The Vagabond – Woodliff family in Gadsden


This week the Vagabond will take a break from the little pamphlet written by the Woman Club called A Little Book about Gadsden.

This week, there are 42 descendants of A.L. Wood-liffe who are in town for a reunion, coming from Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Alabama. The group is planning to visit to the Etowah Historical Society and attend “A Walk Through Time” at Forrest Cemetery.

At “A Walk Through Time”, Craig Boden, a Woodliff descendent will portray A.L., while his sister-in-law will portrays Lavinia, A.L.’s wife. John Woodliff of Ohio will portray one of the couple’s sons, A.W.

The following was written by E. Guy Woodliff III:

“A. L. Woodliff and his wife, Lavinia C. Law Woodliff, arrived in Gadsden in 1857. They were married for over 50 years, had 14 children and many grandchildren. He was a very accomplished man; having gone to the California Gold Rush in 1850; returned with a large amount of money; married; settled in Gadsden; served in the Confederate army; started several businesses; and was elected to the State Senate, where he introduced the bill forming Baine County [later changed to Etowah].

“She was a leader among the women of Alabama; being elected the first President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. A fountain in the park in front of City Hall commemorates her memory along with other leading ladies of the community.

“On the Perspective Map of Gadsden, dated 1887, one can see the Woodliff’s home and racetrack located in what is now west Gadsden.

“I remember my great aunts telling me of climbing out on the roof to watch the races, as young girls were not allowed to attend. The map also locates the Woodliff Realty company on Broad Street in downtown Gadsden. He and his sons cleared the land for Forrest Cemetery in 1872, and operated it, with a board of prominent citizens.

“Sometime in the 1920s, the land was given to the City Of Gadsden. He and several of his sons started and operated various businesses during his lifetime.

“My Great Uncle Gus operated a furniture store at Broad and Fifth [my Father, Guy II, managed this store when it became Sterchi Brothers]. My Great Uncle Jeff operated the livery stable and the first delicatessen in town. My Grandfather, Guy, owned the Woodliff Funeral Home until his death at an early age.

“Other sons moved west, and as a small boy, l recall seeing them at family reunions. They could spin some great tales about their experiences in Texas in the first part of this century.

“My Great Aunt Mamie married Dr. Ralph Russell of Birmingham and lived a long and fruitful life. l knew her and my spinster Great Aunt Ollie, who lived with her, as my father moved our family to Birmingham when I was about seven years old. 

“My wife, Thea, and I returned to Gadsden after l graduated from Auburn in 1949. We too went west to California in 1962, not to return until 1989. We have a daughter, Kathi, who lives in Atlanta with her husband, Tom Rhodes, and has a son and a daughter.

“Our son, Guy IV, and his wife, Cile, live in Charlotte and have a son, Guy V, a daughter, Katie, and a daughter, Elizabeth. There are many interesting stories concerning family members that l could relate but the space allotted does not permit it.”

Another article tells about the Forrest Cemetery that dated back to 1872. It reads:

“A. L. Woodliff was born in Hall County, Georgia on October 7, 1827. He spent the first seventeen years of his life on his father’s farm in Clarke County, Ga. He received a fair education and accepted a clerkship in a mercantile establishment at Nuckelsville, Ga.

“After one year he moved to Gainesville, where he remained until 1850. He then went to California in search of gold and returned to the States in l853 with a considerable sum of money. 

“Mr. Woodliff was married in January, 1854, to Miss Lavinia C. Law. Soon after his marriage, Mr. Woodliff engaged in the mercantile business, and followed it until 1857, in which year he came to Gadsden and engaged at farming. He was in the army from 1861 until March, l863 when he resigned to accept the appointment of Tax-Assessor.

“In the fall of 1865, Mr. Woodliff was elected to the State Senate and introduced the bill forming Baine County. This county, abolished by the Reconstructionists in 1868, was afterward re-established and called Etowah County. 

“Mr. Woodliff again turned his attention to merchandising and followed by the lumber and machine business. He also was engaged for a time in the livery business, the sale of wagons, buggies, real estate and other things. He was one of the largest real estate owners in the county.

“Having lost every dollar of his property during the war, Mr. Woodliff reacquired much as the result of his individual effort and industry. He was variously interested in the principal enterprises of Gadsden and owned the largest livery stable in the state outside of Birmingham. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity and of the Knights of Honor.

“Forrest Cemetery, one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Alabama, dates back to 1872 when Capt. A. L. Woodliff selected the site, negotiated for its purchase and began clearing away the timber at his own expense.

His sons, George, James F. (Pompey) and Jeff, all mere boys, cut the trees and prepared the l0-acre tract for the survey into burial lots. There were many large trees on the land and the brothers had a hard time felling and removing them.

“Captain Woodliffs elec-ted a site in the far western end of the city and at the then extreme western end of Chestnut Street overlooking Black Creek, in the belief that the city would never grow out that far. Of course, in years to come, it has been surrounded by homes, churches and schools. There are now approximately 40 acres of land available for graves.

“Captain Woodliff organized Forrest Cemetery, incorporated it and was chairman of the first board of trustees with four other prominent citizens as associate members. The charter was secured in 1872 and was to continue 50 years. Under the charter, the association sold lots for pecuniary gain and to provide a fund for upkeep. The trustees were a self-perpetuating body, since it elected its own members. It was a private enterprise, but they never lost sight of the fact that they operated the cemetery as a public trust.

“In 1926, the trustees found that they had been operating for four years without a charter, which meant that all of their official acts for four years were not entirely legal. On advice of legal counsel, they went into the equity division of Circuit Court and asked that the property be transferred to the City of Gadsden. The city would administer the assets of the corporation and continue to furnish a burial ground for the white race. Judge Woodson J. Martin rendered a decree confirming the sale of lots after the corporation life of the association had expired by limitation.

“Everything would be turned over to the City of Gadsden, ‘which shall at all times keep, care for and maintain the cemetery in proper condition, use the funds for improvements and upkeep and setup rules and regulations for operating.’

“The late Mayor W.E. Wier and his board of aldermen accepted the trust and appointed Alto Lee, Jr., W.M. Mayben, Mrs. Charlotte Cox and the mayor as trustees. That was in May I926. At that time, a total of 4,657 persons had been buried there. 

“The first person to be buried in Forrest Cemetery was Captain Woodliff’s own daughter, Sallie Law Woodliff, who was born Feb. 4, 1871, and died July 13, I872.”

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