Florala History

Stories and Information of Florala, Alabama

Welcome

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.

 

 

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.

 

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: mbak69@msn.com.

Wagon shop on North 5th St.

“Flat Iron” building

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.

The Bank of Florala, possibly on June 24. Note the many US flags.

How much has Florala changed? You be the judge.

 

 

Florala History References

1. Bryan GJ, Bryan RR. Covington County History 1821-1976. 1976.  The Opp Historical Society, Inc, printed by Covington Publishing Co, Inc (available from the Opp Chamber of Commerce)

2. Ward, Wyley D. Early History of Covington County, Alabama, 1821-1871. Huntsville, Ala.: Ward, 1976.

3. Temple RD, Florala, In Edge Effects – The Border-Name Places. 2008, iUniverse, Bloomington, IN. pp 88-96.

40 Comments

  • By charles russell, May 31, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

    Great pictures, makes me want to see more.

  • By Kyle & Patricia Johnson, June 22, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

    As a newcomer to Florala my husband an I are in love with your town and the many wonderful people. Lake Jackson exemplifies the guiet peaceful beauty that God gave us to enjoy. Thank You Florala

  • By Tri-City Chamber of Commerce, July 6, 2011 @ 10:36 am

    Pages 9 and 10 of the Ed Rodwell history print out the same as page 11. I would like to have a copy of pages 9 and 10.

  • By Max Baker, July 6, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

    I believe you can copy them now. If you can’t, I will email them to you.

    Regards

  • By James Staufenberg, September 1, 2011 @ 6:07 pm

    Lake Naomi in Lockhart , the old Lumber Yard is a wonderful place to visit. Lake Jackson and downtown Florala are fun swimming for visiting children. Florala Flea Markets provide fine shopping experience.

  • By Bill Martin, December 27, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

    Thanks for the great pictures and write up! Grew up there and
    June 24th was the DAY of the year; thanks to the Masons. The ce;ebration continues today; just not as big as it once was. \
    Thanks again!!

  • By Marilyn Smith, March 24, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

    I am moving to Florala on March 31st. I appreciate the hisotry and the photos. Thank you.

  • By Nell Gilmer, April 5, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

    How can I get a copy of the History of Florala? I grew up in the country near Elba, AL and after being gone for over 50 years, we came back here when we retired. I am interested in helping put together a history of our little town. Most photos and records were destroyed in floods in 1990 and 1998. I hope we can gather up enough info to put together a history of the town and print it to share with interested persons.

    We haven’t started meeting yet to decide what direction we want to go. Any suggestions?

    Thanks, Nell Wilson Gilmer (graduate of Elba High School 1952) 1564 Highland Dr, Elba, AL 36323 897-1255

  • By Max Baker, April 5, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

    Hi,
    I don’t know of any other copies of the History of Florala. The copy we have was passed down in the family. However, you can right click on the images, save them and print each page.
    The history material I found for this website has come from many different sources, the internet, family pictures, libraries, old newspapers, and contact with other people who have similar interests and have collected material. In history research, I have found you can go a long way by finding people who know and just ask.

    I also have roots in the Elba area, at Danley’s Crossroads, and still have relatives who live there. I would be interested in what you find. Good luck.

    Max

  • By Wendy Windham, June 6, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

    thank you for the wonderful site…I love learning the old history of our little town…no other place I would love to live! I love to learn more about the old Hospital which use the be near the Dr. Holley’s Dentist office…and more stories about the places that were built on the lake…(saloons and casinos) My Grandmother told me stories about seeing Hank Williams perform at the Casino that was built on the lake and how she met my Grandpa..He was a soldier that would come to Florala on the weekends from Eglin on the train. Love History!
    Awesome site! thanks for all your hard work!

  • By Max Baker, June 7, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

    Thank you. I posted a few more pictures of Lake Jackson I recently received. I too would like to know more about the old Hospital and the Lake Jackson casinos. Hopefully, someone can help.

  • By Wild Wild Wings, June 13, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

    Hi we are openning a restuarant in Florala and I found this website. We are using the old country style for the restuarant and would love to use your photo’s and stories to share with the community.

    Thank you!

  • By Max Baker, June 13, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

    Hi,
    You have our permission to use any material on this site.. Good luck with your business.

    Max Baker

  • By Kathy Franklin Jennings, July 4, 2012 @ 12:59 am

    I was born in Florala and grew up in the Lockhart & Florala area. This is such a wonderful site, thank you!

  • By Pat Strickland, July 4, 2012 @ 10:20 am

    Copies of the Florala history are available in hard copy from the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, 1135 Fourth Street, Florala, Alabama 36442 or 334-858-6252.

