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History in Walker County

HISTORY OF OAKMAN

Submitted by Ruth Teaford Baker


We will take another walk down “history lane.”  York, Day’s Gap, Oakman – take your choice for a name for one of the older towns of the county.  The present site of Oakman is in close proximity to some of the earliest settlements in the county.  Thomas Davis was born on Cane Creek, near Oakman, in 1826.  Tinson Shepherd settled on a nearby farm in 1827.  John Key settled on Lost Creek, northwest of Oakman, in 1824.  At Providence Church, a few miles east, Hugh Lollar settled before 1820, and Reason Courington before 1832. 
 
John Washington Gurganus settled near Oakman about 1830.  William Jones was living on Cane Creek, two miles south of Oakman, in 1838, and the Morris family was on Lost Creek before 1839.  Elijah Blanton was born on Wolf creek, near Oakman, in 1846, and in the same year Isaac Brown was born on Lost Creek.  In the early 1840’s, William Swindle, Samuel H. Simpson, William Cobb, and Samuel Tubbs settled on nearby farms.  Robert Palmer settled on Wolf Creek in 1859.  Mortimer Corry was also an early settler.
 
As early as 1833, a report of a Methodist Quarterly Conference held at the home of John Key, on Lost Creek, lists John Gurganus as an exhorter and David Blanton as a class leader.  In the HISTORY OF METHODISM by West, Blanton’s and Tubb’s were listed as preaching places in Walker County in 1842.
 
A post office was established near the present site of Oakman before 1860, and called York Post Office.  It is assumed that it was on the old Jasper-Tuscaloosa Highway.  A recruiting station was set up at York during the Civil War to enlist soldiers for the conflict.
 
In 1862, William Byrd Day came in and settled at a gap in the mountainous ridges that surround the town.  Shortly afterward, the community became known as Day’s Gap.
 
The community did not grow very much until 1884. The big event which contributed to its growth was the building of the Georgia Pacific Railroad (later Southern).  It began in Columbus, Mississippi, and established a terminal at Day’s Gap.  This was the first railroad built in the county. Goods had previously been hauled by wagon or ox teams for long distances, usually from Tuscaloosa or Warrior in Jefferson County. Day’s Gap became a distribution center for the entire county.  A stage line was operated to Birmingham via Jasper and South Lowell.
 
In addition, the work of building spur tracks into Coal Valley and Mountain Valley was speeded up by the railroads, and in a short time, coalmines were operating at both these points.  The Coal Valley mine was started by T.J. Dunn and Company for the development of their coal properties.  This was one of the first operations. Although a short distance from the Day’s Gap community, it caused a boom and by 1885, the population grew to 400. 
 
J.E. Cook formerly of Columbus, MS, had purchased a large tract of mineral land and began to develop it.  He started a new town on the opposite side of the gap and called it Marietta.  This new town could not compete with the steady inflow of merchants and businesses into Day’s Gap. Among these at this early time were:  Wiley W. Hutto, James S. Watts, J. J. Phifer, and James I. Odom. These were prominent residents.  Other business and professional men were:  Dr. W.C. Rosamond, J.H. Cranford, and Dr. J.W. Gravlee.
 
Lee Williams and Mr. Bean were the Gap’s blacksmiths.  Joe bush was the town marshal.  James Corry, affectionately known as the “Duke of Day’s Gap, ”was offering building lots free to any religious denomination that would erect a church.
 
The completion of the Kansas City, Memphis, and Birmingham Railroad (now Frisco) through Jasper, slowed Day’s Gap’s growth, but it held its own and improved when Georgia Pacific completed the line from Day’s Gap to Birmingham.
 
Note: Today, Oakman is a very progressive town.  Two strong schools and supportive parents keep residents coming in. The development of “Old York” by the Corry Family has given the town a tourist attraction that keeps drawing outsider to the town.