By Jimmy K. Lanier & Gary Wright
Eclectic, “the Star of Elmore County,” has a rich and wonderful history. This is where the charm of the old South and all of its wonderful traditions clash in a friendly manner with its passion for progress in creating a dynamic future for itself and its citizens. It is said that when the spectacular meteor shower of November 12, 1833 lit up the night sky in Alabama, the stars actually fell on Eclectic, Alabama. It has not been determined whether this Leonid meteor shower actually sent any debris anywhere near Eclectic, but the romantic in all of us would like to think so.
The Eclectic area has been inhabited since at least the Stone Age by various Native American tribes, including the Creeks (or Muscogee,) Choctaw and Cherokee. They had a rich and vibrant civilization of farmers, gatherers, hunters and traders. A large settlement of Creeks had been living at the confluence of the Coosa and the Tallapoosa Rivers for many years before the coming of the Europeans. It is believed that the Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto and his party around 1514 were the first outsiders to set foot in the Eclectic area. Their cruel treatment of the Indians in their mad quest for gold set the stage for relations between the Indians and the whites and would cause tremendous repercussions for many years to come. Their treatment of the Indians caused mistrust and cruelties between the whites and the Indians and directly resulted in the forcible expulsion of the Indians from the Southeastern United States to Oklahoma along the route which came to be known as “the Trail of Tears.”
French explorers opened up trading routes with local Creeks during the early 1700’s and established a post at the Creek settlement on the Tallapoosa and Coosa River junction. This post, named Fort Toulouse still stands as a National Park. Missionaries, traders, free-booters, outlaws and thieves followed and the area began to open up for trading and settling. By the early 1800’s, thousands of whites had poured into the area looking for game, farmland and timber. These interlopers began to put tremendous pressure on the Native Americans. As the whites pushed forward the Indians yielded under federal pressure to sell or outright give more and more land to the whites.
Minor skirmishes and forays punctuated a strained frontier for several years until tensions finally reached the breaking point in 1812 when open warfare broke out. Chief Red Eagle, known among the settlers as William Weatherford, led a party of radical ‘Red Stick’ Creek warriors on a raid against Fort Mims, a makeshift garrison some fifty miles north of Mobile. His group of over 2,000 warriors attacked the hapless gathering of nearly a thousand settlers, soldiers and friendly Indians. The ‘Red Sticks’ made short work of the fort, massacring over 540 men, women and children in the largest massacre of whites by Indians in U.S. history. This prompted General Andrew Jackson to lead his regular Tennessee militia and Alabama volunteers to wage total war against the Creeks, resulting in their surrender after the battle of Horse Shoe Bend a year later. That war attracted, among others, David Crockett, who had already achieved fame as a hunter, Indian fighter and backwoodsman. Crockett’s skills were put to the test and he served notably in that war. The brutality of these battles caused Davy Crockett to lay aside his implements of war and seek a career in political life.Gen. Jackson defeated the ‘Red Sticks’ barely in time to march to New Orleans where his battle-tested army, along with the pirate, Jean Lafitte and Alabama volunteers defeated the British Army in the final and deciding battle of the War of 1812.The ending of the Indian war and following statehood in 1819 the Eclectic area experienced an influx of population as Americans from the east and immigrants flocked to the area drawn by its fertile soil, magnificent trees and rich natural wonders. If you look at a local telephone directory you will find a rich glossary of names of these immigrants from all over who have given their lives and the sweat of their brow to the growing of Eclectic. The area now known as Eclectic was first settled by Seaborn Kidd in the 1850’s and was named Pleasant Grove because of an attractive grove of oak trees which served as cover from the hot sun. Pleasant Grove thrived as a community and supported a school, a church and many active farmers and loggers.In 1877, a 42-year old Doctor, Marshall Lucius Fielder moved from Good Hope, a few miles away into Pleasant Grove and purchased 122 acres of rolling farm land, along with a house previously owned by Seaborn Kidd. Doctor Fielder had attended the Eclectic Medical Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1858, as well as other medical training in Philadelphia. He had been trained in the ‘Eclectic’ method of medicine, which is similar to the holistic medicine of today.Dr. Fielder obtained permission from the U.S. government to build a post office in Pleasant Grove, which he named Eclectic, Alabama. Soon most folks were calling the town Eclectic, although the geographic area was still referred to as Pleasant Grove. Today there is a Pleasant Grove cemetery in Eclectic and that area of town is called Pleasant Grove. Dr. Fielder had served with distinction in the Civil War with the rank of Captain and was commander of the 34th Alabama Infantry Regiment, Company E. He campaigned with the 34th at the battle of Nashville, Tennessee where the entire Regiment