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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Loachapoka, AL

Loachapoka is a town in Lee County, Alabama, United States. It is located seven miles west of Auburn in west-central Lee County. The population was 165 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Auburn Metropolitan Area.

A general store built in 1845 now serves as The Lee County Historical Society Museum

The name "Loachapoka" means "turtle killing place" in Muskogee. In literature, Lochapoka was the destination of the colonists in James H. Street's 1940 novel Oh, Promised Land.

James H. Street

James Howell Street (October 15, 1903 – September 28, 1954) was a U.S. journalist, minister, and writer of Southern historical novels.

Street was born in Lumberton, Mississippi, in 1903. As a teenager, he began working as a journalist for newspapers in Laurel and Hattiesburg, Mississippi. At the age of 20, Street decided to become a Baptist minister, attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Howard College. Unsatisfied with his pastoral work after ministering stints in Missouri, Mississippi, and Alabama, Street returned to journalism in 1926.

After briefly holding a position with the Pensacola, Florida Journal, Street joined the staff of the Associated Press. The AP position took him to New York, where he began freelance writing fiction. Hired away from the AP by the New York World-Telegram in 1937, Street sold a short story ("A Letter to the Editor") to Cosmopolitan magazine, which caught the eye of film producer David Selznick, who turned it into a hit film, Nothing Sacred.

His success allowed him to write full-time, and throughout the 1940s he worked on a five-novel series of historical fiction about the progress of the Dabney family through the 19th century. The Dabney pentology--Oh, Promised Land, Tap Roots, By Valor and Arms, Tomorrow We Reap, and Mingo Dabney--explored classic Southern issues of race and honor, and strongly characterized Street's struggle to reconcile his Southern heritage with his feelings about racial injustice. The series was a critial and popular success, with several of the books being made into feature films. Street modeled two characters in his Dabney family saga on Greenwood LeFlore, a Choctaw Native American.

Street also published two popular novels about boys and dogs, The Biscuit Eater and Good-bye, My Lady, both of which were turned into movies, and a set of semi-autobiographical novels about a Baptist minister, The Gauntlet and The High Calling.

Street died of a heart attack on September 28, 1954.


Loachapoka was a Creek Indian town for some decades prior to white settlement. In the last census prior to the Native removal to Oklahoma, Loachapoka was found to have a population of 564. Upon settlement, Loachapoka--temporarily renamed Ball's Fork--became the regional trade center, a position that was reinforced in 1845 when it became the eastern-most point on the railroad to Montgomery. Loachapoka's influence peaked in the early 1870s, when her population reached nearly 1,300. Within a few years, a collapse of trade due to the Panic of 1873 and additional rail lines in the area sent Loachapoka into economic decline. Loachapoka roughly stabilized as a small farming community by the mid-1900s, and by the early 2000s had become a small-town suburb of Auburn.

Fred's Feed & Seed, Downtown Loachapoka


The famous Syrup Sopping sign as seen from Alabama State Route 14

Loachapoka is home to the annual Syrup Sopping Day. A historical fair and celebration of making syrup in traditional methods from sorghum and ribbon cane, Syrup Sopping Day attracts more than 20,000 people to Loachapoka annually.

The Loachapoka Historic District

The Lee County Historical Society Museum is located in an 1845 general store in the Loachapoka historic district. Nearby, The Rattling Gourd Gallery exhibits regional art and craft workmanship.

Baptist Church, Stage Road, Loachapoka, Lee County, AL

Loachapoka History

* 16th century: Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto passed about four miles south of Loachapoka in the 16th century when he traveled through the area looking for gold.

* Creek Indians: Loachapoka was first settled by Creek Indians who were excellent farmers. The earliest known village was settled by 1796. Loachapoka's name is derived from two Creek words: "locha," meaning turtle and "polga," meaning either killing place or gathering place. Combined, the word Loachapoka means land where turtles live or are killed.

