The ancestors of the residents of Oak Hill came from South Carolina and Virginia in the early 1820s. The English ancestors came from Virginia and Charlestown. The majority of the people came from Abbeville District, South Carolina. These people were Associate Reformed Presbyterians, their ancestors having broken from the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. They left their homes in South Carolina in covered wagons with their families, slaves, and farm animals. They had heard that the soil here was rich and the Indians friendly. These strict Presbyterians believed in keeping the Sabbath. Even though they were in a hurry to arrive, they stopped every Saturday at noon to make camp. The men mended the wagons and tended the horses, while the women washed and cooked. Then they spent the Sabbath Day studying the Bible.

  The first families to settle near Oak Hill were Robert Jones and his brother Joseph Jones and Joseph's wife, Mary Bonner Jones. In the fall of 1821 they built big cedar log houses, comfortable and snug. Smaller houses for a barn, kitchen, smoke house, and slave quarters were built around the big house. The two houses were not far apart. These families settled at Hamburg, a beautiful area on Pine Barren Creek.

  As more of the extended families moved to this area, the small community established a church and a school. These settlers were prosperous, but since the community was in the low-lying areas, there were often cases of "the Flux" or malaria. This illness proved fatal for many. The families began a move to what was then called "The Ridge", now Oak Hill, Alabama, in search of a more healthful place to live.   The cemetery at Hamburg (below) remains, with evidence of the prosperity and sorrow experienced by these settlers. hamburg.JPG (53482 bytes)

Soon there was a flourishing community at Oak Hill, with many families building big houses. A school, the Oak Hill Academy, was formed by a small group of investors in 1849. It was built in a grove of oak trees. It opened its doors to the first pupils in 1849 with Rev. Cottrell as its first president and Miss Sally McCracken as his assistant and supervisor of the girls' dormitory. This was a large, stately two-storied building with plastered walls, small rooms and hallways, downstairs porches supported by tall columns.   The rooms, separated by halls, were small but adequate. Thirty-five pupils were enrolled. In 1869 the Oak Hill Female Academy closed its doors, and the building was torn down in the 1940s after falling into decay after years of non-use.

  When Alabama seceded from the Union, the men and boys of Oak Hill began in 1861 to volunteer for various military units of the Confederacy. There were five men lost in the war, the rest were able to return safely home. After the return of the hungry, destitute men at the end of the war, the community settled back into a normal life. 

  After the reconstruction, Oak Hill became a thriving community. At one time there were three doctors, a drug store, a busy blacksmith shop, and five general stores.

  Wilcox County's only governor, Benjamin Meek Miller,was born in Oak Hill in 1864. Nicknamed the "The Sturdy Oak of Wilcox", Gov. Miller served the state during the years of the Great Depression and guided the state through one of the darkest periods in history.

  Over the years, this town has seen many changes in the world around it but the sense of family and community can still be found, much as in the days of the early settlers.


By W.J. Jones


I was born five years before the turn of the twentieth century. This paper is intended to recall some of the places and people that made up Oak Hill during my youth. Really I was urged to do this lest some of these reminiscences be lost as the years go by.

The general characteristics of the community remain much the same although of necessity a good many changes have been made in my recall. It still remains, as always, a quiet church centered culture with very little or no outstanding growth. I imagine the population is about the same as it was when I was a boy.

In 1900 there were five stores in “town”.; The roads were deep sand and pretty well followed the same route as today’s roads except they were much narrower. Just south of the intersection of highway ten and twenty one, J.H. and J.B. McWilliams had a store that looked very much like the old Drug Store. Sometime in the early 1900’s the McWilliams store was closed and torn down. The lumber was used in building the home for Joe McWilliams and his wife Lois Dale. Mrs. Mattie Dale Cravey lives there now. I remember a big white oak tree, now dead, that stood about where the middle of the highway is now and shaded the whole lot. 

This area of town was sort of a rolling hill before it was cut away to make the road. As I remember a Mr. Rowell, who lived near the community, was Clerk. He was assisted by Joe McWilliams and others, who were brought in from time to time. The store presently known as Oak Hill Grocery was built by Mr. J.H. Jones, who moved from a very prosperous business at Old Allenton. There it had been known as Voltz and Jones and did an extensive business in “advancing” farmers. This was a practice whereby a merchant supplied groceries and supplies from planting time and was paid up or “the account settled” at harvest time. It continued as a prosperous business for several years. After Mr. Jones’ death it was operated by several people among whom were Rentz Dunn of Camden, my brother Clark Jones, Ed Jones, F.M. Dale, Keenan Cravey and after his death Mrs. Mattie Dale Cravey. It was remodeled by Mr. Cravey and recently by Mr. Charles Sikes of Greenville, the present owner-operator.

