a Franklin County, Alabama town has a most interesting history.
Phil Campbell located in Franklin County, Alabama, twelve miles south of Russellville, was founded in 1857. In the 1880s, a railroad work crew leader and engineer by the name of Phillip Campbell who resided in Sheffield, Alabama. “Campbell. Campbell was born in Liverpool, England in 1848. In 1880, he was employed as a railroad construction superintendent in Evansville, Indiana. A few years later, he moved to Sheffield to supervise the construction of the Birmingham, Sheffield and Tennessee River Railroad and was appointed to the first board of alderman for Sheffield in 1885. He served as mayor from 1893 to 1895. He was often addressed as “Major” but nothing is known about his military service.”
“With blast furnaces under construction in Sheffield and Birmingham, the promoters of the new railroad dreamed of making a fortune by handling iron ore, limestone and coal to the two industrial sites….Campbell’s contract required that the tracks from Sheffield be extended into Franklin County by a certain date with a locomotive on it. The construction gang worked furiously to finish laying the rails on time, but someone forgot to fire the steam engine. When the oversight was discovered, the deadline was about to expire. Campbell quickly gathered several yoke of oxen from nearby farms and hitched them to the locomotive. This is how the first “iron horse” entered Franklin County, in disgrace, but it was on time” i
Mel Allen, a prominent local businessman in Franklin County, wanted to establish a town in the vicinity of his general store. He told Campbell if he would construct a railroad depot and add a side track to the stretch of railroad going through the area, he would name the subsequent town after Major Phil Campbell who was then the mayor of Sheffield. Campbell built both the depot and siding, which led to Phil Campbell being the only town in Alabama to have both the first and last names of an individual. Major Campbell eventually left the County and moved to New Orleans where he died June 30, 1932, aged 84 years and 6 months.
The first school in Phil Campbell was a two story frame building constructed in 1910. It was located at the back of the Phil Campbell Methodist Church. The school was subsequently destroyed by fire.
The second school was constructed in 1915 and was located at the site of the present school on Alabama State Route 13 in Phil Campbell. This school was a small wooden building. Like the previous school, this school was also destroyed by fire. The fire began at six o’clock in the evening on Christmas Day, 1924.
During the next two years, school was held in local church buildings, the town’s former bank building, and the U.S. Post Office building located near the railroad.
Graduation services for the first accredited Phil Campbell High School class were conducted in the Phil Campbell Methodist Church. The year was 1926 and the class had eight graduating members.
The third Phil Campbell school was completed in 1926. There were two buildings, a main classroom building and a vocational school. After the main building was destroyed by fire in 1954, the present school buildings were constructed.
“Phil Campbell is the birthplace of Billy Sherrill (born Nov. 5, 1936) a record producer and arranger who is most famous for his association with a number of country artists, most notably Tammy Wynette. On February 23, 2010 Sherrill was selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame along with Don Williams, Ferlin Husky, and Jimmy Dean. Other artists with whom Sherrill has worked include Shelby Lynne, Marty Robbins, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Cash, Janie Fricke,Barbara Mandrell, Lacy J. Dalton, Ray Conniff, Bob Luman, Johnny Duncan, Jim and Jesse, Jody Miller, Joe Stampley, Charlie Walker, Johnny Duncan, Barbara Fairchild,Andy Williams, Cliff Richard (“The Minute You’re Gone”) and David Allan Coe.”ii
Near the town of Phil Campbell can be found Dismals Canyon. It is believed that the dark, misty canyon got its dreary name from Scotch-Irish settlers. Known for its colorful history of secret Indian rituals and as a hideout for outlaws, Dismals Canyon was also the holding ground for some of the Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians prior to the Trail of Tears. Within the area’s boundaries is one of the oldest stands of forest east of the Mississippi River. Waterfalls, rock formations, cliffs and natural bridges are also features in Dismals Canyon. Night tours are conducted during the summer to see the glow-in-the-dark worms known as “Dismalites,” which are seen on moss-covered boulders in the canyon. This is the only known location in the United States to see these night creatures. Other known locations are China and New Zealand.
The human history of the canyon is a long one. Artifacts from Paleo-indians—the earliest known Americans—have been found dating back ten thousand years. Later inhabitants were the Pueblos, the Cherokees and of course, the white settlers. U.S. troops held a large group of Chickasaw Indians captive in the canyon in 1838 before forcing them to Muscle Shoals where they began what historians now call the Trail of Tears.
In June 1995 the writer Phil Campbell organized and wrote about a convention of people who shared their name with the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama. Twenty-two Phil Campbells and one Phyllis Campbell, hailing from all over America, attended. The story of the Phil Campbell convention was published in Might Magazine, a San-Francisco-based publication founded by Dave Eggers. The essay was later included in Might’s anthology, Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp, and the convention itself was mentioned by Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
A second “Phil Campbell Day” was organized the following year, but it was not as well attended. Phil Campbell’s city hall, however, still maintains a file of all the Phil Campbells who visit and another “Phil Campbell Day” was planned for mid 2011 but on April 27, 2011, the town suffered extensive damage from a swift moving tornado with 11 confirmed deaths. According to the Mayor Jerry Mays, preliminary reports show that about one-third of the town’s buildings were destroyed and the estimated property damage was at $119 million.
- Tornado Damage (cathylwood.wordpress.com)