The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

Isbell was almost the Franklin County seat…


The name Isbell would be more important than that of Russellvile in Franklin County history, had it been for 42, needed votes in the county seat election of 1891.  Of course, Russelville–named for pioneer settler Col. William Russell–edged out.

Ellis Isbell settled the town bearing his name in 1818, arriving here from Bowling Green, Virginia, where his ancestors had settled almost 200 years earlier.

The son of George Isbell and Susanna Eubanks Smith, he was ancient Norman-French family to England with William the Conqueror in A.D. 1066.  From there, three English brothers sailed to America in the 1630’s

The family genealogy is givin in such books as Historical Southern Families by John Bennet Boddie and Notable Southern Families by Zella Armstrong, as well as in a number of seperate family histories.

Ellis Isbell (1797-1888) came to Franklin County with Jackson’s men in 1818 and with the Fossick family founded the town of Isbell.  For a time, it was called Darlington, after the hometown of the Fossicks in England.

But even while under the name of Darlington, the fledgling village’s newspaper, called The Isbell Progress, was one of the earliest newspapers in the state, and probably the very first from the northwest section.  Few copoes of it exist today, but those remaining are said to be proof that keen intellect did exist in this sparsely settled hill land.

Ellis Isbell built the first multi-room log house in the country, which was later extended into a large, rambling white plantation-styled home.  He owned vast acres of land and is buried with his mother and other relatives in the family cemetery near his old home.

His second wife Louisa Ann White was the daughter of Nancy Blanton and Robert Marley White who was the second husband of Mrs. George Isbell Jr.

Col. John Ellis Isbell, son of Isbell’s founder, “laid out” the town and aided its growth.  When the Tennessee-Sheffield Railroad was being laid in the country, Isbell hired surveyors to cut a grade threw Isbell Mountain and even did much of the work himself.

This made a practical route through his town, rather that through Tuscumbia as earlier planned, and the rail was bought through Isbell, uniting it with the outside world.

Isbell also owned one of the early manufacturing establishments in Franklin County.  It was the Ceder Creek Bucket Factory, and his products included “cedar buckets, churns, pigins, foot tubs and brass bound water kegs.”

The only remaining evidences of this factory are a few iron cables in the creek that were used to operate the water wheels and to support a short suspension bridge.

Many Franklin County citizens of tod descend from the large Isbell family, or are related to them by marriage.  Some of these are the Walden, Thompson, Bates, Valentine, Sa Williams, Malone, and Weaver families.

The family of Miller Isbell, his brother James Isbell and his wife Elizabeth Birdwell also moved to Franklin County about the time of the Civil War or later.  There were grandsons of George Isbell, cousin, Zachariah Isbell Jr. who was one of the founders of Tennessee.

George was also said to be cousin of Godfrey Isbell, for whom Godfrey Methodist College and the town of Godfrey, in Winston County were named.

The town of Isbell probably lost its greatest chance for progress in 1891 when it was the major contender for the county seat against Russellville.

The two cities, then of about equal size, waged bitter campaign before the election was held.  The people of Isbell and Russellville threw lavish parties and picnics and entertained other residents from elsewhere in the county to the extent of great barbeques, opened house balls that lasted for weeks, and wells filled with pink lemonade and crushed ice.

Fights between the men of the two towns were not uncommon, nor were “smears” against the virtues of the womanhood of the rival town.  In the last accounting, Russellvilles won buy just 42 votes and became the seat of Franklin County.


Source: Franklin County Times Sunday, February 27, 1983, Editors Note: The following article was submitted by Andrew Morrison for our Progress 1983 edition.