Next stands the Old Drug Store. Owned and operated from the late 1800’s by Dr. James I. Bonner and Prof. W.M. Carothers.During this time there were three doctors in Oak Hill—Dr. Joseph H. Jones, Dr. E.C. McWilliams, and Dr. James I. Bonner, for a number of years. The building is now closed and is owned by Mrs. Rebecca Bonner. A whole paper could be written about this central “loafing center” which was frequented by almost everyone. It was a popular place where checkers were played on the porch when weather permitted. In fall and winter the crowd loafed around the big pot-bellied stove which stood in the middle of the store—and the checker game continued. Many tall tales were told around that stove and on that porch. There was a regular soda fountain and pharmacy in this store as well as a large stock of “general merchandise” from groceries, clothes, and shoes to farm equipment. Our favorite thing was Uncle Jimmy’s chocolate shake which he made with milk that he brought from home each day. Of course the amount was limited and we became pretty disgusted when there was not enough to go around.

About where the front door of Williamson Mercantile is now, there was a large scaleybark and other trees which shaded the dirt surfaced tennis court where many a happy hour was spent either as a player or a spectator. Rackets, nets, and other equipment were stored in the Drug Store. This court was part of the front campus of the Female Institute which was a private school dating back to an earlier period of Oak Hill history. The building, which was located at the center back of the lot, served as a home for Mr. and Mrs. Ed Jones then later for Dr. and Mrs. Joe Hall Jones during my recollection of it. Further information on the Institute may be found in “Bethel ARP Church—Its Houses and People” by Mrs. Joyce C. Jones. The present Dale Brothers Store, gin, etc, now owned by Mildred Kennedy Watson, were not built until I was about grown. It is a duplicate of its predecessor built with an “inside office” where someone always slept for security. Pressley Dale did this most of the time but was sometimes assisted by J.L. (Muddie) and Carlisle Dale. The original Dale Brothers Store stood where the J.C. Dale house is now. It was torn down so a home could be built for J. Carlisle Dale and Gertrude Jones at the time of their marriage. That home is now owned by Gertrude Dale. Dale Brothers was operated many years as a large general merchandise store which did a lucrative “advancing” business furnishing the needs of many farmers and other people in this end of the county. Under the management of Pressley Dale a cotton gin, grist mill, and coffin department were added, cousin Will Young supervised the gin together with a blacksmith shop which he owned and operated. He was assisted in the blacksmith shop by Steve Perkins and John Andrews. Steve did the blacksmithing while cousin Will operated the forge. They handled the heavy sledge hammer which beat out the plow shaves as they were taken red hot from the forge. John Andrews did the necessary wood work and was expert at it. The shop fascinated me as a boy. I enjoyed standing near as Steve and Cousin Will beat out the glowing hot plow to a sharp edge, then dipped it in a large container of water to cool it. The gin was located in the “hollow” just beyond the Dale Brothers Store and the blacksmith shop was the incline between the gin and store.

Just beyond the J.C. Dale home is one of the oldest homes of the Community. Built in about 1848 by Peter Newberry, it served as a manse during the time Dr. Miller preached here. Later it was owned by Julius and Clarkie Dale, and now by John Laurie and Olivia Dale.

A home, occupied by Cousin Mattie and Bet McBryde, stood about where Mrs. Lois Dale Perryman’s home is now. Immediately in front of the Drug Store, across the narrow sandy road, was a frame building.Originally owned by Cousin E.J. (Tennie) McWilliams, this served as an office where he practiced dentistry.After a period of time he quit the dental practice and engaged in the saw mill business which was located near McWilliams, Alabama. Owned and operated by his cousin J.H. McWilliams and himself over a period of years, this was a very successful business and will be recalled a little later in this paper.

After Cousin Tennie went into saw mill business, Martin Van Buren Jones (known as to everyone Van), a highly respected black man opened a barber shop in that building. Van also pressed clothes and sold soft drinks. He said he kept them so cold that he had to dip them out with a fork as they were too cold to handle.

