"Friendliest City in the South"
Luverne, the Friendliest City in the South, was founded in 1889, one mile east of the Patsaliga River on the Alabama Midland Railroad in the central part of Crenshaw County. The primary figures in the founding of Luverne were M.P. Legrand, S.D. Hubbard, and George A. Folmar who purchased land surrounding the railroad, which would become the site of the new town.
Luverne grew very quickly due to its advantageous location relative to other more established communities in the county. By 1890, it boasted nineteen businesses and a population of approximately 1,000 people. In 1893 a vote by the people moved the county seat from Rutledge to Luverne where a new courthouse was constructed. The booming young town which just four years earlier was a pine forest had become the center of business, government and social events for Crenshaw County. Early History of Luverne, Alabama
By Joe R. Sport
Luverne, like many other towns, had its beginning because of the railroad. In 1886, the Montgomery and Florida Railroad company began purchasing land in Crenshaw County for right-of-way for a railroad which would run from Sprague Junction in Montgomery County to Crenshaw County. The first recorded transaction of land for a right-of-way was deeded to the railroad company by A.L. Champion of the Lapine community. It was anticipated that the railroad would terminate in Rutledge, which was the county seat of Crenshaw County at the time. However, through the efforts of M.P. LeGrand and other interested parties, instead of being routed to Rutledge, the railroad was routed to terminate east of the Patsaliga River on land owned in part by Mr. LeGrand.
On November 25, 1886, William D. Taylor purchased 40 acres of land situated in Section 33, Township 9, Range 18, from W.E. Martin and wife. On the same date he purchased an additional 34 acres from J.L. Hawkins, 19 acres from F.C. Clements, and 40 acres from C.L. Bradley. This was the land on which the town of Luverne would be founded in 1889. In November 1887 Mr. Taylor sold the land he had acquired to M.P. LeGrand and S.D. Hubbard. Following the purchase of this land by Mr. Hubbard and Mr. LeGrand, a right-of-way for the railroad was sold in 1888 to the Montgomery and Florida Railroad for $1.00 and other considerations. During the same year Mr. Hubbard and Mr. LeGrand sold ½ interest in the land purchased from Mr. Taylor to Stewart L. Woodford, and on October 30, 1888 Mr. George A. Folmar, the most prominent figure in the founding of Luverne, purchased the ½ interest from Mr. Woodford for $1000.00.
In November 1888 Mr. J.O. Sentell surveyed and laid out the George A. Folmar plat consisting of 33 blocks which would become the town of Luverne. On November 26, 1888, M.P. LeGrand, S.D. Hubbard, M.P. LeGrand, Jr., and George A. Folmar formed the Luverne Land Company which would handle the sales of the lots in the George A. Folmar Plat and the other lands owned by the Company. The Land Company consisted of 50 shares divided as follows: George A. Folmar 25 shares, S.D. Hubbard 12 ½ shares, M.P. LeGrand 6 ¼ shares and M.P. LeGrand, Jr. 6 ¼ shares. George A. Folmar was named manager of the newly formed company.
The first recorded lot sold in the George A. Folmar Plat was sold to J.R. Horn on November 14, 1888; the second lot was sold on December 27, 1888 to W.J. Nunnalee, and on December 28, 1888 two lots were sold: one to A.A. Peele and the other to Dr. J.R. Horn and Dr. J.E. Kendrick. With the selling of these lots to men speculating on the future growth and prosperity of a railroad town, the vision of a group of men was beginning to materialize.
To say that Luverne began with a boom in 1889 would be an understatement. The railroad was completed in late 1888 and lots in the George A. Folmar town plat sold rapidly. The Folmar Plat ran from First Street on the north to Seventh Street on the south and from Woodford Avenue on the west to Mount Avenue on the east. It included 33 blocks of 1 acre each with blocks number 1 through 18 divided into 14 lots, each measuring 30' x 100' with a 10' alley running north and south through the middle of each block. These lots were intended primarily for the business district of town. The remaining 15 blocks were generally divided into 2 ½ acre lots for residences. Streets included in the plat were: First Street, Second Street, Third Street, Fourth Street, Fifth Street, Sixth Street, and Seventh Street, all running east and west. The avenues were Woodford Avenue, LeGrand Avenue, Forest Avenue, Glenwood Avenue, Folmar Avenue, Coston Avenue, and Mount Avenue, all running north and south. The railroad, which had been purchased by the Alabama-Midland Railroad Company, ran between LeGrand and Woodford avenues, terminating on the south at Seventh Street.
