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Rainsville's history

Background history

Alabama became the 22nd state in 1819. Even though Hunstville in north Alabama was the first state capital and white settlers were coming there in large numbers, it was over 25 years before white settlers started moving into the north Alabama lands where Rainsville now sits. Two major factors accounted for this fact. DeKalb County was part of the lands owned by the Cherokee nation until their forced removal started (Rainsville is in DeKalb County). DeKalb County and neighboring Marshall and Cherokee counties were each founded 11 days after the Cherokees ceded these lands to the federal government in 1836. The second factor was geographic. These lands were isolated by the Tennessee River and the mountain terrain.

Settlement of the region did began in earnest when the Cherokee started vacating the area in 1837. Many settlers came from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. Pouring into the valleys between Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain, settlers favored the lower grounds. The steep slopes and cliffs of the mountains were obviously a strong geographical barrier. By the 1860s several of the valley towns of northeast Alabama - Gadsden, Bellefonte (just north of present-day Scottsboro), Guntersville, Centre and Lebanon - appeared on pre-Civil War maps. At that time the area that is now downtown Rainsville remained a rough, frontier crossing deep in the woods.

Between 1860 and 1880 that slowly started to change. By that time Wills Valley had the railroad and a growing population along the rail route at Fort Payne, Portersville, Lebanon and Collinsville. More people were moving into the area, pushing deeper into the woods, and eventually some hardy pioneers started carving out their lives on Sand Mountain.

Settlers make the move to Rainsville

There are graves that are over 140 years old in cemeteries inside the current Rainsville city limits. 

Some of the earliest known settlers came to the lands that are now downtown Rainsville between 1885 and 1895 including the Henry Thompson family, the Cicero Dawson family, the Parris family, and the Alphonso Robertson family. Several other families had settled in surrounding areas that are now inside Rainsville's city limits before 1885. Two of the earliest settlers were the James Marion Dawson family, and the Wooten family. Between 1880 and 1905, other families moved into areas around Town Creek Church, near where Plainview school is today, or other land on the outer edges of today's city. Those including the James family, the William R. Blalock family, the J.G. DeShields family, the Henry Patton family, the Durham family (Chavies), the John Marshall family, the General McCurdy family and others.

Around 1892 or 1893, the brothers Joe Franklin Parker and John Tolbert (Tol) Parker came to what is now downtown Rainsville. They grew up in the valley near Lebanon, and as young men they chose to trade their horses for some Sand Mountain real estate. Within a few years, each had large, growing families and growing assets. Joe and Tol would be among the enterprising leaders in the township. At one time, the Parker brothers owned several hundred acres of land in Rainsville.

In 1902, Will Rains moved to today's downtown area from Grove Oak. In 1907, he built the first store in town just west of the crossroads of present-day Alabama Highway 35 and 75. Tom Everett put up a cotton gin in Rainsville in 1908. By 1910, Joe Parker operated a saw mill, grist mill, and a gin. Tol Parker had bought the Rains' general store. According to an article in the July 15, 1914 issue of the Fort Payne Journal, the Parkers bought the Horton bottling works and moved it from Chavies to Joe's saw mill in downtown Rainsville.

During the first two decades of the 20th century more families moved to Rainsville including the Elijah Jackson Downey family, the Charles Alonzo Tumlin family, the Z.A. Land family, the lee Harrison family, the James Hardy Benefield family, the Almarine Dawson family, the David Hall family, the D. Gray family, the Bert Brannon family, the O.F. Pertree family and the L.M. Willingham family.

JPG of Land family with wagon and mules

Edward Elijah McCurdy was a prominent merchant and farmer who moved to Rainsville in 1911. His wife Susan Lofton McCurdy was the first teacher of the second school in Rainsville in 1912. In 1926, Mr. McCurdy was elected to the county commission court for the third district. He helped lead the efforts to make the roads that led into Rainsville state highways. From 1912 until the early 1950s, Mrs. McCurdy taught thousands of students at various schools in the area. The portion of Highway 75 in the Rainsville city limits is named McCurdy Avenue in honor of "Uncle Ed" and "Aunt Susie."

The schools and churches shaped the 20th century in Rainsville

One hundred years ago, Sand Mountain life revolved around row crops, church and school. In 1906, there was no school at Rainsville, or Parker Town as the crossroads area was known at the time.

The first church in the town was a Methodist church that preceded Parker Town by about 12 or 13 years. From the early 1870s to the late 1890s it was housed in a log building. When Rainsville began to emerge the church resting between Rainsville and Chavies, where the Chavies Missionary Baptist Church was organized in 1903. Today's Robertson Chapel United Methodist Church has its roots in that first methodist church, and is located adjacent to where the log cabin stood.