The Masonic Lodge was across the road from the tennis court (between the dirt road and the back of the Tri-Mart) and was a large two story building which housed the Masonic Lodge upstairs and the Post Office downstairs.  Mr. (Bush) McConnico was Worshipful Master of the Masons during my knowledge of it.  I joined the group, learned of the mysteries of the organization during my teenage years.  Cousin Frank McWilliams was my sponsor and I attended for quite a while but grew tired of the repetition of the ritual so gradually away in my attendance.

            Downstairs the Post Office was presided over by Cousin Cal (Doctor) Jones. He was called “doctor” because he performed the necessary dentistry which the community required.  His equipment consisted of one pair of forceps which he wiped off with a rag after each patient and kept stored on a shelf outside the Post Office door.  Mail was sacked in the early morning hours then was sent by horse and buggy to Allenton Depot to be sent off on No. 1 L & N Trail enroute from Selma to Flomaton.  Incoming mail was brought back to the Post Office by the buggy.  In the afternoon the mail buggy met No. 4 L & N Train at Allenton Depot and transported the mail to Oak Hill where it was delivered about 6 p.m.  In the summer months it was customary to gather around the Drug Store steps and await the opening of the mail.  Cousin Will Young had the mail contract and for a long time the mail conveyance was driven by his hireling Chap McBride.  The route was later extended to Darlington so that for a number of years mail was delivered there from the Oak Hill Post Office.

            This brings the story near the end as we attempt to describe the McBryde operation.  This consisted of several business endeavors among which was a mercantile business adjacent to the McBryde home—between the driveway and the house now owned by Mrs. Adele McBryde.  This store burned in the early 1900’s.  In addition to the store, cousin Eugene McBryde owned and operated a livery or transportation service.  He and Aunt Lina operated a boarding facility which took care of the transient business men employed by companies in Selma—generally these people were referred to as “drummers.”  Their territories reached from Oak Hill to pints south in Monroe County where they sold groceries and other products to stores in the area.  The McBryds built a “drummer” room to be used by these traveling men—a room on the side porch which was separated from the rest of the house by a porch.  Cousin Eugene owned four horses and two surries which were handled by two black drivers—Martin Van Buren Jones and Zeke Bonner.  The “drummer” would arrive at Allenton Depot by train, be transported to Oak Hill by Cousin Eugene.  He would then engage one of the drivers with the surry and horse to take him and samples of his merchandise to all the stores scattered around this section of Wilcox and north Monroe County—leaving Oak Hill Monday and returning probably Thursday night.  Aunt Lina was noted for the meals which she served the transient trade.  The story was told that she required her male “guests” to come to the dinner table wearing their coats.  On one occasion a traveling salesman of small statue arrived without his coat.  Aunt Lina took care of the situation by bringing out one of Cousin Eugene’s extra coats and allowing him to dress in this.  Now Cousin Eugene was a full six feet tall and weighed somewhere between 250 and 300 pounds.  Therefore the coat swallowed the poor little salesman to the extent of interfering with his eating.  Cousin Eugene was an interesting character and was endowed with a curiosity that excelled anyone I knew.  He had land at Allenton Depot and went down each week day in his buggy so he was always on hand to transport any who needed conveyance from No. 1 and No. 4 trains.  His charge was probably fifty cents per trip.  The story is told that he was so heavy that over a period of years his buggy seat was pushed way down on the driver’s side leaving the passenger’s seat way up in the air making it necessary for the occupant to hold on to keep from falling out.  Once Major Tom McWilliams was being transported from the train to his home in Oak Hill when the buggy ran over a bump, causing the suitcase which Major was carrying in his lap to fall in the road where the buggy ran over it breaking it open and scattering the Major’s dirty clothes all over the road.  The Major recovered everything and arrived at home with his clothes wadded up in a bundle.  Another McBryde business was the coffin house—located immediately in front of and across the road from his store.  Here he made boxes which were used to bury the poor.  During the spring, e bought blackberries from anyone who would pick them and used the juice as stain for the coffins.