By the end of 1889, 30 lots had been sold for businesses by the Luverne Land Company. The choicest lots were those on the east side of LeGrand Avenue, which bordered the railroad, followed by the lots on the west side of Forest Avenue and then those on the east side of Forest Avenue. The lots on Glenwood Avenue drew little interest in the early years. There was also more interest in the lots from Third Street to Sixth Street than other areas of the plat. Also, in 1889, one half of a block was sold to the trustees of the Luverne Baptist Church and another one half block was sold to the trustees of the Luverne Methodist Church. In addition to the lots sold in the Folmar Plat, other lots were sold to individuals for residences by the Martins, the Hawkins, the Codys and the Clements who owned land surrounding the Folmar Plat.
There was a busy pace in Luverne in 1889 as buildings went up to house businesses and residents, streets were cleared and people moved into the community. By the middle of the year, the Town of Luverne was incorporated under the laws of the State of Alabama establishing a mayor and council form of government. The first city elections were held and the following officials were elected for a one year term: J.O. Sentell, Mayor, and Dr. J.R. Horn, George A. Folmar, G.W. Pope, J.M. Cody, and R.P. Fundaburk, Councilmen. The newly elected officials named R.P. Fundaburk as the town clerk and treasurer, and appointed G.W. Turner as the town Marshall.
In 1889 the railroad proved a successful venture as over 5,000 tons of fertilizer had traveled the rails into Luverne and over 13,000 bales of cotton had been shipped from the town. Added to this was the shipment of lumber, machinery, and various items of freight plus a great number of passengers. As the railroad succeeded the town grew, and by March of 1890 there were 19 stores in town and a population of nearly 1000. Businesses included groceries, hardware, building materials, clothing, saloon and restaurant, blacksmith shop, telegraph service, sawmills, grist mill, planer mill, medical doctors, general contractor, hotel and a newspaper. Businesses established in the town in 1889 were: F.C. McDonald Co.; S.T. Crittenden's Barber Shop; Alford McGehee Shoe Shop; Curtis, Wright and Payne Co.; J.C. McLendon Co.; C.R. Bricken, Attorney at Law; Mrs. J.P. Thrower Millinery; R.J. Flinn General Merchandise; Sentell and Hammonds Grocery; A.T. Kendrick & Co.; George A. Folmar & Co.; James D. Finlay & Co.; G.C. Avant Carriage Maker and Repair; J.H. Cowart Insurance; Thomas W. Shows Bar & Poolroom; C.R. Bricken & Co. Insurance; W.S. Sanders Hardware; G.F. Lawlis General Contractor and Builder; G.N. Buchanan Grist Mill, Saw Mill, and Planer Mill; Horn and Kendrick Drug Store; H.H. Butler Bar and Poolroom; T.W. Coston Insurance; J.W. Beall Dry Goods; Luverne Fertilizer Co.; Walker and Maloy's Saloon and Restaurant; the Renova Hotel; and The Luverne Enterprise Newspaper. In just 12 months, Luverne emerged from a pine forest into a bustling young town with great expectations for the future.
The building boom in 1889 and the early 1890s in Luverne created an optimism among it's people that was evident in the general talk of the townspeople, the writings of the editor of its paper, and in the actions of the town government. There was little doubt in the minds of anyone that Luverne was on its way to becoming one of the most thriving cities in South Alabama.
Railroad men from the Mobile and Girard Railway Company were in the town on more than one occasion with survey crews seeking a feasible route for them to expand their lines. Many of the townspeople were sure the line would come to Luverne because, after all, Luverne was the largest town in Crenshaw County and it had the most promise for future growth and expansion, plus the fact that one railroad was already serving the town. There was much talk that a line would come from Troy to Luverne and on to Greenville, which would make Luverne a crossroads for two railroads, thereby creating an important rail center in the town. There was also speculation that in a matter of time, the Alabama Midland Railroad from Montgomery would be extended to Pensacola, Florida. This along with the Mobile and Girard being routed through Luverne would connect the town on the east to Savannah, Georgia, through Atlanta, and on the north and south from Montgomery to Pensacola and Mobile. Talk was rampart and unsecured promises made, but the only extension of the railroad to come was the extension of the Alabama Midland line in Luverne from Seventh Street to Ninth Street.
