Historical Marker Program
A County Older Than the State-Marengo County
Created Feb. 7, 1818 by Alabama Territorial Legislature from lands ceded by Choctaw Indian Nation. Named for Marengo, Italy, where Napoleon won victory over Austrians in 1800. After Napoleon's defeat, some of his exiled officials came here in 1817 in a vain attempt to establish Vine & Olive Colony. County seat, Linden, surveyed in 1824; named for Hohenlinden, Bavaria, where French won another victory over Austrians.
[Before 1965: Co. Courthouse, Linden]
Bethel Hill Missionary Baptist Church
Following the Civil War and emancipation, newly freed African Americans, who had worshiped in the Bethel Church in McKinley while enslaved, established their own Bethel Church in a wooden house at the rear of the current church site. In the mid-1880s, this black Bethel Church became Bethel Hill Missionary Baptist Church. Elizabeth Borden deeded five acres of land to the church in 1894, and Rev. J.A. Lawson led the effort to erect a new building the same year. The structure was bricked during the pastorate of I.C. Acoff in 1936. Until the mid 1950s, McKinley School for African American elementary grade students was attached to the church. Original members of the church are buried in the church yard cemetery.
[2011: near McKinley]
Situated on historic White Bluff overlooking the Tombigbee River, Bluff Hall was built 1832 by slaves of Allen Glover for his daughter, Sarah Serena, and her husband, Francis Strother Lyon. Lawyer and planter, F. S. Lyon, served in both Confederate and the United States congresses. Frequent war-time visitors in his house were General Leonidas Polk and General Zachary Deas. Bluff Hall now owned by the Marengo County Historical Society.
Demopolis Methodist Church
On Marengo Circuit, 1826-1839, church founded 1840, great revival 1843. First building erected 1840-43 (remodeled 1848) on lot donated by the Rev. A. J. Crawford. Two early pastors became bishops: John C. Keener (1843-44) and Holland N. McTyeire (1846). Present building erected 1895-96. B. D. Price of Philadelphia, architect. Dedicated April 24, 1904, by Bishop W. A. Candler.
The Demopolis Opera House
In 1876, the town of Demopolis leased the former Presbyterian Church, a classic brick structure built in 1843 and occupied by federal troops during Reconstruction, to the Demopolis Opera Association. The association revitalized the building as a theater for live performances and civic lectures. Though heavily dependent upon local talent, the Opera House also featured professional actors and entertainers from places such as New York and New Orleans until its doors closed in 1902. Minstrel shows were frequent, popular attractions. Wealthy businessman Leonard Newhouse served the association as its secretary. He and his wife Sophia Marx were the grandparents of playwright Lillian Hellman.
Lillian Hellman and The Little Foxes
Playwright Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) enjoyed her greatest stage triumph with The Little Foxes, which opened in New York on February 15, 1939, with Alabama actress Tallulah Bankhead in the lead role. Hellman's writings and personal history suggest her affluent Marx relatives from Demopolis were models for the fictional Hubbard family in Foxes. The play's mansion "Lionnet" bears strong resemblance to the stately Lyon family homes (Bluff Hall and Lyon Hall) in Demopolis. Hellman wrote the screenplay for the film version directed by William Wyler whose wife Margaret "Talli" Wyler was a relative of the Demopolis Tallichet family.
[2003: Capitol St. at Walnut Ave.]
The Demopolis Theater District
Establishing a history of theaters in this district, the Braswell Theater introduced its ornate interior to Demopolis on October 23, 1902, with a performance of the melodrama Unorna. Built by Frederick Henry Braswell in galleries above his hardware store on Strawberry Avenue, the theater provided a local stage for operas, plays and minstrel shows into the 1920s. A popular silent screen star from Alabama, Henry B. Walthall, appeared live in the drama Taken In at the Braswell on April 15, 1921. The Elks Theater, the city's first "picture show," opened October 1, 1915, in the building with a front palladium window constructed by John Cox Webb, Jr., on the corner of Strawberry and Washington streets. Braswell Theater partners Harry Simon and Tom Nonnenmacher acquired the Elks and gave it a new name, the Si-Non, for a February1, 1916, opening.
The Demopolis Theater District
The Si-Non Theater featured silent motion pictures and personal appearances by celebrities until 1929 when it began a regular schedule of "talkies." Famous boxer Jack Dempsey and escape artist Harry Houdini appeared at the Si-Non. After a management change in January, 1931, the Si-Non operated as the Lido Theater for its final four years. On September 14, 1935, the Marengo Theater at the intersection of Washington and Cedar celebrated its grand opening as the city's exclusive showplace for movies. A capacity crowd enjoyed the picture Two for Tonight, but a phone call from Hollywood star Jean Harlow to Mayor N.C. Floyd proved to be the evening's highlight. Originally operated by an Atlanta company, the Marengo was subsequently purchased in 1940 by Henry W. Webb, its first local owner.
