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

From Our Past III

Much has been written over the years about the history of Gurley and the town's colorful past. The following outline of the past was compiled by one of Gurley's past Historians, Berniece Lawler, grand-daughter of Capt. Elijah F. Walker, with help from her mother, Ruby W. Lawler. This manuscript was found in a trunk left by the late Berniece Lawler and was believed to be written in the seventies.

Gurley's Tank located on Railroad Street
Gurley’s Tank located on Railroad Street
Photo of Gurley's Tank located on Railroad Street, Gurley, estimated about 1870.
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For over a century and a half, there was a settlement at and around the area presently known as Gurley, Alabama.

In 1830, several families, including that of Thomas McBroom and John Gurley, purchased land and built homes in what was then a dense forest. The country was full of game which provided good hunting for the habitants. Natural springs and wells were available to provide fresh pure water. For many years the area was known as Gurley's Place in the woods, with no public roads.

John Gurley was a native of Johnson County, North Carolina and a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Married to Matilda Tharp Rutledge, daughter of the Governor of Virginia, he also lived a few years in South Carolina and Maury County, Tennessee before moving to Madison County in 1817. He built his home at the old Steger Spring.

John Gurley became the owner of the greater portion of the lands east and north of Gurley and continued to have a nice home and plantation into the Civil War. One of his sons, Frank B. Gurley was born on his father's Gurley plantation on August 8, 1834. He was a Confederate veteran and confident of the famed Calvary General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Capt. Frank Gurley was one of the most noted guerilla chiefs in this region during the Civil War.

The Memphis and Charleston Railroad was built through Gurley in 1857. John Gurley built a large cedar water tank with water piped in from a spring atop Keel Mountain. The tank supplied water to the steam engines of that time and the little town became known as Gurley's Tank. As new people settled in Gurley, they built homes near the water tank and tapped into the lines thus making the town the first in Madison County to have a water works system.

Capt. Frank B. Gurley
Capt. Frank B. Gurley
Gurley had an abundance of cedar trees and fertile land and grew as a major lumber and trade center for several decades. The town was incorporated in 1890 with a population of 250 residents. . One year later the population had grown to 1000. When the first post office was established in 1896, the name of the town became Gurleysville, and then later shortened to Gurley.

Three churches were established in 1891, Methodist, Baptist, and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Gurley had two newspapers, "The Gurley Record" and "Gurley Herald". The Gurley Record lasted about two years. In 1890, besides having a fine mercantile business, Gurley also boasted a number of manufacturing establishments including a cedar bucket factory, a stave and hoop factory, and Eagle Pencil Mill.

Fire has played an important part in Gurley history. Through the years, fire ravaged the business district at least three times. In 1923, fire almost completely destroyed the business district. With only a bucket brigade to fight the blaze, only two stores were spared.

The Alabama Legislature passed a bill in 1907 to support a county high school in each county in the state. There was a contest in Madison County between Huntsville and Gurley to acquire the new county high school. Governor Comer visited both towns and selected Gurley as the site for the school (Centenninal 1908-2008). A big celebration was held in Gurley, with a parade from the train depot to the site where the Governor announced the decision to locate the new school in Gurley. A big factor supporting the decision was the donation of four and one-half acres of land, including the Robert Donnell Academy, which was a two story brick building established in 1893 as a local high school and two year college. The city of Gurley donated $2,500 to support the operation of the new school.

The original Robert Donnell Building was demolished in the spring of 1935. The new school year (1935-1936)    was temporarily housed at the old Gurley Town Hall. The new Madison High School building was dedicated in 1936. (This building served students until the new Madison County high school was built, three miles west of Gurley in 1998.)

"From Our Past" will continue looking at Gurley with more articles and photos from our past history.

New Madison County High School

Robert Donnell Academy and original Madison County  High school until 1936.
Robert Donnell Academy and original Madison County High school until 1936.