was nearly annihilated. Upon purchasing the land in Pleasant Grove, Dr. Fielder gave one acre building lots in downtown to anyone who would build a home or a business. He also donated the land where the Eclectic Baptist Church now stands. By 1883 Eclectic had grown to over a dozen families, two stores, a blacksmith and a drug store. The community continued to grow and soon added a Masonic Lodge, one of the best sawmills in the area, a superior saddle and harness business, a well-stocked shoe shop and a bed spring manufacturer. Dr. Fielder’s son, Paul, became a Physician and father and son went into medical practice together and also ran a drug store. His daughter, Lovie became a renowned schoolteacher. She was the only female in the entire state of Alabama to be awarded the Peabody award while attending Florence College. She taught school for 53 years and was the first teacher in the state of Alabama to receive a retirement pension.Elmore County was created by the Alabama legislature on 1866 Feb. 15, from parts of Autauga, Coosa, Montgomery, and Tallapoosa Counties. It was named for General John Archer Elmore, a veteran of the American Revolution and early settler of Alabama. Elmore County lies in the east-central part of the state. The county is drained by the Coosa and the Tallapoosa Rivers, which merge to form the Alabama River a few miles south of Wetumpka. It currently encompasses 622 square miles.Timber was plentiful and sawmills brought work and progress to the area. During the 1800's and the early 1900's cotton was king. Cotton was eventually dethroned and Eclectic's economy and culture fell into a slow decline. In August 1907, a total of 51 eligible voters cast their ballots and the Town of Eclectic was incorporated. Its boundaries formed “a three-mile radius where the street from Eclectic High School intersects the Tallassee public road.” In September 1907 the first Mayor and town council were elected.Elmore County High School was established in Eclectic in 1911 and still proudly serves the community nearing 100 years in operation. In 1913 the Birmingham and Southeastern Railroad came to Eclectic and with it, a booming economy. Many new citizens moved here, businesses flourished and Eclectic entered its ‘golden age.’ The railroad line slowly faded in disuse as the highway systems were developed and modern truckers began to take over the freight hauling business. In the early 1930's the railroad line was abandoned altogether in Eclectic. Even the track and crossties were removed, leaving barely a trace of its former rail road glory.In the early 1930’s, the great depression took its toll on the community, as well as the nation. Businesses failed, homes were boarded up and people drifted away in search of jobs and a better life. Eventually, the great depression worked its way through the economy and disappeared from whence it had come, assisted in the late 30’s by war clouds looming on the European continent as the U.S. economy geared up for war.Eclectians went off to war! At first they fought in the Great War in Europe and they served valiantly in the ‘fields of Flanders,’ in World War I. Then came the surprise attack of Pearl Harbor and our young men took part in Asian island-hoppings, in Europe and North Africa and finally in the total defeat of the Nazi war machine during WWII. A quilt made by the ladies of Eclectic still hangs in Town Hall in tribute to their heroism. Each veteran’s name has been patiently stitched onto the material. Our boys served in Korea and ‘Eclectic the Beautiful’ service club established Memorial Park on Highway 63 in their honor. Our brave young men and women served in Viet Nam and continue to serve in the deserts of the mid-East and all over the world in defense of freedom. Eclectic continues to answer the call of freedom whenever and whereever that call is made.Eclectic slid into a slow but definite decline after World War II, until the dawn of the 21st century when it began to awaken with its current zeal for progress and change. The winds of change are still blowing and the eyes and souls of Eclectic are firmly focused on the future.Eclectic originated in greatness and remains great because of our people. We continue to attract citizens who are “the best from a variety of sources.” Our proud tradition continues into the 21st century, growing and thriving. If you aren’t already a member of our community you are invited to put down roots in the place where the stars fell on Alabama. We salute our rich history as we eagerly make plans for the future!Elmore County High School was established in Eclectic in 1911 and still proudly serves the community nearing 100 years in operation. In 1913 the railroad came to Eclectic and with it, a booming economy. Many new citizens moved here, businesses flourished and Eclectic entered its ‘golden age.’ In the early 1930’s the great depression took its toll on the community, as well as the nation. Today, Eclectic still proudly salutes its past while beckoning the future to come and bring it a new golden age of prosperity. According to Webster’s Dictionary Eclectic means “made up of what is the best of a variety of sources.” That term aptly describes the people who claim Eclectic as their home. Eclectic stands poised on the brink of a new era. With Lake Martin to the north and surrounded by an increasingly prosperous Elmore County, the modern age of technology and innovation awaits Eclectic. We stand ready to embrace this bold, new future. Eclectic, the star of Elmore County.