​​​pinhoti national recreation trail / pinhoti millennium legacy trail

a southern region appalachian trail connector

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current weather @ pinhoti trail mid-point / 181.3 ~ cave spring trailhead

bluffton, al.

Section 13 ~ Bluffton History
Pinhoti Trail - Mile 166.1 - Salem Church Road Crossing

The Church is about a mile east of the trail crossing.


Bluffton: Cherokee County's boom town gives up ghost
The Anniston (Alabama) Star, Thursday, Nov. 11, 1982
By DAVID STACKS, Star Staff Writer

BLUFFTON--There are no schools, storefronts or passenger-train depots in Bluffton 
anymore, and only a few scattered Victorian homes remain.

Barely a century after Yankee investors made this hilly southeastern Cherokee County 
community an iron-ore boom town, only spreading oak and sweet-gum trees remain from 
the years of once-busy streets and Sunday afternoon family outings.

"It's hard to look at these hills now and tell there was ever anything here," said J. Clyde 
Davis, 48, a Pleasant Gap cattle farmer who grew up in Bluffton and neighboring 
Tecumseh in the waning years of prosperity.

"Some of my earliest memories are of a whole row of stores along here," Davis said 
recently of what now is Cherokee County Road 45, stretching from near Rock Run and
Pleasant Gap northeast of Piedmont to the Polk County, Ga., community of Etna.
Little remains today from the glory years of Bluffton. After several years of prosperity 
in the iron ore-mining industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bluffton 
residents dismantled their homes and moved to other communities in Northeast Alabama.

ONLY ORDERLY ROWS of water oak and other hardwood trees have survived the 
decades. Almost no one calls home the region where geologists from Woodard Iron Co. of 
Birmingham and Tecumseh Iron Co. -- following Reconstruction -- discovered rich, iron, 
zinc and other mineral deposits.

The coming of the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad in the 1870's and 1880's 
signaled to Northern industrialists that mining in the Southern Appalachian Mountains 
could be profitable, according to letters from Yankee collections.

"Bluffton is the only real boom town of Cherokee County," genealogist Mrs. Frank Ross 
Stewart Sr. of Goshen wrote in her seven-volume history of Cherokee County, part of it 
published in 1981.

"It is noted for its mountains, its mineral springs and its Signal Hotel, which was a 
favorite summer resort during the years of the boom," Mrs. Stewart wrote in Volume 4 
of her series, "Cherokee County History." A handful of settlers after the Civil War built 
houses and a general store. Prosperity came with construction of iron blast furnaces in 
the 1880s and 1890s, Mrs. Stewart wrote.

NATURAL LITHIUM SPRINGS feeding Hurricane Creek attracted thousands to the 
Signal Hotel and other resorts during the late 19th century, said Sylvie Prince Davis, 78, 
who was born in a house between Tecumseh Furnace and Bluffton. "I went all the way 
through the old hotel when I was a little girl," Mrs. Davis said recently. "The fifth floor 
was just a place with windows all the way around. You could look out and see mountains for 
miles." Water from the spring was believed to have healthful effects. "The spring was 
just past the hotel bluff," Mrs. Davis said.

Ballroom dancing at the hotel was popular, she said. Baptist and United Methodist church 
groups organized square dances and congregations became the focus of social activities, 
Mrs. Davis said.

Salem Baptist Church, organized in 1854 across the road from where the Signal Hotel was 
built, today is one of the few reminders of the boom years. Arrington Chapel 
Congregational Methodist Church, south of Bluffton near what now is U.S. 278 near 
Cleburne County, also attracted many members, Mrs. Davis said.

"BACK THEN WE just had preaching once a month at each church," Mrs. Davis said. "When 
you went to Salem Church or Arrington Chapel, the meeting room would be filled."

Mrs. Davis said she and her girlhood friends -- some still living near Piedmont, Cedartown, 
Ga., and other cities -- would make day-long treks to take in morning and evening workshop 
services as well as visit with neighbors and relatives. "Or we would have a party," she 
said. "Everyone would come. We would walk from Arrington Chapel to my brother's house 
in Tecumseh, then to Etna and back again in time to see the train. There were always 
passengers getting on or off at the depot."

