Hazy history characterizes Hartselle origins
By Jennifer L. Williams
For the Enquirer
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series to commemorate Hartselle’s sesquicentennial in 2020.
This year marks the 150th anniversary – the sesquicentennial – of the city of Hartselle.
Or does it?
“We had our big centennial celebration in 1970,” said David Burleson, treasurer of the Hartselle Historical Society and member of one of the oldest families in the community. “So celebrating the 150th year this year just makes sense.”
The actual date of the founding of Hartselle, however, is somewhat murky, he added. “It depends on what you go by.”
Going by when there was an established community, the date can be as early as the 1850s. A post office called Hartsels was established in 1869, in an area a few miles west of the current city center on U.S. Highway 36 east of Woodall’s Bridge. What is considered to be the first post office for the town of Hartselle, on the other hand, was established as Hartsell’s in 1873.
The first work train came through the town in 1870, and the Alabama Legislature officially recognized the town of Hartsell in 1875.
“People have in mind that the town of Hartselle sprung up around the railroad,” said Burleson, “but the truth is, there was already a community here.”
In 1833 George Hartsell of North Carolina purchased 40 acres of land from William P. Carolan. Using today’s landmarks, the tract would be basically adjacent to the north side of Cedar Hill Cemetery – now Hartselle City Cemetery – on either side of what is now Railroad Street and including the locations of the now-gone Hartselle Pond, Morgan County Fairgrounds and the Civilian Conservation Camp.
The 1850 census lists George and his family as living on the property. That included oldest son, Jonathan Hartsell, listed as having the occupation of schoolteacher, indicating a school was likely located in that immediate area.
The Morgan County Commission named “Hartsell’s” as one of nine voting places in the county in 1853, so George Hartsell’s property seemed to be a destination for several reasons, Burleson said.
“There’s even a diary by Roby Burleson from 1866 that mentions traveling to ‘Hartsell’s’ on three different occasions – to vote, to check on having some brandy made from his peach crop and to meet his brother,” said Burleson, who is a descendant of the 1866 diary-writer.
Burleson has long been a history buff and has kicked his research on local history into high gear since his retirement from the banking industry last year.
“I started putting together all this early history of Hartselle that I’d found,” he said, “with the goal of giving out these booklets at our (Historical Society) Lunch and Learn, but now I plan to print out some copies and give them out to people if they are interested.”
Burleson said data and records for the early years in Hartselle’s history can be hard to find or authenticate.
“Deeds were not always recorded when or where they should have been,” he said, “and a lot of records have just been lost over the years.
“It’s funny, though: The more I found out, the more I have found I don’t know.”