The Vagabond – Hugh Carlisle, local pioneer railroad builder


By Danny Crownover

Major Hugh Carlisle, a Scotland native who built a country home near Guntersville in the late 19th century, became the largest individual landowner in Northeast Alabama by virtue of a decision of the United States Supreme Court in April of 1897.

Carlisle’s land of more than 70,000 acres included the Crudup Iron Mines and a tract joining the site of the Dwight Cotton Mills in Alabama City, as well as a considerable amount of farmland on Sand Mountain.

Carlisle found himself with 1,200 tenants on his hands, some of whom were squatters who were hoping that the major would lose his suit and they would gain ownership by entry.

Carlisle contracted to build the Tennessee & Coosa Railroad from Gadsden to Guntersville. In 1856, the federal government, through an act of the U.S. Congress, granted the land to aid in the construction of said railroad.

By 1890, the railroad had been extended to Littleton at the foot of Sand Mountain before a bill was filed by the government to forfeit the grant on the grounds that the railroad had not been completed. The case went through all the federal courts before the supreme court decided in favor of Carlisle. It was one of the most important land suites ever tried in Alabama.

Carlisle had sold some of the land to farmers, and a number of them held up payments in order to find out just wound up as the real owner.

About 1,000 such farmers owed Carlisle interest of from $100 to $400. Many of the best farms on Sand Mountain were part of this vast holding, and there is no telling how many millions of dollars it would be worth today.

Carlisle immediately set up the machinery to administer such a large estate, and his agents were busy for years making settlements with squatters and tenants. Amos E. Goodhue was Carlisle’s attorney, and his record in the case is said to have been a brilliant one.

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