A small southern town near the Alabama-Florida state line, Florala, AL is rich in history. Following the Civil War many migrated to this area in Alabama and west Florida to take advantage of the inexpensive land, untapped forestry resources (especially the prized Long Leaf pine), cotton, and subsequent need for railroads, schools and goods for its population. Later the textile industry emerged.
Downtown Florala ca 1911. The sign by the Opera House reads “The Sins of the Father”(Thomas Dixon), a play that traveled in the south at that time.
Our family’s ancestors, the Martin Luther Ray’s and W. Christopher McLauchlin’s, like a number of other Scots, came to this area near the turn of the century from their homeland in Cumberland County, North Carolina. Their ancestors came to Cumberland County from Scotland via the Cape Fear River. They eventually settled in Alabama as their prospects dimmed in the North Carolina sandhills and their families expanded. Many were “Tarheels” who sought to employ their skills in the lumber and naval stores business learned among the Carolina pines. Due to the vast pine forests this portion of the south was seen as a land of opportunity. Florala’s prosperity grew as lumber was exported and it became a bustling town. In 1900 the US Census of Florala lists a population of 300. In 1907, a city census counted a population of 2,021, an increase of nearly 700% in those 7 years. The population further increased to ca 3,500 in the subsequent years. A stately hotel and spacious homes with high pitched roofs and expansive porches were built, a number with distinctive turret features. Churches were founded. Three railroads, routed south, east and north connected the town for commerce and personal travel.
View looking south (and slightly west) from the Florala water tower. The Gulf of Mexico (Ft. Walton Beach and Destin, FL) is about 45 mi in this direction.
In time Florala’s growth faltered. The forest industry became less lucrative and the timber stands depleted, the Depression exacted its financial toll, and global forces eventually weakened the textile industry. Many of the youth left to join the war effort in the early 40s, to Mobile to work in the shipyards and to Brookley Air Force base to support the US Air Force, others to join the armed services. In the year 2010, the Florala census stood at 1980.
But Florala has an ageless jewel that remains – Lake Jackson. A body of water once thought to be the rising of an underground river, but now believed by geologists to have been born from the collapse of ancient limestone caves. Its a not-too-small and not-too-big lake (ca 500 acres) that exemplifies nature’s beauty when ample quantities of stilled clear water, Cypress trees, Spanish Moss, and time merge. The lake is bisected east to west by the state line of Alabama and Florida. It is the only natural body of water where one may leisurely paddle from one state to the other without the bother of current. People living and working near its shores hoped and prayed for a good life and future for their community
View of downtown Florala in 1909 (5th Ave or Main St). The building on left and in the center of the right picture is the Opera House. Currently the Country Folks Buffett is on this site. Notice Cawthon’s Photo Studio, McRae’s Trading Co (left of Post Office) and Post Office. Florala’s Destiny 1908: Florala Destiny -9
This website is an effort to share and preserve some of the history of Florala. Our grandmother, Margaret McLauchlin Ray Baker (1888-1986) lived at 109 S. 3rd Street (across from Florala Wetlands Park) for over 60 years. She collected and inherited some of the material to be put on this site. We welcome others to contribute stories, pictures, genealogy or simply how they remember the people and town of Florala. Contribute as a Comment or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wagon shop on North 5th St. David Parker Powell and Thomas Seale.
“Flat Iron” building. Robert A. French insurance office.
The Bank of Florala, possibly on June 24. Note the many US flags.
How much has Florala changed? You be the judge.
A view of Lake Jackson, Luther Ray house (Foreground), Baptist Church, and William C. McLauchlin house (across street, center)
Florala History References