[2003: Washington St. at Strawberry Ave.]
First Presbyterian Church, Demopolis, Alabama
Organized by nine members of Tuscaloosa Presbytery on November 1, 1839, the Rev. Issac Hadden officiating. Erected brick building, still standing, on northeast corner of Public Square in 1843.
Sold to Marengo County on 1869 for use as a courthouse. Wooden church dedicated December 5, 1869. On present site donated by Dr. Cincinnatus Ashe. Major remolding, 1905, steeple modification, 1936. Eastside addition, 1953, northside addition 1989.
First Presbyterian Church, Demopolis, Alabama
Charter members 1839: John B. Cook (first elder)
Mary S. Cook, Elmira Gaither, Eleanor L. Lucy, Mariah S. Tillinghast, Benajah P. Whitlow,
Eliza A. Whitlow, Ira Patterson, Sarah Young.
First pastor (1846-53): The Rev. William Flinn
[1990: North Strawberry St.]
Built in 1840 for Augustus Foscue (1799-1861), a North Carolina native who owned more than 3,000 acres and 137 slaves in Marengo County by 1850. Daughter Mary Alice (1838-1899) married in 1855 to Dr. Bryan Watkins Whitfield (1828-1908), a son of Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield of nearby Gaineswood Plantation.
Original construction date worked into orange-hued brick on south side chimney. Brown-hued brick addition built onto front in 1849, requiring removal of two-tiered, columned entrance portico. Present shed-roofed porch added in twentieth century by Jesse G. Whitfield, replacing small 1849 portico.
Interior woodwork and wainscoting bear original "faux bois" graining to stimulate bird's eye maple done by slave, Bob Ashe, who became a well-known carpenter in post-bellum Demopolis.
Built 1842-1860 by Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield 1799-1868, accomplished planter of the Canebrake, using imported materials and artisans, glorifying the Greek Revival Architecture by combining Doric exterior, Corinthian grand ballroom, Ionic parlor and dining room, with mirrors, chandeliers, columns, domes. This house was named for Gen. George Strother Gaines, 1784-1872, distinguished United States Agent and Factor to Choctaw Indian Nation.
[Before 1965: Demopolis]
Homesite of General Count Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes
On this site stood the Alabama home of General Count Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes (1772-1822), friend of Napoleon Bonaparte, general of the French army, Count of the empire and leader of the "Vine and Olive Colony" that founded Demopolis in 1817.
Desnouettes erected log cabins on this site; one of them being used as a shrine to Napoleon and containing souvenirs of the emperor's battles arranged around a bust of Napoleon on a pedestal made of cedar. Desnouettes died in a shipwreck off the coast of Ireland in 1822.
Jefferson Baptist Church
Established as Mt. Pleasant Baptist by Elder James Yarbrough in 1820 with 27 charter members. By 1834 it had 150 members. Church among the oldest in Demopolis area. Buried in church cemetery are John Gilmore, Reuben Hildreth and John Sample-Revolutionary War veterans who founded Jefferson and helped establish this church.
[Before 1965: Jefferson north of Ala. Hwy 28]
Jefferson Methodist Church
Built on two acres of land deeded by John D. Catlin, May 30, 1842, to Daniel E. Ellis, James Turner, David Compton and John Besteder, trustee of Methodist Episcopal Church known as Asbury Meeting House.
This early Greek Revival building was dedicated on the first Sunday in June, 1856, by the Reverend Phillip Phillips Neely, minister from Marion, Alabama.
Services held 2nd and 4th Sundays, 9 a.m.
Joel Desaker Jones
"A Man of His Times"
Born January 15, 1861, at Sweet Water (Exmore)
Died June 28, 1946, at Dixons Mills
Locally educated, he began surveying at age ten, using this engineering office throughout his lifetime. Appointed Marengo County Surveyor, a position he held for fifty years, simultaneously surveying many miles of highway and railroad routes and town plats in Alabama. For many years he wrote a newspaper column, "Old Times," about the history and settlers of Marengo County.
Paulling Place Cemetery
This African American Cemetery was located on the plantation of William K. Paulling (est 1836). Oral histories given by the surrounding African American community indicate that Paulling Place Cemetery has been in continuous use since the days of slavery. It became the cemetery for the neighboring St. John's Baptist Church after that church was established in 1867. There are at least 175 unmarked graves, identifiable only by depressions in the ground. Surnames of those interred include: Bell, Harris, Johnson, Nelson, Robinson, Staten, Witherspoon and Wright.
