PROFILE: Original county seat
Published 3:59 pm Monday, April 4, 2016
The following article was part of the Profile 2016 special section of The Luverne Journal. The section in its entirety can be found in the March 31 edition of The Luverne Journal.
While traveling through the homey town of Rutledge, a historic marker just might catch your eye. It has been said that those outside the town are sometimes unable to see the charm and history of the town, but for those who call it home, they wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. In reference to the surrounding cities, Rutledge lies roughly 50 miles south of Montgomery, 25 miles west of Troy and 20 miles east of Greenville. The town is surrounded by a vast agricultural area, and is connected to the commercial world by the Alabama Midland system of roads.
“I love Rutledge; I’m not from here, but I got here as quick as I could. It’s a sweet little place. The whole county’s such a nice place,” said Mayor Beth Rogers. “I still always try to think about how my decisions are going to affect everyone. I try to pray for Rutledge, the folks who live here and the folks who work here every day.”
Rogers has served as the mayor of the town for the past three years.
The Town of Rutledge, as it is currently known, was originally named Barber’s Crossroads before 1867, but was changed to Crenshaw for a brief period of time. The town was elected as the county seat after being named Crenshaw.
Crenshaw also participated in its first state constitutional convention in 1867, and the county sent James H. Howard as the representative.
Soon after, the town was officially named Rutledge on June 10, 1876, in honor of Captain Henry Rutledge of Company H. 59th Alabama Infantry Regiment, C.S.A. who was killed in battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia.
The first mayor of the town was the honorable J.J. Owens, who served for several terms. Historical accounts of the town note that there were a few secret societies in the town, such as the Rutledge Lodge of A.F. and A.H., the Thomas M. Bragg chapter of Royal Arch Masons and the Rutledge Lodge Knights of Pythias.
Rutledge’s first newspaper was The Lancet, which was established and owned by Captain Frank Balzell. In September of 1889, the paper was removed to Luverne and The Rutledge Wave was established in January 1890.
From March 1876 until May 1893, Rutledge held the county seat. In 1889, Luverne residents began working on getting the county seat moved from Rutledge to Luverne. A political debate occurred and the move of the county seat was voted on and passed. According to Rogers, this debate was the biggest to ever take place in the town, and to this day citizens of Rutledge can be heard joking about their “stolen seat.”
The move took place after an election on Jan. 3, 1893, and all county records were moved on Jan. 5.
For many years, Rutledge was a thriving community, but after the construction of the Alabama Midland Railroad from Montgomery to Luverne in 1880, traffic by-passed the town.
Rogers hopes in the future to see more businesses come to Rutledge. While bigger corporations might seem like the obvious choice, she would like to see more locals take up the challenge.
“We have people saying all the time to add a chain store of some kind, but I’d just as soon see local folks build their own business and be successful,” Rogers said. “I think another restaurant would do great in Rutledge. We’ve got a lot of potential and I’d love to see us living up to it.”
Rogers has always been proud to call Rutledge her home, and she will tell anyone willing to listen about her town and its charm.
“I’m blessed that I have a very good council; between them and a few other trusted folks around town who I can use as experts in different areas, they all help me make the most educated choices I can,” Rogers said. “My goal is to leave Rutledge better than I found it; I want it to grow and be as prosperous as it can.”