Leeds... Her Story

The following was excerpted from "Leeds... Her Story" published by the History Committee, Leeds Bicentennial Commission in 1979.

The Beginning
The story of Leeds must be backed by the history of Upper Cahaba Valley for they are inseparable. Upper Cahaba Valley is roughly the basin through which Little Cahaba River flows from south of the town of Moody in St. Clair County to the point where it joins the Cahaba River below the Lake Purdy Dam.

In the beginning of our story Indians surrounded the Cahaba Valley. The Upper Creeks were on the east; the south and southeast; Choctaws on the west and southwest; and Chickasaws on the west and northwest. None lived in the Upper Cahaba Valley. It is believed that this valley and neighboring Jones Valley were set aside as ceremonial and hunting grounds for the four Indian tribes.

The first outsider to come into this region was DeSoto in 1540. He came down by the Coose River east of Cahaba Valley from where Rome, Georgia is now located. When he stopped for a prolonged visit with the Chief of the Upper Creek tribe at Coosa, near Talladega, his scouts may have come to Cahaba Valley to explore the region.

Outside of stragglers and missionaries, no other people entered the Valley until General Andrew Jackson and his soldiers came to remove the Indians from Alabama in the early part of the nineteenth century. There were no Indian battles in Upper Cahaba Valley. The closest skirmish took place when General John Coffee was sent by Jackson to Old Mudtown to move a small group of Indians located there. Old Mudtown was located in the southern end of the Valley near where the Little Cahaba and the Cahaba Rivers join.

Although General Jackson moved most of the Indians from Alabama, the Creeks remained for many years east of the Coosa River in the Talladega territory until they were completely removed by 1840. Will Franke in Jefferson County 1850, Volume 7, wrote:

"Though Jefferson County was sparsely occupied by the Creek Indians, many Indian trails crossed it. A great trace led down from Ditto's Landing (Whitesburg) on the Tennessee River and upon reaching Jones Valley divided to lead to various villages. Turning to the left a trail led probably through or near the Henry Little old place and thence on to the Talladega County. (As late as 1814 there were a number of Indian Villages located in Cahaba Valley between the present Leeds and Pelham.)"



Many of the first settlers in Upper Cahaba Valley were ex-soldiers of General Andrew Jackson's Creek War Army. The soldiers liked what they saw when they came through eastern Alabama on the way to Horseshoe Bend and other Indian battles. After the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, these ex-soldiers came into Jones and Cahaba Valleys to stake out their claims for land. The ex-soldiers were given the privilege of buying land on "lease sale" contract plan, that is, paying for the acreage in small yearly amounts, and when fully paid, receiving a deed for the land. The purchaser entered on the land and paid for it in installments and received a deed when the purchase price was paid. It was for this reason that some of the deeds were dated later than the entry and after the property had been assessed and taxes paid for fifteen or twenty years earlier by the purchaser. Many of the ex-soldiers were given land for their service.

Beginning around 1850, small plots of land were cleared and log cabins sprang up all over the Valley. As time passed the farms grew in size, clearage increased, and the homes were enlarged and made more comfortable.

Mayor Gordon Duffee reported in her Sketches of Alabama, published in Weekly Iron Age from December 10, 1885 - December 2, 1886,

"That part of Cahaba Valley lying within the limits of this county (Jefferson) is a continual succession of highly cultivated farms and comfortable homes, peopled by a thrift and moral class. Prominent among them are the Moors, Herrings, McDonalds, Olivers, Scotts, Rowans, Littles, McDaniels, Pools, Watsons and many others... all worth in antebellum days from three thousand up to thirty and forty thousand dollars each."



The Moors (Moores), McLaughlins, Olivers, Joes, Hursts and Spruiells lived in the northern part of the Valley from south of Moody to north Leeds. The Overtons, Lees, Littles, Pools (Pooles), Scotts, DeShazos, Rowans and Basses were located south of Leeds. Several of these early settlers accumulated a section, 640 acres, or more of land. Some of the large owners had slaves that helped clear and cultivate their lands. There are descendants of these early settlers still living in the valley on some of the same land owned by their ancestors. Some are the seventh generation of their family to live in the Valley.

Cahaba Valley was divided by an Indian trail that ran from what later became Ashville to Montevallo. In the 1820's it was used as a stage coach route with stop overs and post offices at frequent intervals. In the upper part of the Valley were Branchville Post Office in St. Clair County and Cedar Grove Post Office in Jefferson County, not the site of the church by the same name but on the old Bass farm. On the southern end was Bridgeton Post Office in Shelby County next to Cahaba Methodist Church near what is now Lake Purdy. The road or stage route was later called the Ashville-Montevallo Road.

Leeds arose in the Valley because of three events: first, the incorporation of Birmingham and the star of iron production; second, the building of the Georgia Pacific Railroad from Birmingham to Atlanta; and third, the erection of a cement plant in the town.

Birmingham was incorporated in 1871 amid wild land speculations. Colonel James R Powell headed the activity. The land fever spread to neighboring territory including that part of the Cahaba Valley were the Georgia Pacific Railroad crossed it.

