the elementary school burned. But the same independent spirit that kept the Cherokee here and that brought the Haleys here, along with the same unity exhibited in union Sunday School held among churches in the 1800s, resulted in our beautiful $5 million facility across from the High School. Even
though our population has decreased in the last 30 years, that same independent, fiery spirit is producing some of the brightest, most-talented students, who are becoming lawyers, doctors, teachers, and dentists. Celebrities like Pat Buttram, Polly Holiday, Lonzo and Oscar, the Speer Family, and Lili Zannuck, to name a few, have exhibited this same Haleyville spirit in their work, which has been recognized by the nation.
Our dream is that our Haleyville talent will be able to reside in these quiet hills of North Alabama
with good jobs, raising good families with good values. We have always been independent—standing against national disunity during the Civil War and one-party politics in its aftermath. However, we have always pulled together to get a job done. We have been taught by history that “in tough times, the tough get going” and we are from the Free State of Winston and we’re ready!
Source: Vicky Dean – Haleyville Historical Society Member