A short history of Roanoke, Alabama.
Prior to the removal of the remaining Creek tribes in 1836, the area which became Roanoke, Alabama was inhabited by natives of the Muscogee Indians. The region was covered with virgin forests; chinquapin grew sometimes for miles in length, bent into umbrella shape loaded down with fruit, and when ripened, the grandest and most interesting sight the eye ever be-held. Walnuts, hazelnuts, and red and black haw were plentiful. Chortle and gooseberries, when not burned over in the fall and winter, were never failing crops, on which men, beast and bird lived luxuriously. New ground made fine corn, wheat, oats, potatoes, pumpkins, and watermelons grew to perfection. Horsed needed no feed unless worked. Cattle wintered well and their owners drove great herds to market (in West Point, Georgia) and kept the people supplied with money. Hogs kept fat in the woods and the supply of meat was bountiful. Game was plentiful; sometimes as many as 15 or 20 deer could be seen herded together; a large drove of wild turkeys was a common thing; squirrels (gray and fox), opossums, and rabbits were numerous; wild ducks, pigeons and black birds came in flocks and wintered here. With all of these good things to eat and enjoy, the pioneers also had the wolf, cat, fox, opossum, mink, owl, and hawk.
There were occasionally, incidents with Native Americans. Roanoke was originally called High Pine when it was settled in the early 1830s. The entire town was burned to the ground by the natives during the Creek uprising in 1836. For a short period of time, the name was changed to Chulafinnee, but soon afterward changed to Roanoke. The town was incorporated by an Act of Legislature on December 13, 1900.
James Furlough (or Furlow) was possibly the first white man to live where Roanoke now stands. He came from Georgia (as most settlers did) and built a house at the crossroads of Rock Mills to Louina and the Wedowee and West Point Road. It became the nucleous for the town of Roanoke. He also built a store in 1835. Lisa Wood is the first (known) white child born in Randolph County. She married Fletcher Haynes and was living in Roanoke about 1860.
Other early settlers of Roanoke include Wiley McClendon who built a dry goods store. Dr. W. E. White and brother lived where the Cedarwood Cemetery now stands. This is where the first church was built and was Methodist. Roanoke’s first Baptist Church stood on the north side of High Pine Creek where the bridge crosses the creek on the Wedowee Road. Two logs were laid on the ground at each end and a post stood about ten feet high. On tope was a split log weather boarded with boards riven out of pine. It had a dirt floor and logs for seats. When Benager Goss came to Roanoke from Heard County, Georgia, a Missionary Baptist preacher, he moved the church to Roanoke and built where it now stands and for years was the preacher. The First Baptist church of Roanoke never changed from its first location. The present day building (2010) was built in 1901 – 1902. The first person to be baptized in the new church was William Anderson Handley, one of Roanoke’s most celebrated citizens.
Isham Thornton came from Troup County, Georgia and built on a lot adjoining that to fthe Baptists. His house was the first house painted in Roanoke. He made buggies. He built a little corn ill and wool factory on the creek where the Louina Road crosses. Griff Wilson ran the wool factory. W.B. Nichols bought the factory. He was the father of F. Park Nichols who later became Mayor of Roanoke, sold insurance, and was the first embalmer and funeral home director in Roanoke.
The Schuessler’s were early bankers in Roanoke and important to economic stability. The Mickles were important to the education of Roanoke and built many fine houses on College Street. Additionally, the Moores, Wrights, Weathers, Faucetts, McMurrays, Handley, and Baker families were important to the early economic building up of the town, Main Street, and education. The McDonald Hotel was built where Yates Motor Company later stood. Hugh Hathorn (Hawthorn) was an early settler and buried near his home. It is said that he built one of the best houses in Roanoke.
The first railroad came to Roanoke in 1887. The Central of Georgia ran a short line from Opelika, to LaFayette, to Buffalo, to Roanoke. This railroad eventually extended the rail to the W. A. Handley Manufacturing Company on Knight Avenue in the early 1960s. The tracks were taken up in the 1980s. The second railroad laid tracks through Roanoke and Randolph County in 1907 when the Atlanta, Birmingham, and Atlantic (A.B.& A.) built a depot on Maple Drive and extended the line from Evansville, Georgia, to Roanoke, to Wadley and beyond. This line is still used today (2010) by the CSX railroad line.