Adjacent to the Paulling Place Cemetery is the Ernest Everett Hale family cemetery. Hale came to Marengo County in 1925 as County Extension Agent and aspired to own a Canebrake plantation. He returned in 1951 to purchase Paulling Place. He and others of the family are buried in the cemetery which is maintained, like the plantation, by his descendants.
Saint Andrew's Church (Episcopal) Prairieville
1834-Organized as mission by Rev. Caleb S. Ives for settlers coming here to the Canebrake from Atlantic Seaboard. 1844-made parish of Diocese of Alabama. 1851-this site selected. 1853-54-this building erected.
St. Michael's Cemetery
Interred in the north section of this cemetery were many slaves who had labored on Faunsdale Plantation since its founding in 1843. The earliest identified burial in the black section of the cemetery is that of Barbary (Harrison), a house servant on the Plantation who died at the age of 70 in March 1860. Wooden markers, long since vanished, once designated earlier graves. This ground interred not only slaves and freedmen, but also many of their descendants until the last burial in 1960.
The slaves buried here were communicants of the Episcopal faith and first attended St. Michael's Church, then Faunsdale Chapel after it was erected for them by Louisa M. Collins Harrison and consecrated in June 1861.
St. Michael's Episcopal Churchyard
1844 - Dr. Thomas & Louisa Harrison gave acre of their Faunsdale Plantation for a log church designated Union Parish.
1852 - name changed to St. Michael's Parish.
1855 - slave artisans Peter Lee and Joe Glasgow built Gothic Revival-style church.
1888 - church disassembled and moved to town of Faunsdale.
1932 - destroyed by tornado; much of the interior wood salvaged for new brick church building.
Northern part of churchyard has graves of slave communicants.
Oldest marked grave - Dr. Harrison - 1858.
Shiloh Baptist Church
Organized July 1827
The orignal building was located about three miles east of the present site near the village of Shiloh. It was used as a union church until it became a Baptist Church in 1842. A new building was erected at the present site and the first bodies were laid to rest in the adjacent cemetery. Prior to the Civil War, blacks also attended worship services. In 1878, they withdrew their membership to erect their own building. Seven churches have been organized from Shiloh Church, of which five remain active.
Temple B'nai Jeshurun
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun dedicated its first temple on this site on Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1893 with Rabbi Edward Levy of Selma officiating. The perpetual lamp was lighted by Isaac Marx, the first Jew to settle in Demopolis. The larger wooden synagogue with a Moorish-influenced dome was demolished in 1958 after construction of this new temple within its shell. The congregation was founded in 1858 by immigrants from central Europe who began arriving in the 1840s and established businesses which operated in the community until 2002, when Rosenbush Furniture Company closed its doors after 107 years of operation.
Temple B'nai Jeshurun
The congregation became associated with the Reform movement after the establishment of the Union of Hebrew Congregations. B'nai Jeshurun means "Children of Righteousness", the poetic name for the Jewish people, often used in the Bible to designate the ideal character of Israel. The congregation's cemetery located on East Jefferson Street was established in 1878. The congregations were led by dedicated rabbis including Lewis Mayer, the brothers Jacob and George Bley, and Jerome Levy.
[2007: North Main Ave., Demopolis]
Trinity Episcopal Church
Established by the Rev. Caleb S. Ives
January 31, 1834
The first church building, a frame structure built in 1852 was burned by Federal troops during their occupation of Demopolis. The present church building was erected in 1870 and forms the Nave. The transepts were added in 1896 and the bell tower in 1910. While camped in Demopolis, the Rt. Reverend Leonidas Polk, Bishop of Louisiana and Lieut. General of the Confederate Army, often worshiped at Trinity.
Vine and Olive Colony
Exiled Bonapartists granted four townships of land in this area by Act of Congress March 3, 1817. Colonists founded Demopolis in 1817 and villages of Aigleville and Arcola soon thereafter. Attempts to cultivate grapes and olives failed. After a few years the settlements were practically abandoned by the French refugees.
Composed of limestone or "Selma Chalk" which abounds in fossils. Called "Ecor Blanc" by eighteenth-century French explorers and cartographers. Named "Chickasaw Gallery" because early Indian inhabitants harnessed boats from here.
Landing site of Bonapartist exiles who established the "Vine and Olive Colony" in 1817.
Drainage canal constructed between 1845 and 1863 by slaves of General Nathan Bryan Whitfield, builder of Gaineswood, to prevent water from overflowing and flooding his plantation. The water from 20 to 70 acres south and east of Gaineswood originally followed a 17 miles course to reach the Tombigbee River. The canal, approximately one mile long, in some places more than 30 feet deep, quickly diverts this surface water into the river at Demopolis.
Other Marengo County pages: