Monday, November 30, 2015

A Visit to Camp Hill, Alabama (1)

This past July my brother Richard and I made one of our annual trips seeking Alabama and family history. This time we were in east central Alabama mainly around Brundidge and Camp Hill. We visited several other places I've already written about such as Smuteye, Union Springs and Aberfoil. I'll be doing a future post on Tallassee and a second one on Camp Hill. A decade or more ago mom and two of her sisters, Heth and Marjorie, made a similar trip to Brundidge and Camp Hill; some things have changed, others not so much.

We visited Camp Hill on a hot Sunday morning. We had already been to Brundidge the day before, also a very hot late July morning. The heat was about the only thing in common between the two cities. Brundidge seemed to be a thriving small town; Camp Hill is a sad and hollow shell of its former vibrant past. Mom says she and her sisters practically wept at the sight of the town where they had lived for a few years in the 1930's and remembered so fondly.

In the 2000 U.S. Census the population of Camp Hill was 1,273 people. More recent estimates in 2014 give the population as 992 or 947.

The Encyclopedia of Alabama has this summary of Camp Hill's history:

"The Camp Hill area began to be settled by the early 1830s just before Creek Indian Removal. The community initially was referred to as either Burnt Bull or Ashbank. The name Camp Hill most likely came from the area's popularity as a camping place.

"Camp Hill remained primarily a farming community throughout the 1850s and 1860s. The Savannah and Memphis Railroad came through in 1870, bringing with it increased settlement. Camp Hill incorporated in 1895, and its economy at this time was fueled primarily by cotton gins and a brickyard. In 1898, Universalist minister Lyman Ward founded the Southern Industrial Institute to educate underprivileged rural youth. In 1948, it was renamed the Lyman Ward Military Academy."

The military academy is one of the few thriving institutions left in Camp Hill. Lyman Ward was a fascinating individual; you can learn more about him here. He even ran for governor in 1946 as a Republican, but was soundly defeated by Democrat Jim Folsom. More information about the Universalist Church of American is here.

Lyman Ward [1868-1948]

Source: Wikipedia

First Universalist Church of Camp Hill

This cornerstone gives the basic dates. 

An historical marker offers more information on just how a Universalist Church ended up in a tiny town in east Alabama in the late nineteenth century. 

The church and its grounds are obviously cared for, but a congregation has not met here in many years. 

This church is now the Gracefulness Baptist Church. When mom and her family lived in Camp Hill, it was the Methodist Church where my grandfather, John Miller Shores, was minister. He served the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church for some 55 years. 

 This house was apparently the parsonage for the Methodist Church when mom and family lived there. Mom remembers a large open space between the parsonage and the church. Another house is between this one and the church, but a more modern one. Mom also remembers a large front porch, which seems to fit this house. 

Richard spotted the top of this house as seen in the second photograph below. This large structure is well-hidden in an otherwise nice neighborhood. The decay foreshadowed what we saw later in Camp Hill's former downtown. 

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