DOUBLE SPRINGS - This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Bankhead National Forest. To celebrate, an author and former archaeologist with the forest service was a guest speaker recently at a Winston County Genealogical Society meeting.
Robert G. Pasquill Jr., is the author of “The Civilian Conservation Corps in Alabama, 1933-1942” and “Planting Hope on Worn-Out Land: History of the Tuskegee Land Utilization Project”. His topic was the early history of the Bankhead National Forest and how it evolved from public lands and became the first national forest in Alabama in 1918.
In 1891, a national forest reservation commission was formed, and the U.S. Forest Service was created in 1905.
Teddy Roosevelt was interested in creating a national forest in the east in the Appalachian Mountains. Why? Pasquill explains:
“They were the highest mountain peaks east of the Rockies, (they had) the heaviest rainfall in the United States except for the Pacific Northwest and erosion coming off of the rivers.” He mentioned river travel was still major at this point in time. Conservation was important as well.
“By 1913, federal government spent over nine million dollars for improvements in building locks and dams, creating 400 miles of navigable waterway on the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers,” Pasquill said. “The watershed is in Lawrence County.”
A large portion of land was still in the possession of the U.S. Government. Land not in the hands of the government was offered to be bought by the Alabama Purchasing Unit.
On January 15, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the area as the Alabama National Forest, once enough land had been purchased to make it a feasible forest.
Pasquill’s presentation included many pictures, with some of them being rarely-seen photographs of early places in northwest Winston County.
One was of the Haleyville Hunters and Fisher’s Club, started in 1925. They were some of the best promoters of the national forest at the time. They rented five acres of land for the club which is today in the vicinity of the Sipsey Recreation Area. After a fire in 1933, the lodge was not rebuilt, and the club ceased to exist.
Another photo was of a store in Rabbittown called the National Forest Barbecue and Dew (Do) Drop Inn. This was not the famous Forest Inn tavern. The Dew Drop was located at the intersection of Cranal and Kinlock roads, where one turns to go toward Hwy. 33 and the Sipsey Recreation Area.
The Alabama National Forest was renamed Black Warrior National Forest on June 19, 1936, then to William B. Bankhead National Forest on June 6, 1942.
The next meeting of the Winston County Genealogical Society will be Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the archives.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.