Education was another interest of the early town and in 1889-90 a school known as the Academy was built on block 7 of the George A. Folmar Town Plat which was owned by the Luverne Land Co. The school and the land was sold to the town in July 1891. Also in 1890 the "town fathers" offered the faculty and staff of the Highland Home College $10,0000.00 to relocate the college in Luverne. Like the additional railroads, this never came to pass, but it was another indication of the brashness of a young town with "growing pains."
Another move started by the people of Luverne in 1889 was to get the courthouse moved from Rutledge to Luverne. The town promised to furnish the land and provide financing for the buildings if the county commissioners would agree to move the courthouse and the county jail. This was to become a real political issue in the county in the future.
On April 1, 1890, the Masonic Lodge #488 was organized in the new town with the following officers: B.R. Bricken, W.M.; J.W. Beall, S.W.; P.J. Thrower, J.W.; William Brunson, Treasurer; C.R. Bricken, Secretary; J.M. Beard, S.D.; B.P. Finlay, J.D.; and G.B. Rowell, Tyler. In early July of the following year the town sold 1/5 interest in the academy school buildings and lot to the Lodge for a meeting place.
Other events taking place in the growth of the town during 1890 were the moving of the newspaper from Rutledge to Luverne, and the completion of the Baptist Church on Fifth Street. In January 1890 the newspaper published as The Rutledge Enterprise was moved to Luverne and began publication as The Luverne Enterprise in the home of the editor and publisher, M. Tucker. Later in the year the paper was moved to the back of Horn and Kendrick Drug Store on the corner of Forest Avenue and Fourth Street with its entrance facing Fourth Street.
April 1890 was a busy month for the young town with many activities taking place which had an impact. On April 1, the newly built post office began issuing and paying money orders. On April 11, the town council approved building a bridge across the stream on South Forest Avenue. On April 15, an application was made to the State to organize a military company in Luverne with an anticipated enrollment of 60. On April 18, the town council approved extending Forest Avenue to the new Providence Road. Also in April the first five street lamps were installed in town and a movement was begun by the townspeople to get the county to build a "high water" bridge across the Patsaliga river at Harrell's Crossing between Luverne and Rutledge.
The summer of 1890 saw the second town election for town officials and the following were elected as the new town governing body: Dr. J.R. Horn, Mayor; C.R. Bricken, C.F. Clements, J.M. Cody, T.R. Wright, and W.B. Perdue, Councilmen. The new government appointed J.M. Cody as town clerk and treasurer, and J.S. McGehee as town Marshall.
On September 15, 1890, the Luverne Institute opened at the academy school with Professor Thomas Williams, principal; Miss Mary Burrows, primary teacher; and Miss Katie Gardner, teacher of arts, music, drawing, and painting. The initial enrollment for the school was 62 pupils.
In October 1890 San Canty, Morris King, and R.L. Gomez, trustees for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church purchased a lot from the Luverne Land Co. on which King's Chapel, the first black church in the community, would be built.
1890 was a year of anxiety, anticipation, rumors, speculation, dreams, and lofty ideas for the people of Luverne, but it was also a year of growth and stabilization for the fledging young town.
Although the years following 1890 did not experience the booming growth of the preceding two years in the town of Luverne, there were events that took place that had an impact on the town and its future. People were still talking of bigger and better things to come as the town continued its growth, and speculation was still high that Luverne was destined to become a business hub that would equal or surpass that of her neighboring towns of Troy and Greenville. As timber rafts were used to float logs down the Patsaliga River to mill sites, there was talk of the possibility of a channel being dredged in the Patsaliga that would eventually open a waterway from Luverne to Pensacola. There was also talk of organizing a military school where young men could receive proper training.
1891 saw some developments in town which had some lasting effects. One of these was the extension of the railroad from Seventh Street to Ninth Street where the Luverne Fertilizer Company was established and later the Douglas Mills. 1891 also saw the building of the shingle mill on the Patsaliga River between Harrell's Crossing and the trestle by J.N. Mash from near Rutledge.
Another event in 1891 was the completion of the Methodist Church. On May 24, 1891 the first services were held in this elegant building on First Street with the Rev. N.W. Beverly filling the pulpit. The organist was Miss Lucy Folmar and the choir was made up of Miss Ida Williams, Miss Buena Kendrick, Miss Zera Larkins, Mrs. P.J. Thrower, Mr. C.R. Bricken, Mr. George A. Folmar, and Mr. W.B. Perdue.
Other improvements made to the town in 1891 were the removing of stumps and trash from Court Square and the surrounding lots, and the plowing up and grading of Forest Avenue, which the editor of The Enterprise described as being "as nice as a race track." In May, steps were taken to improve the Baptist Church on Fifth Street as Dr. J.R. Horn and P.J. Thrower solicited funds to ceil the church building.
Town elections were held again in the summer of 1891 with the following officials being elected: J.O. Sentell, Mayor; W.E.G. Horn, G.A. Folmar, J.E. Kendrick, G.W. Pope, and J.W. Bush, Councilmen. W.M. Gates was appointed the town Marshall by the new government. In October of the same year, C.R. Bricken was appointed councilman to finish the term of J.W. Bush who resigned.
In 1891 another need of the people was met when an ice company was organized and a building established near the railroad where car loads of ice were shipped into town and stored for sale to the people.
Completion of the new bridge across the Patsaliga River at Harrell's Crossing between Luverne and Rutledge was another event of 1891. This bridge known as Harrell's Bridge or "the long bridge" was referred to as a high water bridge and had a span of 163 feet. It made it possible for travel to continue during times of heavy rains and flooding of the river bottom.
In late 1891 blacks in the community met to discuss and plan for the organization of a school to serve their children. The meeting had the support of the whites in town as it was viewed as another step toward progress of all concerned.
In early 1892 Luverne welcomed the addition of a bank to its business community. The Bank of Luverne was organized with the following officers: James Folmar, President; George A. Folmar, Vice-President; Henry Folmar, Cashier; and William B. Solomon, Assistant Cashier.
By the end of 1891 Luverne was well established and the town was flourishing as it boasted of 19 large stores, two planer mills, two grist mills, two cotton warehouses, a two-chair barber shop, a shoe shop, law offices, loan companies, insurance offices, a newspaper, a railroad depot, a telegraph office, a fine hotel, a fertilizer company, an ice house, livery stables, a blacksmith shop, two medical doctors, two churches, a school, a Masonic lodge and a shingle mill. Little wonder the people felt a pride in their town of only three years.
The high point of the growth of the young town of Luverne was the moving of the county seat of government from Rutledge to Luverne. This move became one of the most controversial political issues of the time as opponents and proponents alike lashed out at each other primarily through editorials and letters printed in the two newspapers of that day: The Rutledge Wave and The Luverne Enterprise.
Shortly after the town of Luverne was founded in 1889, the town fathers and other business leaders began to make overtures to the county governing body encouraging them to move the courthouse and the county jail to Luverne. Their reasoning was twofold: Luverne was nearer the center of the county, and the railroad made it accessible to a greater number of people. To further entice the county officials, Luverne promised to provide the land and the finances to build a $15,000 two-story courthouse and a new jail. To add "fuel to the fire," Mr. Tucker, editor of The Enterprise, through his editorial comments continually deplored the condition of the courthouse and jail. He criticized the county for housing prisoners in jails of surrounding counties because the one in Rutledge was not secure. In one issue he wrote, "I hear no prisoners escaped from the county jail in Rutledge last week because none were there."
Citizens of Rutledge countered the claims made by Luverne by stating that since there was only three miles east-west between the two towns it was questionable which was the center of the county and in any event, the difference was insignificant in comparison to the cost which would be involved in the move. They played on the emotions of the people of Luverne by claiming that the only ones who would benefit would be the Luverne Land Co. and "outsiders." They also used the threat of higher taxes in order to pay for the move to alarm citizens of the county.
In the spring of 1890, the courthouse issue grew stronger as two men qualified to run for representative from the county to serve in the lower house of the General Assembly of the State of Alabama. Declaring themselves candidates were Mr. John T. Watson from the Aiken community in the southwest corner of the county near the Butler County line, who was seeking re-election to the seat, and Mr. M. Tucker, editor and publisher of The Luverne Enterprise. Tucker was a strong advocate for moving the courthouse to Luverne, while Mr. Watson stood opposed to the move.