In 1901, Roanoke acquired its greatest economic profit when the W.A. Handley Manufacturing Company was built along with the Lowell Mill Village. The mill produced yarn, canvas, and fabric throughout its history. For more than 70 years, the mill was the economic backbone of the town, along with the Palm Beach Company which produced men’s sportswear and hired mostly the female population. The Handley Mill was built by local stockholders under the leadership of Z.J. Wright and William Anderson Handley. The first Superintendent was Fountain Pitts Randle from the Wehadkee Mill in Rock Mills. During the first year of operation, Randle’s health declined and Harvey Enloe came from the Riverview Mill in Chambers County and became Superintendent at the Handley Mill. Following his death in 1935, his son, Page Enloe, became Superintendent. Following his death, his son, Page Enloe, Jr. became Superintendent until 1965.
During the life of the mill, bankruptcies interrupted the success on two occasions. In 1921, following the tremendous success of military contracts during World War I, the mill was devastated when the contracts ceased and no other orders in sight. The Mill lost local ownership and was bought by the Cavanaugh family in New York in 1922. B.J. Barry became superintendent. Again, in 1971, Handley Mill fell on hard times as the foreign export of cotton manufacturing influenced American manufacturing. The Handley Mill could no longer gain sufficient orders to remain open. Over 1200 people were without jobs and the unemployment rate for Roanoke rose to 25% in one month. Canton Mills in Cherokee County, Georgia bought the mill and a few employees were hired back. For twelve years, the mill limped along and sought orders but never revisited the glory days prior to 1970. The building was eventually sold, dismantled, and sold piece by piece up the New England coast to home-builders. The smoke stacks were blasted and the property is an open field today. (2010)
The Palm Beach Company closed in 1984, contributing to the downfall of Roanoke’s local economy and the death of Main Street businesses. An example of the impact is found in the history of the Carter Shoe Store which opened on Main Street in the early 1920s and closed just after the Handley Mill and Palm Beach closed.
In 1978, Amoco Fabric and Fibers opened and brought a breath of life back to Roanoke with the hiring of several hundred employees. Candlewick Yarns, Stephanie Fashions, Fashion Star, Steel-Fab, Inc., The Randolph County Hospital and Rolane were other large employers and helped to maintain the town with sufficient economic levels. The Roanoke City Schools System supports Handley High School, Handley Middle School, and the Knight-Enloe School. Handley High School evolved from the Roanoke Normal College. The college was successful from its beginning in 1845. In 1907, W.A. Handley gave land and buildings to the school system, at which time the name was changed and has remained a strong point for the city and the thousands of successful students which have graduated under the banner of Handley High.
After the highway 431 by-pass was built in the 1970s, many businesses moved to the by-pass in an effort to court passengers traveling the highway. The once successful Main Street suffered as a result. Some of the important and popular businesses which once stood on Main Street were: Griffin and Satterwhite Hardware, Handley Hardware, Phillips Brothers Hardware, Drivers Drug Store, City Pharmacy, Brown’s Pharmacy, Belk-Gallants, Steinbachs, McGilvary’s Ladies Wear, Mac Diamonds Men’s Wear, Cohen’s, Western Auto, Ben Franklin, Laird’s 5 & 10, Edco, Southern 5 & 10, and Top Dollar. Eating establishments on Main were City Café, Brown’s Café, and Snax Deli.
Roanoke has always promoted religious events, school parades, Christmas plays and parades, and sent citizens to every war that America has been involved in. The town votes overwhelmingly Democrat and citizens attend religious services among several denominations including Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Independent Baptist, Nazarene, Christian, Church of God, Holiness, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and non-denominational.
The city of Roanoke’s municipal buildings consist of the City Jail on West Point Street, City Hall on Main Street, and the Fire Department on Chestnut Street and highway 431. The Randolph County Historical Museum, Inc. is located on Main Street in the former Post Office Building, built in 1941.
Additional information and history of Roanoke, Alabama can be found at the Museum and the Annie L. Awbrey Library on College Street.
(Written for the City of Roanoke by Rhonda Bailey Baldwin)