December 1973: County celebrates 150th anniversary of founding


There has been much talk this year of Alabama's bicentennial. In December 1973, it was Walker County celebrating a milestone.

A celebration of the county's 150th year of existence included the dedication of Walker County's first historical marker. Congressman Tom Bevill was present for the afternoon ceremony, held at the Walker County Courthouse as inclement weather rolled in. 

The marker was presented by the Walker County Historical Association. The text reads, "Walker County — Created Dec. 26, 1823. Named for John W. Walker of Madison County, Alabama. Chairman, State Constitutional Convention, July 5, 1819. Alabama's first United States Senator, 1819-1823." 

The Daily Mountain Eagle noted that the crowd for the ceremony was "sparse" because of the weather. Bevill, however, was "dapper and smiling."

Bevill gave a history of the county, beginning with the days when it was inhabited by members of the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw nations.

Walker County was born four years after Alabama was admitted to the union. A citizen's group led by Dr. Edward Musgrove convinced legislators to carve the county from land in Marion and Tuscaloosa counties.

"Bevill also spoke of a fortunate accident that opened the door for prosperity in this county," the Eagle reported. "'Two young men camped along Lost Creek one night, banked their fire and bedded down but woke during the night and saw the peculiar black stones surrounding their fire burning with a dull glow. The two youths thought it was the devil and ran but wiser folks sought the cause and discovered the precious fuel.'"

The weather, not local history, was the true talk of the town in December 1973. "Unprecedented Rainfall Floods Jasper Area" a Dec. 26 front page headline proclaimed. The floods had occurred on Christmas Day.

"Old Noah himself might possibly have been amazed at the tremendous torrents that totaled over eight inches in Jasper over Christmas and caused an unprecedented rise of six feet at Lake Lewis Smith," staff writer Skip Tucker reported.

Areas such as Carbon Hill, Dora, Oakman and Curry got heavy rain but Jasper was hit hardest. A local rescue squad used boats to save several people from homes on Euclid Avenue endangered by flooding. One resident was an elderly blind man. Rescuers carried him piggyback through arm-deep water. Down the road, Rescue Squad First Captain D.L. Whitworth saved a 63-year-old asleep in his mobile home as the waters rose.

"The water was up under my arms and then we had to push in the door. The water was up around the bed and the man was lying there asleep," Whitworth said. 

Along with the flooding story, the Eagle ran photos of Town Creek, which "donned the swollen appearance of roaring rapids Christmas night and all but destroyed four cars," and of two tombstones found in a yard in Jasper. A gasoline drum had dammed the creek when it lodged in a concrete bridge on 25th Street. When the water went down, two tombstones were found in the yard.

It was unclear whether the water brought the tombstones or simply uncovered them.

The Eagle also reported on a crime wave that swept through the county in the days leading up to Christmas.

Three hunting guns worth an estimated $200 were stolen from a home on 78 Bypass. Police caught burglars attempting to leave Don Layton's Clean Rental Service with over $1,000 in payroll checks and other merchandise. A woman's coat and purse were taken out of her car in the Food World parking lot.

There was special outrage over a group of vandals using beer bottles to break windows in Samaria Church. Stolen items included a 52-cup coffeemaker, a portable radio, an adding machine and the mimeograph and stencil machines used for church letters and memos.

"Breaking into a church is, lawfully, no worse than breaking into a saloon or gambling den and breaking in during the heights of the Christmas season is no more punishable than any other burglary. Somehow, though, the combination seems to be a sad comment on the day and time," Tucker editorialized near the end of his news story. 

In more uplifting news from around the nation, a garbage man in California made his rounds dressed as Santa. "I'm a Santa-tation engineer," said Ray Valine, 27, who passed out Santa balloons to children along his route.

In Morgantown, West Virginia, an anonymous donor placed a $1,000 bill in a Salvation Army kettle for the second year in a row.  

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.