More on Gurley's History
Gurley Lions Club serving the Gurley community since 1948

From Our Past - XVIII
More of Gurley's Unseen Photos from the Early 1900s

Like so many families across the country, the Walker and Gurley families took lots of photos and placed them in photo albums. Five photo albums were found in the Lawler trunks that depict the typical life of Gurley citizen in the early 1900s. Most of these photos were hidden in the Walker/Lawler attic and were only recently uncovered. Several have been presented in some of the other From Our Past articles but the following photos have been not been seen in a very long time. There is no doubt that many current families in Gurley have similar photo albums hidden away in attics and closets. It would be great if some of these could be opened and presented to our website for all of us and future generations to enjoy.

Elijah and Matilda Walker As was pointed out in the previous article, at the turn of the century Gurley was a vibrant little town that had all the promise and potential to grow and develop into a respectable sized city. Around twenty seven businesses existed with a sound potential for more to come. Statistics indicated Gurley had the healthiest town in the state with the lowest percentage of mortality rate than other Alabama towns at the time. Physicians could not agree whether it was the pure water or freedom from malaria that attributed to this healthy environment. Not everyone was immune however.

On January 13, 1907, one of Gurley's oldest leading citizens, Capt. Elijah F. Walker (left), passed away at the age of 64 years old. His wife, Matilda Gurley Walker, would survive him by twenty four years and then died on November 19, 1931. They are both buried in the Gurley cemetery.

Captain Frank B. Gurley would live to the age of 84 years old and pass away on March 29, 1920. With their passing, Gurley lost two of their town's most influential founders and community leaders.

Gurley would suffer at least four major fires but the fire of 1923 was devastating and almost destroyed the downtown section. With only a bucket brigade to fight the blaze, only two stores were spared. Fire had destroyed the pencil mill, bucket factory, and an ax handle factory. This last fire destroyed the hardware store, the funeral home, the hospital, and the town's only hotel, none of which were ever built back. These fires just took the heart out of many citizens and destroyed many hopes and dreams for a growing town. Unfortunately, the downtown section sat in ruins for many years afterward.

In the Gurley newspaper, some of the town leaders singled out a young black man for his courage and perseverance in fighting the fire. This man was Tom Clay who, in spite of exhaustion and constant exposure to danger, stood at the head of the brigade and threw bucket after bucket of water on the blaze. Tom Clay later worked for several families, including J. D. Lawler, as a field hand and handyman. This writer met Tom Clay when I was about ten years old. We would come to Gurley to visit J. D. and Ruby Lawler who were close kin. Tom Clay would drive me around town in a horse drawn wagon and let me hold the reins. Finally, I got enough confidence to load up the wagon with my little brother Bob, and some other kids, and drive it around the town by myself ( below left). Driving that wagon was really something very special to a ten year old city boy. The photo on the right was taken about 1948 with Tom Clay and me on top of a hay stack on JDs farm.

Walker horse and wagon Tom Clay and Bill Walker

The family in this early 1900s photo is unknown however it typifies the normal mode of transportation before the automobile came around.

family in early 1900

University of Alabama Cadet Frank T Walker This photo of Frank T. Walker (left) shows him in his cadet uniform when he was enrolled at The University of Alabama. This photo was taken sometime between 1896 and 1899. Frank Walker, along with his brother William and his sisters Ruby and Clara, all graduated from the old Madison County High School in Gurley.
Gurley's old timers These old timers would find a shady spot under an oak tree and could tell old war stories for hours. They could be discussing a lousy cotton crop or even politics. This is reminiscent of towns all across America. Today, wouldn't it be interesting if we could eavesdrop and hear some of those tall tales.
Gurley folks We are not sure where these Gurley folks were going unless they were dressed up for dinner or church.  The location appears to be at the side of the old Elijah Walker house on Gate Street before the back kitchen section was added on.
Cumberland Presbyterian pulpit alter This is an old photo of the pulpit and alter table inside the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Gurley.  This photo was probably taken at the turn of the century 1900-1905.

If anyone owned land in Gurley they probably grew cotton. Everyone in the family pitched in to pick cotton during the harvesting season in August, September and October. Picking and chopping cotton was a hot and backbreaking job but cotton was still one of the biggest cash crops in the area. There were always concerns about the possibilities of some heavy fall rain which could cause the Flint River to overrun its banks and flood some of the lower cotton fields. While spring was the normal rainy season in the Paint Rock Valley, an occasional downpour in the fall was not out of the question.

Cotton fields in Madison county Alabama Picking cotton in Madison county Alabama
Kids in Flint River Kids in FlintRiver

Being baptized in those days meant having all your sins washed away from your head to your toes with a complete dunking. These photos were taken about 1915 probably in the Flint River. Some of these people are part of the Walker family so they would have to be members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Maybe these folks were just having a good old family summer picnic and swim instead.

Madison County School class of 1912

Madison County High School class of 1915 and class of 1916

The photo on the left is labeled the "Pupils of City School, Class 1912, Gurley, ALA. This appears to be elementary through middle school as we now refer to it. The right photo is noted class of 1915 and 1916 which would most likely be the Madison County High School class.

H. A. Smith house

W. A. Walker house

Many fine homes were built in Gurley at the turn of the century like the H. A. Smith house on the left and the W. A. Walker house on the right. The photo on the right was taken in 1918.

William T Bennett and Amelia Ann Gurley Bennett Lillian T. Walker

The photo at the left is William T Bennett (simply known around town as "Uncle Billy") and Amelia Ann Gurley Bennett (known as "Aunt Puss"). This is the same gentleman, who as a young man, refused to open his front door to President Jefferson Davis in 1867. (See article 10) At right is Mrs. Lillian T. Walker who we think was a sister to Capt Elijah F. Walker. For this portrait, Mrs. Walker is dressed up in a fine dress very typical of the period.

kids posed at the base of Gurley's Tank Gurley citizens posing in front of the Gurley Railroad Station

At left is a group of kids posed at the base of Gurley's Tank. At right is a group of Gurley citizens posing in front of the Gurley Railroad Station. Identified at far right kneeling is Frank Hall. At far right standing is Uncle Billy Bennett. In center standing with white blouse is Margaret P. Walker and at far left standing is Gladys Walker Givens.