The first land company organized to promote the Upper Valley was Cahaba Valley Land Company incorporated on September 22, 1881. Henry Milner, Dr. E. S. Jones, Fred Sloss, James B. C. Elliott, George L. young, James J. Abercrombie, Jonathan W. Bass and John A. Milner were the incorporators. All but Fred Sloss lived in the Cahaba Valley. The capital stock was $15,000.00. Most of the land owned by this corporation was purchased from John A. Milner in 1886, being the land south and east of "Cahaba Creek" and from Josiah Hawkins in 1887. Although the town of Leeds was not incorporated until 1887, six years after the incorporation of the Cahaba Valley Land Company, the organizers of the Company were listed as living in "Leeds". It is obvious hat a community called "Leeds" existed before the town was incorporated.

In 1882 E. M. Tutwiler of Birmingham bought a 156 acre farm from Wilburn K. Little. The land purchased is what is now downtown Leeds. Wilburn K. Little [brother to Robert J. Little, from whom Leigh Anne Gibson is descended] was the son of Henry Little, one of the first settlers of the Valley. He had previously deeded a right of way across his farm to the Georgia Pacific Railroad Company. It was said that he want to get rid of this farm "because of all of the noise and smoke that was sure to come."

The town of Leeds was incorporated on April 27, 1887 by the certificate of M. T. Porter, Judge of Probate of Jefferson County. The towns boundaries were "from the Depot of the Georgia Pacific Railroad in said town, north on mile, south one mile, east one mile, west one mile to run parallel with said distances on the line of the United States surveys, making said limits square." An election had been previously ordered by the Probate Judge to be held at the office of the Cahaba Valley Land Company, whether or not to incorporate. The vote was 26 "yes" and 3 "no". Although the petition to incorporate was signed by 57 "inhabitants of the Town of Leeds", only 29 voted on the issue. The population of the newly incorporated Leeds was about 225. The first Mayor was Josiah Hawkins [older brother of Charlotte "Lottie" Hawkins, who married into the Taylor family and from whom Leigh Anne Gibson is descended], who had previously sold part of his farm to the Cahaba Valley Land Company. Obviously, the name Leeds was chosen after the English city of that name as its neighbor, Birmingham, had favored its name "for the industrial pulse of England." An interesting analogy of the two cities called "Leeds" was written by Frank Willis Barnett an appeared in The Birmingham News - Age Herald on April 14, 1929 entitled Leeds, Like Birmingham, Has Industrious Namesake in England.

The Leeds Company was organized on the 30th day of April, 1887. It was capitalized for $150,000.00. its incorporators were J. A. Montgomery, G. B. West, W. J. Cameron, L. Foist, and F. Y. Anderson, all of Birmingham. Another land company was incorporated on July 12, 1887. Its name was Leeds Land Manufacturing Company and the three incorporators were all Birmingham residents, namely Benjamin F. Roden, Walter A. Smith, and William A. Morris. The capital stock was $100,000.

Although E. M. Tutwiler was the largest land owner in Leeds and had been since 1882, he did not form a corporation for his land development until April 13, 1905. On that date Leeds Improvement Company was formed after the Cahaba Valley Land Company and The Leeds Company exchanged all the real property owned by them for stock in the Leeds Improvement Company on February 11, 1905. E. M. Tutwiler did the same on April 26, 1905 making Leeds Improvement Company the owner of most of the land in the town of Leeds. The incorporators of Leeds Improvement Company were W. J. Cameron, G. R. Harsh, J. B. Elliott, D. T. Smith, A. W. Smith, and E. M. Tutwiler. All were from Birmingham except J. B. Elliott who lived in Leeds. The capital stock was $80,000.00 subscribed in full. J. B. Elliott was secretary of Leeds Improvement Company and handled the sale of its property in the town of Leeds. He was very active and a great promoter of the town. Because of his great interest and activity in the town, he was later called "The Duke of Leeds".[J. B. Elliott is believed to be a distant cousin to Sybil Gertrude Elliott, from whom Leigh Anne Gibson is descended.]

Causing this renewed vigor and interest was the announcement that the Standard Portland Cement Company of South Carolina was going to build a cement plant in Leeds. In February and March of 1906 the Leeds Improvement Company and several individuals' deeded land to the Standard Portland Cement Company for a plant site and a limestone quarry. Construction was started on April 1, 1906 by Frederick H. Lewis, Consulting Engineer from Charlottesville, Virginia and J. Ross Hanahan and Associates from South Carolina. Charles F. Lewis was the first Superintendent.

With the Georgia Pacific Railroad moving passengers and freight from Birmingham to Atlanta, the Central of Georgia doing the same from Birmingham to Savannah and with the construction and operation of one of the largest cement plants in the south, Leeds was on its way.

Following the incorporation of the town in 1887 the government became inactive in 1895 and no officials were elected for a period of fourteen years. After a petition had been filed by a majority of the taxpayers in the town, the Probate Judge of Jefferson County reinstated the corporate organization on October 26, 1909. A. J. Farley [most likely a distant cousin to James Wesley Farley from whom Leigh Anne Gibson is descended] was appointed Mayor and W. N. Lee, J. M. Pledger, A. J. Abercrombie, T. B. Whitmire and H. T. Caffey were named Councilmen.


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