Henry County Siftings
By T. Larry Smith
Vol. 14, No. 47
Headland’s 140th Anniversary, 1871-2011
Happy birthday Headland! The City of Headland, Alabama, the largest town in Henry County, is now 140 years old this year. Headland was founded by the town’s namesake, James Joshua Head (1839-1927), in 1871 near the crossroads of the old Newton – Columbia Road and the Eufaula, Alabama – Marianna, Florida Mail Road. A scattering of settlers and farmers were living in the piney woods area. The one room church and school of the Baptist Church of Christ at Bethlehem had been organized in 1867 with a few members, and stood at the north end of present Cleveland Street; this church grew into the present First Baptist Church of Headland now on East Church Street. The Piney Grove Primitive Baptist Church had been established in 1849 near the three cornered pond just west of the present farmer’s co-op in Headland, but later removed to its present location on hwy 173 within the present city limits.
J. J. Head was a Confederate Army veteran from Henry County, Georgia (what a coincidence). He had attended the University of Georgia and became a teacher, a large land owner, a farmer, a merchant, a politico, and later a medical doctor. J. J. Head and wife, Lucinda “Lutie” Head, were seeking new opportunities after the Civil War ended. They came into Henry County, Alabama in 1866 and first settled in Abbeville when Head was age 27; he later became Principal of the reopened Abbeville Academy. He ran for the office of Henry County School Superintendent in 1869, but lost. J. J. Head purchased a 160 acre land claim from William Whitehead and wife, in 1869, excluding the land upon which the little Baptist Church of Christ at Bethlehem stood. This church later relinquished the name of Bethlehem to a new church congregation which is still operating east of Headland. Mr. Head had a vision for a new town to be carved out of the flat wooded wilderness with standing ponds, and he continued to buy additional lands. In 1871, J. J. Head staked off the public square with the intentions of having a Henry County Branch Court House to locate on the square; he platted and laid out commercial lots first on the south and west sides of the square. Head built his home just northeast of the square on present Cleveland Street, with the place then being called “Head’s Land” by the few local area settlers. An application was presented for a U.S. Post Office, which was soon established at Head’s Land on October 10, 1871 and opened as “Headland, Alabama,” with William Lane as the first Postmaster. Mr. Head served as the second postmaster from 1874-1880. The village grew slowly with only a few business lots being sold, along with several large residential lots.
Mr. Head sold the unsold platted portion of the little village of Headland, including the public square, in 1879, to Hosey C. Powell who then attempted to incorporate the town. The attempt failed due to not having enough male voters of legal age residing within the proposed corporate limits. J.J. Head had become a medical doctor by 1880. Dr. J. J. Head opened his medical practice in Headland and remained in the town until removing his large family to Hillsborough County, Florida in 1883 at age 44, where he lived until his death. Dr. Head had lived in the town of Headland for about 12 years. After Hosey C. Powell’s incorporation attempt failed, Mr. Powell then sold the town of Headland lands to Dr. Wyatt S. Oates in 1880. Dr. Oates had opened his medical office in Headland in 1875; after graduating from medical school in Atlanta. Dr. Oates seeing an opportunity in the new village of Headland and in his growing real estate business, soon closed his medical office in order to spend more time on his real estate business.
Dr, Oates then became “The Father of Headland” as the promoter, builder, and developer of the town. He began building new homes and commercial buildings for rent or for sale; Headland began to prosper with the town incorporating in 1884. The name of Headland could easily have become “Oatesland, Alabama” if so desired by Dr. Oates who became a wealthy man having owned some 12,000 acres over the county. Dr. W. S. Oates was an Abbeville native, a son of Ephraim Oates and a cousin of the notable William Calvin Oates of Abbeville, who was a CSA Colonel, U.S. Congressman, Governor of Alabama, and U.S. Army General. Many of Headland’s early pioneers had connections with the county seat town of Abbeville.
Dr. J. J. Head died in Lake Magdalene, Florida in Hillsborough County in 1927 at age 88. He had practiced medicine on Washington Street in Tampa and had served as county treasurer. The attached image depicts one of Dr. J.J. Head’s campaign cards when he won the office of treasurer in Hillsborough County, FL. He also became a pioneer in the nearby town of Lake Magdalene, FL. Lutie Head had died there in 1924; she and Dr. Head were parents of eight children, with only a few descendents living today. Their first child was born in Houston County, GA; the next two were born in Abbeville, Alabama, with the remaining five children being born in Headland, Alabama. Dr. and Mrs. Head are buried in the Lake Carroll Cemetery near Tampa, FL., where a marker was placed at Dr. Head’s grave in 2005 by the Henry County Historical Group stating that he was the founder of Headland, Alabama in 1871.
Dr. W. S. Oates (1852-1913) died in 1913 and his notable wife, Martha Alice Reynolds Oates (1857-1926), nicknamed “Queen,” died in 1926, with both being buried in the Abbeville City Cemetery in the Ephraim Oates family plot. Dr. Oates’ body was transported to Abbeville by a special funeral train. Martha Alice Oates Reynolds was called the “Martha Washington of the Wiregrass” as well as a pioneer, matriarch, and benefactor of Headland. Portraits of these three important Headland pioneers: J.J. Head; Dr. W. S. Oates and his wife Alice Reynolds Oates; are displayed in the Headland City Hall lobby. No image or further information has yet been located regarding Hosey C. Powell, the interim owner of Headland in 1879. Mr. Powell was residing in Florida in 1909 when he penned a letter to Dr. W. S. Oates detailing his brief ownership of the village of Headland. This was during the noted 1909 Supreme Court case of W.S. Oates vs. The City of Headland regarding who owned the Public Square and several disputed city streets. The court ruled in the City’s favor, but Dr. Oates refused to abide. After further deliberations, the case was settled with the city getting ownership of the Square and Dr. Oates getting ownership of several city streets.
Headland’s 150th anniversary will be in 2021; with the city’s 200th anniversary happening in 2071. May the City of Headland continue to prosper during the next 140 years, as the city’s new generations of citizens awake to another 51,000 sunrises propelling Headland into the unknown future by the year 2151. Will J.J. Head’s vision of a county court house ever come to fruition? Henry County and the State of Alabama will celebrate their 200th anniversary in 2019. Meanwhile, we wish a Happy 140th birthday to Headland this year.
- More Anon!