Excerpt from The Book of Alabama and the South written in 1933
Commemorating the Silver Anniversary of
The Protective Life Insurance Company of Birmingham, AL
This book was given to the policy holders.
 


BIBB From north to south through Bibb runs the Cahaba River, collecting, as it runs, its tributary creeks-the Blue Girth, Affonee, Haysop, Copperas, Shades, Schultz, Cane, Little Cahaba, Six Mile, Cowpens, Mahan, and Sandy. The river and creeks have left the county's surface hilly and have cut many a steep and gorge. The northern third lies in the great Cahaba coal basin and has been mined extensively for many years. The remainder belongs principally to agriculture.

In the history of this central Alabama county many things have come and gone. The Creeks and Choctaws came, and for long, years the dividing line between their nations traversed the region. Their claims were ceded to the United States in 1814 and 1816, respectively, and a few years later they departed forever. White men came, early in the Nineteenth century, and launched the agricultural processes which were destined to many supplements but never to departure. A group of Andrew Jackson's soldiers led by Major Mahan, came after the Battle of New Orleans, and settled the town of Brierfield, living first in tents and then in log houses on the site of a one-time Indian village. Among these soldiers was John Clabaugh, great grandfather of President Sam Clabaugh of the Protective Life Insurance Company. He settled on Camp Branch Creek near the present town of Centerville. A little later there came from South Carolina another man who was also a great grandfather of President Clabaugh. This was Jonathan Ware, who had built at Cowpens, S. C., on the site of the famous Revolutionary battlefield there, a forge for the manufacture of the first iron in that state. In Bibb County he built a Catalan forge, and launched the region on its first primitive iron manufacture. Jonathan Ware and his son Horace were subsequently termed by Senator Morgan "chief of the early iron masters of Alabama." Associated with them was Samuel Clabaugh, the son of John Clabaugh. From the 1830's until the War Between the States, the three counties of Bibb, Shelby and Talladega were the most active in the state in the making of iron blooms. An iron furnace built at Brierfield by Major Mahan and his son, Edward, won first prize with its charcoal iron blooms at a British exhibition in 1851. In 1860 the Brierfield mines, furnace and rolling mill were taken over by the Confederate government (under a forced sale,) and they were important sources of land and naval guns until Federal troops under General Wilson destroyed them in 1865. The property was sold at auction after the war to Francis Strother Lyon, who reconstructed it with the aid of Gen. Josiah Gorgas, Confederate chief of ordnance. In full blast again by 1868, the plant survived a change of hands in the panic of 1873 and was important for a while in the manufacture of nails but became finally a victim of superior processes and ore discoveries and was dismantled forever in the '80's. With its passing Brierfield which had become the important industrial center of the whole of central Alabama, dropped out of the economic picture. The charred shells of old factories and iron Foundries stand there today in romantic reminder of great days gone by.

Come and gone, too, is a cotton manufacturing industry which was launched when Major David Scott built a little factory at Scottsville in 1836 which survived until the Federal troops burned it in 1865. And the full measure of a lumber industry which flourished for years until many of the lands were cut over. And a picturesque riverboat era when three famous paddle-wheelers-the "Mary D," the "Ella D" and the "Captain Sam Davidson"-plied the Cahaba with cotton for Mobile before highways and railways turned the traffic scene.

Even the names and locations of places in Bibb County have come and gone. The county's own name, when created in 1818, was "Cahaba," but was changed to "Bibb" in 1820 in honor of William Wyatt Bibb, the first governor of the State of Alabama. The original county seat was at Antioch and boasted a courthouse which was built at a total cost of $100. In 1830 the county seat was moved nine miles west to Centreville, a town by the best farm lands in the vicinity and some of the most beautiful mountain scenery, including a natural bridge. Centerville is substantial today, and historic, and permanent in its people and processes, but its "comings and goings" of name and place have been extraordinary. Originally it was called "The Falls of the Cahaba," and was located on the west side of the river. Incorporated in 1823 as "Centreville," it was subsequently moved to the higher ground on the river's east bank after a bridge had been built. Still later the spelling of "Centreville" was changed to "Centerville" by the United States Postoffice Department in order to avoid confusion with Citronelle in mail deliveries, but its citizens still prefer and use the original spelling.

But there are many things in Bibb which have gone only to come again, and many others which have never gone. Some of the families which founded the county have survived through generation after generation, and their homes and lands with them. One family has lived in the same house at Centreville for 64 years, another for 84 years. The descendants of one of the town's founders have resided for 102 years on the original lot he purchased. And there are a number of stately and beautiful homes, built in the days of antebellum glory, which have been maintained for modern occupancy with crepe myrtle and historic shade trees for company.

The industries which have come and gone in Bibb County, and the economic tides that have swept the area from time to time, have left their several marks on the coal mining activities which form the county's industrial base, but those activities have survived and are of major importance. They a center in the town of West Blocton, the permanent population of which is about 4,000, supplemented with a more or less itinerant population of coal mining camps in the vicinity. The camp population varies from 3,000 to 6,000, depending upon business conditions.

And always there is agriculture - the agriculture in which the county's economic life began and by which that life has been sustained through many troubled times. The boll weevils which have destroyed cotton, the absence of large trading, centers and dependable local markets, have had their own blessings in disguise for they have encouraged the farmers of Bibb to be more nearly self-sustaining than those in other sections of the state.

Things come and go in Bibb. But among those things are the seasons which produce its crops and the eons which make its coal. The crops remain, and the coal remains.

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