  • By Sheila Shepherd Whanger, October 29, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

    Along with my brother, we’ll piece together what we can and share with everyone. Have lots of old pictures. The Shepherd family was well known here for the Shepherd Furniture Company and the Funeral Home (also had connections to the Evans family). I know I have many shots of several June 24th celebrations (my Dad was a Mason)and from and of the lake as well. Look forward to being able to contribute.

  • By Max Baker, October 30, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

    Thank you. I look forward to your additions. If I remember correctly, that picture of the Shepherd store was in a collection owned by Lewis Eiland who died a number of years ago in Florala.

  • By Bond, November 18, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

    My family and I have enjoyed driving up to Florala from Crestview for the few years that we have lived here. The wooden walkway on the north end of Lake Jackson served as a great backdrop for taking pictures of our daughters. Always enjoyed how the downtown area was like a trip back in time. It is nice that someone has taken the time to keep that old gas station looking real nice. And of course, trips to corner fireworks store on the 4th and New Year’s. Florala was also one of our first stops on the way back home to Michigan, and also served as the sign that we were “almost there”, on our way back to our house in Florida. We will always remember Florala, thanks for the memories.

  • By Cheri Clark, November 25, 2012 @ 7:29 pm

    There is a picture of my grandfather at this Find A Grave site:

    http;//www.findagrave.com/cgl-bin/fg.cglpage=gr&GRid=29641640#.ULKxNqOUlng.email

    His name is James Henry Busbee and his family lived in the Children’s Home area in Walton County. He is buried in Cool Springs Cemetery. The picture of him at this web site was taken when he was a policeman in Florala. We would like to find out when this was. He was born in Children’s Home in 1877 and lived in the Florala area throughout his life. This had to have been somewhere around the 1900 time frame…before or after. If there is a way to find the history of the Florala police department, please email at chericlark@roadrunner.com

  • By Gwendolyn Anderson, February 9, 2013 @ 9:08 pm

    I am looking forward to visiting our Favorite Uncle Bill & I love history. Do you have a “walking or driving” History Tour of the area & can you give me any recommendations on places to visit, eat & any other info that you feel would be interesting, historical or great places to eat & entertainment. I have a blog, “TimelyManners.com” for writing my experiences, travel & life in general. Thanks for any help you can provide. – Gwendoly

  • By Max Baker, February 10, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

    If you have the opportunity to stay at The Lake House, Ann Shields knows much of the history of the area including the Lake House itself. Florala has a lot of historic homes on south 5 th St including the Hughes mansion, and the old downtown area is interesting. Of course, Lake Jackson is an enjoyable place to relax.

  • By Jarred Martin, April 29, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

    In all your research, what have you found about the Florala Fire Department? I’m a captain on the department and I’m trying to get the history of the department. To be honest, I don’t know where to begin! Any information or pictures would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • By Max Baker, April 30, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

    Jarred,
    I have no information on the history of the Florala fire department. If you can send me a picture of the fire department to the email address on the home page, I will make a page entitled Florala Fire Department and ask people to contribute. Send as a JPEG file.

    There have clearly been some notable fires in Florala. I’m thinking of the Colonial Hotel fire which destroyed it (in 1965?) and when the top of the Ray house burned off by the Baptist Church. You probably know of others. One of the reasons Florala has so many of its early buildings is that they are built out of cement blocks, which was advocated by JE Hughes, who was in the block business.

    Max

  • By Max Baker, April 30, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

    Jarred,
    I understand that the class of 1963 is having their reunion in Florala on June 28. They could be a good source of information.

  • By Rebecca Gerace DiStasio, June 22, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    My husband I moved here permently from Connecticut in November 2011. I inherited my grandparents home on 4th Ave. We completed some remdeling of their home (our home) last August 2012. We love it here in Florala, as a child my brothers and I use to come and visit our grandparents in the summers. (Mr. & Mrs Jack and Irene Smith). We loved swimming in Lake Jackson, in fact my grandfather tought me how to swim in that lake. The town has change in that there has been a loss of small business, no movie theater, no big car dealer ships but the people are just as helpful and friendly as I remember as a child visiting here. Beautiful Florala, still.

