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

From Our Past XVII
Gurley Slips into the Twentieth Century

Like so many Southern cities and towns in 1899, most people welcomed the twentieth century with a sense of optimism and a feeling of relief. The memories of the Civil War were still haunting too many people, especially the middle aged men and women who had lived through those times. Folks just wanted to believe the new century could only bring better fortunes and a more promising future for everyone. In and around Gurley, the fertile soil was producing as much as five hundred pounds of cotton per acre and the abundant woodlands around Gurley allowed for a flourishing cedar business with the Gulf Red Cedar Company located close by in Paint Rock.

The Paint Rock Valley happens to be located on a prehistoric river bed that was subjected to eons of silt deposits through the valley. This is the reason the soil was so fertile and productive. Today one can only imagine the hundreds of acres of cedar trees and other species that existed only one hundred years ago. It is no wonder folks who passed through our valley found it so beautiful and pristine they wanted to settle here.

Gurley, Alabama was a vibrant and promising little town when 1900 rolled around. With the turn of the century, the town had about twenty seven flourishing businesses including a general store, hardware store, druggist, jeweler, blacksmiths, physicians, woodworking shops, a farmer's warehouse, and several other shops and businesses, to include the stave factory, bucket factory, Eagle Pencil Mill.

The big news of course came in 1907 when the Alabama Legislature passed a bill to support a county high school in every county. As described in From Our past III, Gurley won the contest and acquired the high school by donating the Robert Donnell Academy and $2,500. It was sanctioned it would always be called Madison County High School.

Madison High School

This rare photo shows the students outside the newly acquired Madison High School converted from the Robert Donnell Academy. This photo was taken about 1909 or 1910. The high school stayed here until the spring of 1935 when it was demolished and a new Madison County High School was dedicated in 1936.

Fire Station Two

While the new Madison County High school was being completed, the students spent the 1935-1936 school year in the old town hall shown in photo above. The classrooms apparently occupied some of the space on the second floor. This structure was later converted to a fire station. The students were able to move into the new school for the 1937-1938 year. Gurley students would attend the new school until 1998 when the new Madison County High School opened three miles west of Gurley.

Fire has played an important part of Gurley's history. There have been at least three major fires throughout Gurley's history. Most of the wooden buildings that once occupied the downtown section were finally converted to brick in the hopes that this would be a precaution against fire.

Joplin Street in 1905
View another photo shared by Hayes Powers

This photo shows an early view of Joplin Street looking south. The first store on the right was William A. Walker's hardware store. Can you visualize this main street, on a Saturday morning, lined with horses and carriages and people bustling in and out of the stores and shops? The exact date of this photo is not shown but it is estimated around 1910.

Also, note the telephone poles along the street. By 1905, the telephone was pretty well in use in some homes and businesses throughout the area. It would drastically change our methods of communication and help speed up our pace of life in general.

Joplin Street in 2015
Joplin Street in 2015

In 1909, the Gurley Herald newspaper celebrated its 15th anniversary and published an edition that advertised for a cotton factory, flour mill, brick and concrete plant, harness factory, ice plant, steam laundry, and shoe making and repair shop. The Herald's editor also happened to be the mayor and was trying to impress and lure new businesses into our little town of 1200 citizens at the time. He wrote, "Our town, located in the rich agricultural, mineral, and timber belt of Madison County, beyond a doubt, was destined to become a city of considerable size." He also bragged, "No town on earth had a better or purer water supply than Gurley. On Keel's Mountain nearby is one of the finest Chalybeate springs in the world, and the only reason there is not a fine tourist hotel is because the wonderful medicinal qualities of this water is unknown throughout the country."

The photo below shows the inside of the hardware store and gives us an idea of some of the merchandise stocked in the early 1900s. The salesman at the left is showing a customer a small wagon, perhaps for a birthday present for his kids. Another big ticket item was the coal or wood burning stoves displayed at the right of the store. Under the table in the front center are at least six crock butter churns. It is also interesting to note the brand names of the wagons located in front. The center wagon is a Diamond and the two on the outside are Blue Ribbon brand. The glass enclosed cabinets on the left appear to display some pistols and knives and other items of value and those items that were not to be handled by children. It is assumed that most of the goods stocked in the store were similar to many items found in hardware stores today. It is also interesting to observe that like most business men of the day, the hardware salesman in this photo is wearing a three piece suit.

Gurley Hardware Store
Inside view of the Gurley Hardware store

In 1908, something would come along to change the lives of Americans forever. Henry Ford introduced the T-Model Ford automobile. The William A. Walker family, of Gurley, got their first T-Model around 1911 or 1912. The automobile would become a real focal point for families to gather and have their group photos made. It took them to Huntsville in about forty minutes, baring the conditions of the dirt roads and whether or not it had rained the night before.

First Ford T-Model in Gurley
One of the first T-Models in Gurley

Walker T-Model Ford
The Walker family is gathered
around their T-Model

The invention of the automobile produced a most profound change on our American way of life. We could now travel further and faster than ever before. The first T-Model probably appeared in Gurley sometime around 1911. No one at the time could ever imagine how automobiles would eventually give Americans a love affair that would clog our highways and streets all across the country.

Buggy in Gurley First automobiles in Gurley

At the turn of the nineteenth century, who in the town of Gurley would ever believe the old faithful horse and buggy could ever be replaced by a metal horseless carriage chugging into town.