Many times in that era, churches and schools shared the same building. Other rural schools of the era were started when the parents of a large family decided to provide an education for their children. Some built one-room private schools on their own property. Others teamed up with neighbors or relatives to build a school, often on donated land. There was a Shiloh School, DeShields School, Hall's School, Pope School, and Chavies School all within two or three miles of the crossroads of Parker Town. There are 98 schools included on a 1908 list found in the book History of DeKalb County Schools.

Chavies had a well established public school prior to most communities in and around modern Rainsville - by one account about 10 years earlier than the Parker School. Chavies preceding Rainsville as a center of commerce with merchants and mills. It was not inside Rainsville's corporate limits until the late 20th century.

Lola Hall Tucker, a daughter of Sand Mountain icon Dr. J.D. "Old Doc" Hall, wrote A History of Chavies that was included in a number of publications. She stated that she remembered starting to school in 1897. She described the school as a one-room building that had been there for many years. "It was furnished with homemade desks wide enough to seat two students," she wrote. "My first teacher was Mrs. Ida Davis Yewell, a native of Lookout Mountain. I do not remember my first day of school, but I do remember the first words I learned were The Fort Payne Journal."

Teachers were paid by the parents and earned very little. The school year lasted about three months in most cases - two months in the summer and a month in the winter. The children weren't as busy on the farm during those three months, so they went to school.

The first school in downtown Rainsville, Parker School, opened in 1907. It shared a tiny building that was also Rainsville's first known commercial establishment - Will Rains' store. Lillie Durham was the first teacher. The oneroom building was at the southwest corner of the crossroads. Tol Parker is credited with starting that first school. His and his brother's children accounted for most of the first students. Later that same year, a new Parker School building was erected. Its location was on the grounds of the present day First Baptist Church. The school building served as a multipurpose facility. On Sunday it was the village's church. It was around this time residents started referring to the settlement and its school as Rainsville.

In 1912, a new three room, three teacher Rainsville School was built with Susie McCurdy as its schoolmaster. With a new school building, the first school building could be used exclusively as the baptist church. During the railroad speculation years of 1913 to 1915, it was known as the the Santileon City Church. Today's First Baptist Church grew out of that original baptist church at the old Parker School.

From 1900 to 1912, schools had just started to be supported by the government, and money was scarce. "The professional few who had no work for their children at home would subscribe to a fund to supplement what public funds that were available, to have a much longer term, sometimes as long as nine months in a year," according to Tucker. "Children who had to work in the fields could go to school when farm work was done."

Over at Chavies, the school and the community became known for an outstanding music program and for producing many teachers including Mrs. Tucker herself. In her essay Tucker tells about early days when the 45 children of five Durham brothers, and the 11 children in her immediate family supported a full-time teacher. "Eighteen of these 56 children became school teachers," she declared.

The Chavies Missionary Baptist Church "was organized in the loft or attic of the old water mill building. Church was held in the mill until a two-story house was built on the old school ground to replace the one-room building. The upper story was used by Masons and Odd Fellows. The ground floor was used for school and church," says Tucker.

"The school was the center of community activities, such as spelling bees, box suppers, tacky parties, and debates," Tucker continues. The school grew "to the extent that the large room was divided and another teacher employed. Later a third teacher was employed and the upper grades were moved upstairs into the lodge hall," according to Tuckers essay.

Dozens of families moved in to Rainsville during the later 1910s. They kept coming in the 1920s and the automobile began to be as common as the mule and horse. Schools evolved as government control resulted in improvements. Education had started to become a standard rather than an option for parents.

In the 1930s, buses came and school consolidation became the big story for years to come. Plainview Junior High School, as it was when it opened in the 1930s, represented the merger of Chavies and Rainsville schools, it also accommodated the junior high students of several feeder schools in the surrounding area. Plainview, which opened in 1936, had over a dozen feeder schools, although not necessarily all at one time. Through the 1940s, 50s and 60s, feeder schools were eventually eliminated altogether as the modern, government provided education further evolved.

How did Plainview School get its name? There are at least four published variations of the story. Two of them provide more detail than the others while telling almost identical tales, but crediting two men with naming it. The one thing for certain is the decision to consolidate Chavies School and Rainsville School had been made, and the new building would be ready by 1936. Naturally, some local residents wanted to call it Chavies and some wanted to call it Rainsville. There were probably others who thought a fresh, new name would be most appropriate. On a cool October morning, the DeKalb County School trustees and superintendent George Hulme met at the site of the school ­ which was probably under construction ­ to discuss the situation. Hulme and John Hopper, one of the two men that donated land for the school, were conversing when one of them made a statement similar to this one: "It doesn't matter to me what we call it, but it is in plain view of each community." The other gentleman immediately remarked that since it was truly in plain view they should adopt that as the name. After a vote by the trustees, the name became official.

Plainview was a junior high school from 1936 until 1957. Its first class of seniors graduating in 1959.

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