The East Tennessee railroad, making four runs daily from Rome, Ga. to Selma in South 
Alabama, also stopped at depots at Rock Run and Spring Garden in southern Cherokee as 
well as Etna, Mrs. Davis said.

"There were a lot of people who rode the trains back then," said Mrs. Davis, who lives 
near Pleasant Gap with her husband, Paul Davis, 79. "It was great entertainment. There 
weren't many cars."

ONE OF THE FIRST automobiles in Bluffton was owned by a blast-furnace overseer. "He 
used to ride everybody all over the place," Mrs. Davis said. "He wanted to do something 
for us poor folks who had never been in a car before."

Paul Davis said most of Bluffton's about 2,000 residents helped each other in time of 
need. "When a barn burned or somebody needed help they could count on it." the elder 
Davis said. Helping a sick neighbor with his crop harvest or house-building project was not 
unusual, he said.

Neighbors also helped the economy to grow as Bluffton's economy boomed, the elder 
Davis said.

General stores, blacksmith shops, a gun shop and other businesses sprang up around the 
ore pits and smelting furnaces, Davis said. Sawmills, gristmills and other lumber 
operations also took root and businessmen traded with distant points by railroad.

But prosperity also brought unwanted elements to the community. Residents felt the 
need to take law enforcement into their own hands, Clyde Davis said.

"IT TOOK DAYS to get the sheriff from Centre," he said. People had to count on 
themselves for protection."

Davis said one land-owning cotton farmer and businessman, William A. Smith, was a friend 
to many in need but he also killed at least eight trespassers intruding on his property 
near what is known as Smith Hollow.

"If anybody was neighborly to him, he returned the favor," the younger Davis said. "He 
gave chickens to people who were hungry and money to those down on their luck. You don't 
forget a man like him."

Smith Hollow is a steep-cliffed valley running through the mountains northeast from 
Bluffton. It extends into Polk County, Ga., and was the home place for the family of 
Melton Smith, William Smith's father.

William Smith and several others distributed the fruits of their vineyard and liquor 
businesses from a hollow tree with a hand bell inside, according to the Sept. 14, 1917, 
issue of the Centre-based newspaper, The Coosa River News.

Those seeking locally distilled moonshine are reported to have approached the tree, rang 
the bell and deposited cash in the "Bell Tree" in exchange for moonshine, Clyde Davis said.

IT WAS A DISTRIBUTION system largely based on honor, although there were problem 
customers, the younger Davis said.

Melton Smith, 67 at his death, was killed in a gun battle in 1892. William Smith, at age 
39, died in a fist fight with a business associate in Borden Springs in 1908.

William Smith's son, Robert Smith, was convicted in Georgia and Alabama following two 
murders, including one in 1917 in which the victim was decapitated with an ax and the 
remains mutilated, according to The Coosa River News.

Melton Smith and William Smith are buried beneath a 7-foot granite monument in the 
Salem Baptist Church cemetery along with other family members.

Relatives living in southeastern Cherokee County and near Piedmont visit the graveyard 
occasionally and leave potted flowers. "A light from our households is gone," says the 
inscription on William Smith's tombstone. "He was a kind and loving son and affectionate 
brother."

Historians say Bluffton's decline came quickly at the end of the 19th century. But some 
residents remained until the Great Depression of the 1930's forced many rural 
Americans to the cities, Paul Davis said.

"THE PEOPLE WHO invested in the ore furnaces put out too much at too big an expense," 
Mrs. Davis said. "They just moved too fast."

A tornado touched down in the early 1900's and destroyed a general store, forest 
property and killed many people, Clyde Davis said. Several years of heavy spring rains 
brought flooding. Many property owners dismantled their homes and store buildings and 
moved them to Rock Run, Spring Garden and other communities.

Mining companies returned in the 1950's and 1960's. But geologists decided mineral 
deposits were not rich enough to begin digging again. In recent years, search teams have 
passed through Bluffton looking for oil and natural gas pockets.

Today, water-filled ore pits from the 19th and early 20th centuries dot the countryside 
along Cherokee County Road 45. Varmints of one kind or another live in abandoned wells 
and old mountainside mining tunnels. Old and dilapidated railroad trestles lie hidden in 
thick underbrush.

"There still is a lot of iron ore back in these mountains," Clyde Davis said. "But it is a poor 
grade. I wonder if anybody will ever do anything to get it out."


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