  • By Sheilah Broughton, July 5, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

    Hi,
    My uncle was in the Air Force, stationed at Eglin Air Force base in 1949/1950. He was dating a woman from Florala, AL and in one of his letters to her that was never mailed, he said he hoped to see her this weekend and that maybe they could to the “Roundhouse” (at least that’s what I think it says, the writing is faded). Can someone tell me what the Roundhouse is?
    Maybe the word is roadhouse and maybe this place was in another town. I guess “roundhouse” could also be a euphemism for something else. Would love to know the answer to this question.
    Thanks for your help. Sheilah

  • By Max Baker, July 9, 2013 @ 9:36 am

    We don’t know of a place called the roundhouse in Florala. A possibilty that comes to mind is that the pavilion on the pier which has been rebuilt several times over the years, is round in shape, actually octagonal. I was told it was used for dances in the past. It could be an attraction for young couples.

  • By Lisa Spicer Geoghagan, August 3, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

    Nice site. Both parents’ families were / are area residents. I love that town and have lots of fond childhood memories of Florala.

  • By Jenny Bradford, August 7, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

    Hi
    My great grand mother was Lowney Carroll she was married to A C Carroll she had a store there I have tried to find info about it I don’t know the name of it may have been on 5th street and also would like to know if there is anything on a store call Florala Market Company the Nobles there in Florala are my family too I know that they did shopping at that store cause they had a list of all in the family that could get products on credit!!

  • By Susan Bondurant, August 26, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

    This year I have a class that centers around the History of Florala and we are in the process of collecting information about our city.
    We have been looking at your wonderful site and we were wondering if you would consider coming to speak to our class. Just let us know when you would be available and we will arrange our schedule to suit you. Point of reference-the class meets from 2:19-3:05.

    Sincerely,

    Susan Bondurant

  • By Max Baker, August 27, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

    Dear Ms Bondurant,
    Thanks for the invitation. I would be honored to speak to your class should I be able to arrange it. My grandmother was a teacher in Florala – in Lockhart actually. She retired in 1958. The biggest impediment is that I don’t live in AL and I would need to make some travel arrangements. If would be helpful if you can tell me when your class ends. Nearer the holidays would be easier for me.

    Also, I wonder if your class could help me. I am trying to track the history of the Florala State Park and I believed it belonged to William Christopher McLauchlin, my grandmother’s uncle, but I can’t verify that without studying the deed records.

    Best regards,
    Max Baker

  • By Ron Evans, September 5, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    I love your site. I was born in Paxton and lived in Paxton and Florala until the third grade. Thank you so much for your hard work.

  • By Paula Shaddix, September 14, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

    I myself love reading history of Alabama town/cities. I have been trying to find pictures of a flooding that happened in Elba Al., not sure what year but my aunt and uncle (Tom and Carrie Smith) lived right on Pea River and every time Elba flooded, there house flooded as well. We use to go visit them when I was small and I would love to have some pictures/info. On the house.

  • By Max Baker, September 16, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

    My mother recalls the flooding in Elba years ago. She had an uncle who had a general store near the river downtown and it was flooded out badly and the merchandise ruined. I do not recall any pictures, but I think I can determine roughly when it happened.

  • By M Thompson, November 23, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

    Live in Laurel Hill, Okaloosa County, Florida, next door to Florala and Covington County, My husband was born in Florala. His Mom and Dad also lived there all their lives.
    The textile factory that supported so many folks has been closed for years. My Mom-in-law worked there. Most of the women in Florala did also. Many of the Men did as well. It was the primary support (along with the military) of so many families. Nice to see that the rest of the world can also read about this town. I agree that Lake Jackson is beautiful. Have spent “a few” hours there, swimming and boating and watching “fireworks”
    Thanks for the write up.
    Pethomps

  • By Max Baker, December 4, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

    I was told that Native Americans used to meet at Lake Jackson. This probably occurred in the late 50s and early 60s. Does anyone know who they were and why they met at Lake Jackson?

  • By Lamar Whatley, March 3, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

    I am tracing my family history, I am black and my last name is Whatley. My grandfather Thomas Whatley married my grandmother in Steubenville Ohio. I believe in the 1930s he and his family was in florala Alabama. Does anyone know how I can find any information beyond ancestry.com. He passed in the 1950s. If anyone has any information about the Whatley family email me at delreeko@yahoo.com. Thanks.

  • By Warren L. Owens, March 4, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

    Thank for the memories. Florala is my home. left 1961. joined the army visit every year.

  • By Diana Aten, April 7, 2014 @ 7:25 pm

    If anyone has information on my Grandfather Orville O. Ziegelman and Grandmother Velma Ziegelman who lived in Florala AL, please email at diana.aten@gmail.com.
    Thank you

  • By James Lewis Miller III, May 6, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

    My Great Grandfather was Dr. Richard Lafayette Miller, MD who lived in Florala and Laurel Hill for many years. My Grandfather was James L. Miller, DDS, who lived in Florala. I’m interested in hearing from anyone who knew them.

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