During the 1890 campaign, Tucker was accused of making the courthouse a political issue, and if elected it was stated he would move the courthouse to Luverne, thereby placing a heavy tax burden upon the people. Tucker countered that if the courthouse was moved it would be because of the people's desire and not his. He stated repeatedly the people should be allowed to vote on the issue and decide for themselves whether or not the courthouse would be moved.
When the final count was made in the 1890 elections, Tucker had won the seat by a vote of 1364 to 963. As was anticipated by many, when the State General Assembly met in the fall of 1890 Representative Tucker introduced a bill in the lower house which would authorize the county to hold an election in which the people of Crenshaw County would vote for or against moving the courthouse. Tucker pushed the bill through the lower house with ease, and it was sent to the upper house where it was assigned to the Senate Committee of Privileges, chaired by Senator Parks. When the bill came up for consideration before the committee a delegation from Luverne composed of M. Tucker, B.R. Bricken, and P.J. Thrower appeared to speak in support of the bill. From Rutledge a group consisting of I.H. Parks, M.W. Rushton, and H.T. Moody appeared to speak in opposition to the bill.
Following the hearing on the bill the senate committee reported the bill out on an adverse vote which prompted Mr. C.W. Davis, editor of The Rutledge Wave to write, "the bill is dead, the courthouse in the language of others will 'stay right where she am.'" However, Representative Tucker was not through with the bill and requested it be put on the senate calendar and called up for a vote. In response to his request the bill was placed on the senate calendar and called up for a vote before the entire body. Senator Parks, Chairman of the Committee on Privileges and Elections, who had stated earlier that he would favor a bill in two years which would allow a vote by the people on the courthouse issue, moved that the senate uphold the adverse vote of the committee. In February 1891 the courthouse issue was put to rest for almost two years as the senate voted unanimously in favor of the committee report.
Although the courthouse issue remained silent for many months to follow, the issue was not dead. Those in favor of moving the courthouse were busy preparing for the next session of the State General Assembly, but in the meantime there would be elections for a representative to the lower house from Crenshaw County as members served only two year terms and the next session of the Assembly would be in the fall of 1892. In the spring of 1892 three men qualified as candidates for the lower house: M. Tucker for re-election, M.W. Rushton, and C.L. Eiland. When the votes were tallied in August following the election, C.L. Eiland was elected as the new representative to the lower house from Crenshaw County.
At the meeting of the State General Assembly in the fall of 1892, Rep. Eiland unbeknownst to the people of Rutledge introduced a bill that would require that the courthouse be moved to Luverne. When word of the bill reached Rutledge it had already had its third reading in the lower house and was up for a vote. The citizens of Rutledge "went up in arms" and were successful in getting the bill amended to allow for a vote of the people. House Bill number 240, after passing both houses, was signed into law on December 9, 1892, by Governor Thomas G. Jones. This bill also made provisions for the Town of Luverne to sell land to the County Commission on which a courthouse and jail would be erected. The Town of Luverne sold the lots to the county for $1.00 and other considerations.
The "courthouse bill" provided for an election to be held on the third Monday in January 1893 to determine the fate of the courthouse. Election notices were published in the papers in late December 1892 and early January 1893. Again, the fever ran high in both communities as the citizens of Rutledge were encouraging a no vote and the citizens of Luverne a yes vote. Editorials and letters in The Rutledge Wave accused Luverne of trying to steal the courthouse. Statements were made that a courthouse in Luverne would bring burdensome and higher taxes for years to come. Taxpayers were reminded that Luverne was just "making noise" when it promised to "foot the bill" for a new courthouse and jail. The editor of The Enterprise accused The Wave of being a "courthouse paper" which came into being and existed only for the purpose of being the sounding board for people opposed to the move of the courthouse.
During this time of rhetoric between Rutledge and Luverne, a citizen from Dozier was prompted to write The Wave that since a new town was being built at Dozier they felt it in order to request that the courthouse and jail be moved to Dozier.
When the vote was finally cast it was in favor of moving the courthouse to Luverne by a 1523 to 973 count. With the issue finally settled by a vote of the people, the county government and the citizens of Luverne began making preparations for the move, and on June 8th and 9th, 1893, all the records, furniture, equipment and supplies were moved into the new two-story brick courthouse on Court Square in Luverne. With the beginning of business hours on Monday, June 12, 1893, courthouse business was conducted at Luverne. Thus a town that had been nonexistent a little over four years earlier had now become the county seat of government for Crenshaw County.