* 1832 census: According to the 1832 census, about 564 Indians, representing 164 families, lived in Loachapoka.

* Treaty of Cusseta: In 1819 Alabama was proclaimed a state. The March 24, 1832, Treaty of Cusseta ceded the Creeks' land to the United States, opening it to white settlement. Soon thereafter the Alabama General Assembly organized counties, forming Macon County which included Loachapoka.

* Square Talley: Loachapoka became home to its first white man in 1836. Square Talley decided to continue pushing west from the new town of Auburn. About seven miles out, he and his slaves built a home for his family at a site just off the Indian path. This crossroads was called Ball's Fork, the first name white settlers gave to land that would ultimately be known as Loachapoka.

* Indian uprising: Talley was followed by about twenty migrants. Population growth was hindered by an uprising of local Indians who resisted being removed to reservations in the West. Some Indians, however, were more willing to leave. White settlers purchased their property from Creek Indians with exotic names such as Hadjo, Harjo, Fixico, Emarthlar, and Yoholo. The Creeks began moving west to allotted land in Oklahoma by late 1836.

* First store: The crossroads at Ball's Fork became the town's first settlement. Williamson W. Plant erected the first store, selling whiskey, operating a hotel for travelers, and offering a livery stable for stagecoach teams. A stagecoach ran through Loachapoka on its route from Montgomery to Tallapoosa County. Wagon trains also embarked west from Ball's Fork.

* Religion: Churches and schools were quickly established. The Baptists were the first to hold religious services, using a wigwam and a whiskey keg for the pulpit. The Methodists soon thereafter had a church (in fact the bells for both churches were cast at the same time in New York in 1859). A circuit rider lived in Loachapoka, tending congregations nearby.

* Center of commerce: A trade center (the present-day museum) was built by 1845 when the Western of Alabama Railroad from Montgomery reached Loachapoka. Loachapoka became the main shipping center for nearby Tallapoosa and Chambers counties. The settlement at Ball's Fork was relocated closer to the tracks, approximately one-half mile south to what is the current center of town. Loachapoka citizens could buy a variety of goods such as tools, salt pork, horse collars, guns, clothes, lobster, oysters, and whiskey in a barrel at the trading center.

* Railroad: A depot was built with a nearby turntable to reverse engines back to Montgomery. The railroad took two years to reach Auburn, and it extended to Opelika in March 1848. Passengers could buy tickets to various destinations to and from Loachapoka. At the railroad's peak, 12 trains ran daily. Currently the track is used only to transport freight.

* Business: Grain was ground and lumber sawed at mills on the Saugahatchee Creek then transported into town to sell. The thriving town consisted of a millinery shop, dancing school, tanyard, cotton gin, carriage factory, Masonic Lodge, drugstore, hardware store, dry good store, general store, slave block, finishing schools, and five saloons. Hitching posts dotted the sidewalks to secure the transportation mode of the times--horses, mules, and oxen. Seven doctors as well as numerous butchers, grocers, seamstresses, shoe makers, blacksmiths, and tailors plied their trades. The Trammell family's granite quarry on Saugahatchee Creek produced the granite used to built the Atlanta Terminal Station in the 1890s.

* Homes: Housing in Loachapoka evolved from log cabins to elaborately designed houses. Herb gardens were carefully cultivated to add spice to meals and formulate home remedies. The roads, full of ruts and tree stumps, gradually improved, meeting higher standard grades. More people moved to Loachapoka while others moved West, continuing their quest for something better.

* Politics: Loachapoka hosted political rallies with silver-tongued orators. In July 1856, several hundred people rode a train from Columbus, Georgia, to attend a rally and barbecue. Four years later presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas spoke from the J.F. Mahone house at Ball's Fork, trying to convince Loachapokans to vote for him instead of Abraham Lincoln.

