Rediscovered: a slice of Butler County history

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Editor's note: The accompanying column appreared in the Montgomery Advertiser on April 6, 1969 when MacGuire was serving that periodical as state editor. Hopefully its reprint in The Advocate will be of interest to our readers, particurlarly those who have an interest in matters historical.

RIDGEVILLEWanted: A slice of history, untarnished, untouched, in the form of real estate.

Found: A slice of history, as requested,

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It was discovered last week in the nortwest corner of Butler County although it had been there for centuries uncounted.

Actually it would be more proper to say it had been discovered sooner than last week, much sooner, but was rediscovered last week.

It is a section known locally as The Ridge, one of the last outcroppings of the Appalachians according to the late Peter Brannon, who served for years as director of Alabama's Department of Archives and History,

The Ridge extends about eight miles along a natural watershed that turns the rains toward Cedar Creek on the north and toward Wolf Creek on the south.

On Butler County Road 61, the Ridge starts abouttwo miles nortwest of Manningham Community and extends on down to the foot of The Ridge, just beyond Ridgeville. That is where Cedar and Wolf creeks meet and flow on as Cedar Creek,

Along that eight mile ridge there is one spot that is referred to as The Devil's Backbone. It is a stretch, about the length of two football fields placed end to end, where the top of the ridge is scarcely wider than the road that traverses it.

One of

South Alabama's leading historians, the late Mrs. Richard M. Crenshaw (nee Myra Ware Williams), took time out from a busy schedule to recount much of the early history of the area.

Mrs. Crenshaw has in her possession numerous authentic documents, personal letters, invoices and receipts to substantiate her contentions.

The earliest white setllers arrived in the area, Mrs. Crenshaw relates, around 1817 or 1818, just before Alabama attained statehood, Prior to that time the Indians had inhabited The Ridge.

Among those pioneers were the Pattons, Braggs, Womacks, Lewis', Livingstons, Waters, Colemans, Littles, Mannings, and of course the Crenshaws.

It was felt during that period that high ground was relatively free of fever. Numerous clear springs were found along The Ridge and the good water was a drawing card that caused the area to be thickly inhabited.

The Ridge Road was on a direct line from Greenville to Cahaba, Alabama's first capital, and thus was a heavily traveled artery.

And when the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa in 1826 or 1827, the road continued as part of the main road from Greenville to Tuscaloosa.

The Ridge Road connected with the Old Federal Road and it was dotted with many post offices and stage stops. Much of the social life of Butler County in those years was centered at Manningham. The community boasted many marcantile establishments, saloons and churches.

Freight started moving along the Alabama River by steamboat around 1830. The Ridge lay in a line with Greenville's closest landing on that stream.

Merchants would travel over The Ridge on their way from Greenville to Elm's Bluff, the main point (probably in Wilcox County) for picking up merchandise.

The thickly settled area continued to flourish until the advent of railroad lines from Montgomery to Greenville in about 1860. The state capital by this time had been moved to Montgomery, and many of the inhabitants of The Ridge started their move toward the urbanized center at Greenvllle. Since that time, however, some of the structures have been obliterated from the scene. Numerous farm outbuildings remain the same today as they were when built prior to the War between the States.

And several of the ante bellum residences, rich in the tradition of that era, remain virtually unchanged from the days they were constructed.

Perhaps the oldest home on The Ridge is the Anderson Crenshasw home, reportedly built in 1835. It is inhabited today by the David Crenshaw family, direct descendants of the original owner.