            There were two periods in the history of Oak Hill when I think for a time it seemed we were in for growth and prosperity.  One of these was in the early part of the 1900’s when the McWilliams Lumber Company was thriving.  As has been noted before, this business was located between Oak Hill and McWilliams.  The mill was owned and operated by J.H. and E.T. McWilliams.  The finished lumber was shipped by train from the L & N Railroad station and McWilliams.  The town of McWilliams showed decisive prosperity which was reflected in the establishment of several businesses and enterprise which did a prosperous trade for a length of time.  Perhaps the height of the prosperity of that town was shown when the hotel and boarding facility was owned and operated by Mrs. Pearl Lewis Grimes.  This hotel was known from Selma to Flomaton and had lucrative trade during its period of activity.  The building still stands attesting to its previous prosperity.

            Oak Hill showed growth from the mill’s operation by the building of two homes in our community. One of these was located about two miles from Oak Hill—not far from the present home of Ray Stallworth, and was considered one of the show places of this end of Wilcox County.  It was a large two story frame home with a porch around three sides.  J.H. McWilliams and his family lived here for a number of years.  After the children were grown and the parents had died, the home was sold and eventually torn down.  The lumber was used to build the ARP manse located on a lot near the home of Jack and Ann Williamson

            The other home built during this period was that of Dr. E.T. McWilliams.  While his house was under construction, he and his wife (Cousin Kate) live in this house (where I live now) with his sister Miss Annie Matt McWilliams(who later became the wife of Dr. S.S. Boykin).  In fact their son, Richebourg, was born here.  It is said that Cousin Tennie picked out each piece of heart pine lumber which went into the construction of that house.  It still reflects beauty and permancy—remaining as one of the lovely spots of the community.  Cousin Tennie and his family lived there until Cousin Kate’s death then he and Richbourg moved back to this house.  The McWilliams house is now the home of Julius and Avis Dale.

            The second “near prosperity” for the Oak Hill community was the oil well development that occurred in the early years of this century.  The site of the drilling was several mils south of the former Caledonie Post Office on the Bob White property—not too far from the McWilliams community. For a time the interest in this business venture ran high. A corporation was formed and stock in the oil well development was sold over a large area of Wilcox and parts of Dallas counties.  Known as McWilliams Oil, Gas and Mineral Company, shares of capital stock were sold at $10.00 each in 1907.  J.H. Jones was president of and E.T. McWilliams secretary.  A number of copies of this stock can be found today in family safes or other security places in Oak Hill and surrounding area.  The well was abandoned due to lack of evidence of oil in sufficient abundance to support the expense of the well.     

            Prior to the late 1870’s and early 1880’s those who died in the community were buried at the Old Hamburg Cemetery which is a very beautiful spot, now owned by the Oak Hill ARP Church.  It was a gift to the church by the Bonner brothers (Bill, Joe Robins, and James) of Camden when they sold their other Hamburg holding to Mr. Bain Henderson some several years ago.  It is one of the most beautiful and serene spots in Wilcox County.  The lot is a perfect tableland providing a view for miles around in every direction from the center where the grave of the founder, Joseph Jones stands.

            In my thinking the most beautiful and most hallowed spot in the world is the present Oak Hill Cemetery which is located immediately behind the church building on a decline facing east.  Here rest the rich and poor, the esteemed and the humble.  The tomb just to the left of the entrance of the cemetery is that of Dr. & Mrs. H.M. Henry.  These graves were placed as near as possible to the church pulpit which he filled so ably for fifty-four years and seven months.  The Henry’s grave appropriately bears the inscription “The Keepers of His Flock.”  One grave about half-way the cemetery, marked by a small headpiece is that of Hardy Dulaney, a slave, who was a loyal friend and servant of Dr. Joseph Harvey Jones, my father.

            I have imagined that the first rays of morning sun break through the early dawn and then linger there longer than anywhere in the community.  I have also imagined that the evening shadows fall slower as the day closes and the quiet of the night comes.  Recently as I stood at the graves of my loved ones, I felt that the quietness of the night must be more profound there than any place on earth.  I am reminded of a couplet but I cannot recall its author—

            “And sometimes in the twilight gloom apart

            The tall trees whisper heart to heart,

            From my fond lips the eager answers fall,

            Thinking I hear thee; thinking I hear thee call—“

              This paper was made possible only because of the help give me by Mrs. Rebecca Bonner who suggested that the paper be written to preserve some of the community history of the years I recall.  She assisted in preparing copies of my transcript as well as in the final wording of the paper.

W. J. Jones

Oak Hill, Alabama

April, 1982



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