* Civil War: During the Civil War, the trading center served as a Confederate armory. Lee, Tallapoosa, and Chamber county residents came to Loachapoka to enlist. Three regiments (the 34th, 46th, and 47th Alabama) were formed in Loachapoka in 1862, and the Loachapoka Rifles (Co. B of the 6th Alabama) also contributed men to the southern cause. Loachapokan John R. Leftwich served General Robert E. Lee as his chief clerk from 1863 to 1865.

* More Civil War: Loachapoka was twice raided by federal troops during the war. General Lovell Rousseau entered the town with several thousand troops in July 1864, burning the train depot and supplies and heating and twisting the metal rails to render them useless. Warned of the raiders impending arrival, Loachapokans buried meat and silver wrapped in sheets in corn fields and hid their livestock. In mid-April 1865 General James Wilson's raiders passed south of Loachapoka.

* Jefferson Davis: Confederate President Jefferson Davis ate dinner at the Havis Hotel in the 1860s.

* Auburn as a suburb: Nineteenth-century Loachapoka was much larger than Auburn or Opelika. Loachapoka resident Thomas B. Peddy was a state legislator from 1872-1876. Unfortunately a fire gutted much of the town in the 1870s, and Loachapoka's trading preeminence ended abruptly when the Central of Georgia Railroad connected Opelika to Birmingham, offering a better trade route for neighboring counties. Some farmers continued to grow and sell cotton locally until the Loachapoka Gin Company burned in 1969.

* Post Civil War: Lee County suffered severe economic conditions during Reconstruction. Boll weevils, exhausted land, and cankerworms blighted any hopes for agricultural prosperity. By 1896 only 136 voters (white citizens) remained in Loachapoka. A one-and-one-half-minute eclipse on May 8, 1900, was labeled "the black day" by farmers who witnessed stars during the day and had their chickens roost. The sun's disappearance symbolized to many their despair and sense of hopelessness.

* Incorporation: In 1903 Route 1, Loachapoka's first mail route, was established. Two years later the town was incorporated but no records were kept "due to the neglect of certain county officials." In 1910 Loachapoka's incorporation was filed, including a census of 359 citizens (both white and black). The town was laid out in a rectangle centered on the town well which was on the present-day syrup sopping site. The town borders were 1.5 miles north to south and 2 miles east to west. Loachapoka was reincorporated in 1926 and 1974. A variety of mayors, both male and female, have governed the town. Tink Finley was the first mayor.

* Airplane: In 1917 Loachapokans saw their first airplane.

* World Wars: During the World Wars, residents joined the service while those at home experienced rationing.

* Depression: The Depression of the 1930s brought back the hard times of the post-Civil War years, and many farmers were seen with steers pulling their plows instead of mules or horses.

* National Register of Historic Places: In 1973 Loachapoka was named to the National Register of Historic Places because of seventeen structures built in the 1840s and 1850s that represented Greek Revival and Victorian architectural influences. Congressman Bill Nichols remarked that "The Loachapoka Historic District is an excellent example of an antebellum trading center in Alabama." Five years later an historical marker, declaring "Boom and Change," recalled Loachapoka's days as an historical trade center.

* Syrup Sopping Day: Every autumn since 1972 the Loachapoka Ruritan Club, Ladies Improvement Club, and Lee County Historical Society have organized a syrup sopping and historical fair. Traditionally since the town's earliest days, Loachapoka farmers have made fine tasting syrup from sorghum and ribbon cane. Mr. Emphel William Paradise, who sharecropped for Robert Sheldon Page of Loachapoka for 38 years, remembered that Page used his syrup mill to process his own cane and that his neighbors hauled to him to "make some of the prettiest syrup, it looked just like honey. Everybody from Montgomery all down in there would come and buy that syrup. His was the best in the world."

prepared by: Dr. Elizabeth Schafer, Loachapoka Historian

Hammack Plantation House, Waverly Road, Loachapoka vicinity, Lee County, AL